Friday, September 21, 2012

Growing Up in the d20 Dark Ages (Part 1)

I finally got to play D&D in 1989, after watching my brother and his friends play for a few years before. I was ten years old and my older brother let me roll up a dwarf fighter to play in one-on-one sessions whenever he visited from college. My character's name was "Havoc" and I remember him having a broadsword and a crossbow.We played through a couple sessions, and I was hooked. But then my brother didn't want to run games anymore. He was too busy with school.

He did, however, leave me with a bunch of his AD&D books. This collection grew as I grew older and my brother knew I'd take care of them better. I devoured them. And then I bought the 2e books, and devoured them, too, paying close attention to the storytelling aspect of the game.

I didn't know it at the time, but at least three main factors would influence how I approached D&D and the hobby as a whole.

1. Although I had been well read as a child, I had not read much of the adult fiction that inspired D&D. I did, however, want to tell a story. I was a very young aspiring writer. The creators of Dragonlance told a great story with Dragonlance, so to my young mind I thought that's what you are supposed to do, at least in part. I also poured over my brother's old hand written adventures. He seemed to be telling a bare-bones story. I'll probably go into that more in a later post.

2. I had been exposed to AD&D, not really knowing that there was an official "D&D" until a year or two later (when I realized that hobby stores and B. Dalton sold RPGs). I was poking around in the advanced edition, rather than "basic" D&D. I had skipped the basics, so to speak. Soon I discovered AD&D Second Edition and believed it to be a superior product. The rules were all codified from AD&D. And yet, I was torn. 2e was good, but lacked the "feel" of 1e. I mainly consulted the 1e DMG instead of the 2e DMG. Gone were all the demons and devils and other "cool" stuff. The artwork seemed tamer, too. So, I was running 2e for the rule, but felt that 2e somehow lacked the "substance" of 1e.

3. My brother ran me through only two one-on-one adventures before leaving. By default, I became the main DM among my friends. I rarely got to sit on the player's side of the DM's screen. Which is unfortunate, because I railroaded my players at times for the sake of story. Had I been on the other side of the screen, I might have found that annoying. Still, I was self-taught as a DM. And much of what was being published at the time encouraged me to do this or even "fudge" rolls to kept the game fun. I learned that story took precedence.

In my games, villains, even minor ones, kept getting away, despite the best efforts of the players. For example, I developed an evil adventuring group: a half-ogre fighter, a human thief, and a gnome illusionist (think The Princess Bride). This group stole the "Eye of Traldar" from the PCs. The evil thief sneaked into the PC's second story inn room. If I recall, he was invisible. But the PCs had kept watch. So I had to somehow explain why he was able to get the Eye, climb back out the window, and then get away. It was railroading at it's finest.

The PCs had discovered the "Eye of Traldar" in a previous adventure. But I wanted to run the D&D adventure of the same name. So PCs chased the evil trio down the Greyhawk's Wild Coast, from Narwell to almost the Suss Forest. They eventually found the Eye and wanted vengeance on the evil adventurers. But the evil adventurers were long gone. This irritated the players.

At one point, between sessions, I asked my brother, whom I wanted to please. "So, what to you think of the NPCs I created?"

"What are you talking about?" he said. "We've hardly encountered them. When we do they keep getting away."

Yet I was fortunate. I did tell a good story and we did have good times. Otherwise my players probably would have quit.

How many of you faced similar situations back then? How many groups fell apart in the 2e age because the DM sacrificed player choice for the sake of story?

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