- Ken Rolston at The Kraken
- Rick Meints at The Kraken
- The Grognard Files
- Francesca Baerald Interview
- Russell Morrissey Interview
- Sarah Newton Interview
- [Mongoose Publishing] Paranoia: Implausible Deniability
- [Mongoose Publishing] Paranoia: Yellow Clearance Black Box Blues (Remastered)
- Sandy Petersen Interview
- [Just Crunch Games] Three Faces of the Wendigo
This Gaming Life: Romance
It’s a fine line between love and obsession. The gaming hobby gave me ample scope for both, and I jumped in with both feet and a willing heart. I was aged 11, it was 1979, and the eighties beckoned, both for me, and for the strange, obscure and exotic little pen and graph paper game that had no winners or losers. Strange and interesting times lay ahead.
When I was at school it was hard to be a geek. I mean properly hard. You could get beaten up for having the wrong clothes, or records, or parents. I was never on the receiving end of anything too onerous, but deciding that D&D was the greatest activity ever invented was like playing Russian roulette with my social prospects. I kind of realised that it was geeky, and that the lads in the Wargames club where all of a sort. The sort that didn’t get picked for the school football team. The sort that used the school library for more than just dossing about. Thing is, I didn’t care, I thought (and still do) that knowing words, reading books, and being witty were just about the coolest things you could be. I also knew it wasn’t for everyone, and that made it even cooler still. I was a happy little elitist snob, precisely 5 minutes after I first learned the world ‘milieu’.
My obsession blossomed early into a full on collector’s habit. I only had a paper round with which to supplement my supplements. I had to be careful with what I could buy, outside of birthdays and Christmas’s. Actually, including those high days. I don’t think I ever got a proper gaming gift in my life. I scoured White Dwarf for its reviews and I read between the lines too. I could tell the gloss was already starting to come off of D&D for the ‘hobby elite’. They were branching out into other games, like Traveller, Runequest and especially, Call of Cthulhu. I got them all, tried them all, and eventually had to retire from them for various reasons. The biggest one of those being that the UK actually started doing its very own games. Don’t forget, Games Workshop was still a games maker at that point. From them I picked up Golden Heroes, successfully conjoining my new hobby of gaming with my old one of comics. There were also signs of RPG gold in the form of both Rogue Trader, and the sainted WFRP. But behind all this was the game that I played more than just about any other in that time: Dragon Warriors. A game, let’s not forget, that you could buy in a newsagents. I’ll return to all those systems in the future, but for now, let’s talk about my personal brand of crazy.
If you’re a real enthusiast, you will do all kinds of things in the name of your enthusiasm. I did a lot of things for my nascent hobby.
- Dice. The tools of the artisan gamer (“18?” he said, cradling the cool ivory in his hand. “No problem” – from an ad in WD). My first set were green, with red numerals I painted in myself. I hadn’t realised that was what the crayon was for. My mate Tinse had a yellow set, slightly smaller than mine, again with red numerals. I kept mine in a Strepsils tin. I had used my compass to etch the TSR bearded wizard logo into it. The thing made a hell of a noise. He had used a cigar box, and his dad had cut bespoke holes into a sheet of foam to cradle his dice. I was extraordinarily jealous. I have both sets in the room next to me now. I don’t have either of the carrying paraphernalia. Tinse is a policeman in Lincoln now.
- It’s a Kind of Magick. I enjoyed English anyway, but when the teacher explained we had to write an essay, and it could be about anything, my heart lept. I poured my adolescent pulp learnings into an Elric homage that spanned at least 9 pages of exercise book, including illustrations! It came back marked in a heavy red pen with the note; “magic is not spelled with a K at the end. Try harder.” The fools.
- My own Monster Manual. I decided I would work on a radical remix of the bestiary in Moldvay’s Red Box, and the Fiend Folio’s from White Dwarf. I took a sheet of paper and did my own picture, and then filled in what I knew about the monster. I perhaps foolishly started with Dragons. Got as far as most of a green dragon, stopped, started on a Vampire, and never got much further. The sheets were held together by those short lengthes of green string with two metal ends on them. My cover sported a Svart and the legend “Scary Monsters, and Super Creeps”. I was inordinately proud of it. Sally Cranston from my class looked it over, announcing “I don’t know where you get all this from…” and with that, decades of trying to explain the unexplainable began.
- Who the hell is Gary Gygax? I passed a girl every day on my paper round. Over the course of months we went from sly acknowledgment to stopping for an awkward chat. We started swapping letters. Her name was Wanda (as in Weltschmertz, from the Enemy Within campaign, was my very first thought). We were becoming quite friendly, and I fancied asking her out on a date. Gulp. First, I had to know whether or not we had in common what I really needed for us to have in common. So in my next letter I asked her what she thought about Gary Gygax. She replied that despite poring through Who’s Who, she didn’t know who that was. I never saw her again.
- Cottage industry. I made floorplans out of breakfast cereal packets. I still have the first room in the sunken temple from Pharoah. There were 6 giant spiders waiting in the shadows. Look out for them, their poison attack is deadly.
- The Ereworn Ear. I had a lovely little campaign going for Dragon Warriors. I decided to record our adventures on my typewriter. I then used scissors and Prittstick to cut and paste my jottings into a fanzine, all on one piece of folded A4. One trip to the newsagents to use the photocopier later, and issue 1 of The Ereworn Ear was ready. I actually coerced my mate Maria into taking it to the local biker pub, The Prince of Orange, and selling it at 50p a go. It’s a sign of the age that she managed to sell the lot in half an hour. Issue 2 remains unfinished at time of writing.
- Rolemaster(y). I knew this was the game for the big boys, so when I got a shot at a place in a long running campaign I jumped at it. They asked me what character I had. I told them I usually played a 36th level wizard (I knew that was the limit of Basic D&D, I wasn’t just plucking numbers out of the air!). The ref didn’t even flinch. He said he’d get me a character done for the following week. It came in at 14 pages long.
- A bad deal. One of the original members of the Wargames club was moving away from the area. He had games he wanted to swap. I turned over my entire D&D collection to him, in exchange for a game from FGU called Merc. It had an acetate sheet with a snipers sight on, you know, for crits and that. I’d seen a film, The Wild Geese, so I thought I was up to the challenge. I wasn’t, neither was the game.
- How is that funny exactly? I turned my nose up at Tunnels & Trolls, and Paranoia very early in those games lifespans. I took my fantasy fun extremely seriously thank you very much. No way was I playing anything with spells call Take That You Fiend. And I always found that computer voice really annoying. So po-faced was I that I wrote in to WD complaining about one of its cartoon strips, The Travellers. I said it was puerile. They published my letter. The next issue saw The Travellers journeying to the planet Prat where every famously stupid stormtrooper had my name emblazoned across their chests. Fair dues really.
So, my obsession took some strange shapes in my early years. In my defence, I enjoyed every moment. I’ve often wondered what my life would have looked like had I not gotten into RPGs. I shudder to think. I can laugh at myself now for all those pubescent fumblings with the hobby. Thirty odd years later, we’re still happily together. Now that’s love.