- Gamma World: I think this was my second game after D&D and I played a great deal of it during my youth. I dissent from grognard orthodoxy in preferring the second edition over the first, despite its Jeff Easley cover and Larry Elmore interior art. I confess that, in retrospect, I find something vastly more "moody" and weird about the first edition. In any case, I had great fun with this game, which I always treated as much more science fantasy than science fiction. Come to think of it, that may explain why my D&D tastes tend less toward the outré than many other old schoolers: Gamma World nicely sated my hunger for gonzo weirdness. Dan Proctor's Mutant Future perfectly recreates the mood and feel of those old days and I'm itching to give it a whirl sometime soon.
- Traveller: After D&D, I've probably played more Traveller than anything. It's the game that inspired me to become a writer and my earliest publishing credits are for it. I ran many, many campaigns using these rules and probably remember more about my old Traveller campaigns than I do my old D&D ones. That's because I only once -- and briefly -- went through an anti-Traveller phase, whereas I had many long-ish periods where I dropped playing D&D and even openly disdained it. For whatever reason, Traveller has always been my SF RPG of choice and the qualities it evinces -- soberness and seriousness, chief among them -- are those I most seek in the genre.
- Call of Cthulhu: CoC is important for me not just because of the game itself, of which I played a great deal, but because it helped spur on my love of pulp literature. I already knew of Howard and Smith, of course, but reading Call of Cthulhu reinforced my love of them, as well as many (to me) lesser-known writers of the same era. CoC also taught me a thing or two about good refereeing as well, not to mention a fine appreciation of the dramatic value of player character death.
- Pendragon: I simply love this game and consider it one of the most perfect gaming evocations of its inspirations ever written. I've run three lengthy Pendragon campaigns over the last 20 years and several shorter ones and I've enjoyed them. As games go, it's an acquired taste and I can't fault anyone who simply doesn't have the taste for it. At the same time, I have to pity anyone who can't enjoy chivalric romance as a gaming genre. Many of my fondest gaming memories comes from playing this game.
- Star Trek: The FASA version of this licensed RPG is the only one I ever played much of and I loved it to death. Looking back, it's hard to remember why exactly, as the game system was mostly workmanlike but otherwise unremarkable (except for character generation and the starship combat system, both of which were stellar). I suspect it's because the game came out early in the "movie era" of Star Trek, when canon had not ossified to the point where it was no longer possible to have fun adventures without tripping over thousands of hours of accumulated facts and trivia. Back then, Star Trek still retained something of a "philosophical" character, being a kind of slightly retro, almost pulpy adventure sci-fi that drew heavily on Westerns as inspiration. I like that kind of SF (even if it's not my preferred idiom -- see Traveller above) and FASA's game delivered those goods. I fear Star Trek can never again occupy that same mental space in my life again.
- Fading Suns: Take D&D, Call of Cthulhu, and bits of Traveller and throw them in a blender and you get Fading Suns. I had many fun times playing this game, especially once I cottoned on to the fact that it wasn't intended to be played "straight," which is to say, deadly serious. No, Fading Suns is unabashed pulp SF after the fashion of Jack Vance's "Planet of Adventure" series or C.L. Moore's "Northwest Smith" stories. Bear that in mind and it all makes much more sense, what with the strange mix of science and sorcery, religion and the occult. The game eventually succumbed to "splat book syndrome" and canon-itis, but the core concept remains terrific and I played a lot of it once upon a time.
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Brian Murphy over at The Silver Key asked me the other day if I might share my experiences playing games other than RPGs. I thought that was a very good idea, so here's a brief overview of the games I've played and enjoyed over the years. Not all of them qualify as "old school" by any reasonable definition, but I figure someone might find it fascinating to know the games with which I spent my time. For this post, I'm keeping details of my experiences short. I might expand on them later if there's interest.