15 October 2012

My Life As A Gamer, part 2

The much awaited breakthrough came with the sixth issue of MiM and review of Amber: The Diceless Roleplaying Game... So the roleplaying games can be played without fancy dice?! They can be played without the dice at all?! Hell, yeah! That simple but profound piece of info changed everything. Quickly I sketched my own diceless game shamelessly borrowing races, professions, class abilities and spells from every source I could get my hands on and started to GM it to a few friends (all of them one year younger than me). The whole system worked on a basis of GM's fiat, which had its failings when the GM was too lenient (usually me and one other friend) or too strict (usually another friend). the first session started spontaneously when I was yet designing it. I was speaking with my friend about it and he wondered how the combat is intended to work without rolling the dice, so I explained to him that participants describe their actions and GM adjusts the circumstances accordingly to declarations, taking into account ability scores and skills possessed by combatants. From explanation we moved to example of combat and then, after dwarven ranger defeated ambusher the session continued forward on its own. First NPCs he met were drawn from Ishar cRPG that I was playing at that time. Soon it was my turn to play. I picked a gargoyle black knight. Gargoyle species was inspired by monster from HeroQuest one of the friends had (which, regretfully was German version and because no one of us had any knowledge of that language, we never managed to master it) while the black knight was taken from KC, where it was necromantic counterpart of Paladin. Thus, my first character was completely amoral gish-necromancer. I still have a place in my heart for gishes and necromancers but I play good or at least decent characters much more than evil now.

We played it during the spring and summer of '94 until in one of the following MiM issues was dedicated to a simple but complete roleplaying system written by Andrzej Sapkowski, the creator of The Witcher. It was aptly called Tym Którzy Pierwszy Raz ("For Those Who [play] The First Time") and required two six-sided dice (technically speaking one-and-half handed weapons required use of ten-sider. Guess how many one-and-half handed weapons appeared during the game?). After we got bored with generic fantasy I rewrote the system to handle SF themes (i.e. added firearms and combat armor, also tweaked magic to be psi) and we started to play as Colonial Marines hunting for aliens xenomorphs. In one of the adventures I introduced alien-hunting Predator. I had no idea that there was Alien/Predator crossover comic book at that time, it just seemed like a good idea. One year later the same game was published as softcover book, named The Eye Of Yrhhedes after the introductory scenario where the party was pitted against Big Bad Evil Guy Artifact bearing that name. As far as I can tell we never learned who the hell Yrhhedes was or why his eye was five foot crystal orb that lashed against enemies with tendrils of energy. Regretfully, that one issue of MiM I have lend to someone and never got it back and the softcover book I have sold when I wanted to get some cash for new games.

Next in line of games I played were Kryształy Czasu, which we started playing when one of co-players came back from vacations in United States (travels abroad were still something exceptional then, travels to USA, the semi-mythical land of milk, honey and undreamed wealth were epic journeys on par with the Bilbo's quest). He brought back a few roleplaying boxed sets: Dragonlance Campaign Setting (Dragonlance books were published at that time and some of us were loving them) but we hadn't AD&D rulebooks, Marvel Superheroes (which I got as a gift) and some others. MSH was crucial because it contained a single D10, which we promptly started using while playing KC. My first Orchian (the name of the KC's world) character was half-giant warrior. Half-elf noble assassin/necromancer was next. Have I mentioned yet that I am very fond of gishes and necromancers?
Note to self: write a post or two about Kryształy Czasu. It has quite an interesting and underappreciated setting. Also, it allow me to gloat how I managed to become three-classed character without resorting to worshipping orc god Katan.
Important lesson I got from that time: the game mechanics influence the style of play. When we played without dice we focused on actual description of actions, each fight was exciting because we focused on what our characters and the monsters were doing trying to outwit each other with fancy maneuvers. When we moved to game with actual mechanics we found that that we describe our combat less and less replacing descriptions with more boring "I swing at him", "you missed", "he swings at you and missed" as our descriptions had little impact on actual efficiency in combat. I remember that we tried to adjust the rules to reflect the description but it not always meshed well with existing mechanics.

Late 94 and 95 saw the spread of roleplaying games. Shops where rulebooks and dice could be bought appeared. Or at least we learned about them. Now we knew that there was  gaming convention happening in our city every year since '93 in January or February. We missed it in the '94 but we were adamant on attending the Krakon in '95. So my gaming friends went while I got sick exactly at that time. Perfect timing, just perfect, duh. My friends returned with tales of convention and loot (aka things bought there). Also, they discovered an actual gaming club half the city apart from us. When I got better we made a visit to Galicyjska Gildia Fanów Fantastyki i Gier Fabularnych (Galician Guild of Fantasy and Roleplaying Game Fans, later shortened to Galician Guild of Fantasy Fans). We kept in contact for some time but it was too far for us to go there every weekend! Ok, honestly, I run away after they started speaking about collecting fees from members. I could not afford fees and tickets while buying books and MiM at the same time. During this contact we lended some of our gaming library for some of theirs, promptly making copies for ourselves as any sane gamer did when got his hands on borrowed book because getting anything was still enormous undertaking. We lended them our newly acquired GURPS 3rd edition and got badly copied copy of a copy of a MERP rulebook in return. A few years later we got an actual MERP core rulebook when it was published in Polish and even played a few games.

In addition to learning that there are gamers beyond us, that year saw us playing more and more games: newly published Warhammer, Cyberpunk, Call Of Cthulhu, aforementioned MERP and Dzikie Pola. Also, I started attending to a lyceum (equivalent to USA/UK high school) and the next year rest of the group started too. Here our ways started to split, we went to different schools, we had less time, our interests started to diverge. It took a few more years before my first gaming group finally disintegrated but it did.

In mean time I discovered gamer in my own class in my new school - on the first English lesson we were asked to tell about ourselves and our interests and we both mentioned roleplaying games. We spoke after the lesson and later he introduced me to his fellow gamers with whom I played a few times. We also learned that a gaming shop was opened ten minutes of walk from our school so we started to hanging out there after lessons together with bunch of like-minded folks where we listened for the news and spoke about games. There was no place for gaming beyond playing Tragic Magic with the owner on the counter (personally I never got into CCGs, it would diverted my limited funds from really important things such as rpgs, computer games and ice cream). A few years later they started a larger shop in the center of Krakow but it had yet to happen.

One day, sometime after MAG, the main rpg publisher (also the publisher of MiM magazine), announced Werewolf: The Apocalypse translation we came to discover that there is another related game available in Polish (which until now we only saw in English version): Vampire The Masquarade... While MAG was translating WtA, ISA - another publisher - released VtM. Quickly, I convinced my class-mate that he should buy Vampire when he was choosing between VtM and Dzikie Pola. And so he did and I borrowed it from him. It started my long-time affiliation with World Of Darkness. Next year friend of his acquired Mage The Ascension (both World of Darkness as a whole and MtA individually might see their own posts in the future).

At the end of nineties I played much less than at the start of my gaming career. The slow disintegration of gaming group while at the same time not forming a new regular group reduced the amount of time I spent playing. Still, I spent lot of time, energy and whatever money I had on gaming. Starting in '96 I began to attend already mentioned Krakon convention, trying to not get sick when it was coming near. I think that a few times I got sick after, thanks to exposure of pathogens from the other sides of the country seasoned with lack of sleep. But it was worth it.

My favorite Krakon was '98 when I mingled with an extended gaming group from Łódź and spend most of time together with them. It was the first time I played with female GM, and I must say that she was great GM. Apparently I appeared as a guest in a middle of a very long, very complex campaign of... Amber. I already loved that series, despite reading only first three books (I hadn't managed to get my claws on later books at that time). I met them again the next year and started exchanging correspondence - actual letters, not these fancy new e-mails. They invited me to gaming convention they were making in Łódź in '99 and for a few years I was going there for conventions in addition to those happening in Kraków. In January of 2000 I learned about a week or two of meetings in a gaming club on Kazimierz. I attended and learned that they are organized by Galicyjska Gildia Fanów Fantastyki. the same club with now-shortened name. One of the memebers even recognized me after those five years. This time I stayed because yearly fee was lower than discount for Krakon entrance fee that membership in GGFF bestowed.

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