This Gaming Life: University Challenge Rating

By on 15 June 2013
Baz King

I came to University quite late in life. Beer, women and paying the rent had gotten in the way of higher education for a few years following school. It was the early nineties and I had to resign myself to the increasingly obvious facts that the NME were not going to be calling me back anytime soon. I got my life organised to the extent that I took my A levels in night school and did well enough to get a place at Anglia Polytechnic University studying Law. An obvious choice for anyone with my deep understanding of the Dungeon Masters Guide. I was very excited at the prospect of three years of libraries, books, debate and learning. I was even more excited at the prospect of joining the Roleplaying Society.

White Dwarf 66I always believed that Universities were a hot bed of elite level gaming. All the writers in White Dwarf appeared to be clever, educated, well read types from Oxbridge. My original mentors at school had all long ago drifted off into the upper echelons of intellectual life, and I naturally assumed they had all taken postings in leafy quadrangles, all elbow patched and corduroyed. Plus, these places had rooms with tables, chairs and photocopiers on tap. Gaming heaven, and the government would pay? Where do I sign!

Day one in the law lecture theatre and the head of the university explains how the weekly schedule worked. In any given week I was expected to turn up for about four hours of lectures. The rest would be the occasional seminar and as much reading as I could eat. Exhausting notion. I simply took that as a green flag to utterly gorge myself on hot game time. A week later I rocked up to the Roleplaying Society stand at the Freshers Fayre and said hi. A week later there were about twenty of us in a room pitching and voting on that terms games. That’s more gamers than I’d ever seen in one place before.

I turned down a chance to play in a MERP game (Tolkien was so passé to me at the time) and some Tales from the Floating Vagabond (oh please) instead jumping into a Shadowrun game and an AD&D one largely based on scheduling and geography rather than anything more concrete to hang onto.

ShadowrunThe AD&D game was being organised by Doug, a nice chap with digs just down the road from my place. I was one of three players and we duly rolled up our PCs together. Not something I’d done in many years, but not too tricky despite having to share a battered Players Handbook around. I vividly remember one guy rolling a three for a stat and dumping it straight into Charisma. He made up for that by spending all his coinage on an elaborate silver mask and speaking in incredibly eloquent and persuasive tones to any and all NPCs. Riiiight. None of us lasted long as the very first encounter was with a pack of saber toothed tigers and we were all eaten in one round. Doug was all apologies when he flipped to the cover of his module and noticed that it was actually written for 7th level pcs. Oops.

I remember less about the Shadowrun session which was run by an erudite young gentleman by the name of Julien (who to this day I play with every week, some twenty years later. Hi Jules!) I had not really played the game before and quite liked all the clashing genres. It seemed like my kind of thing, and as is my practice, I bought a copy of the main book for myself (2nd edition if you’re interested). When Jules’ game petered out I took up the challenge of running the next session. That kickstarted a two year campaign that went through almost every Shadowrun adventure on the market and culminated with us finishing Harlequin, an epic planar adventure. Jules turned out to be a much better player than GM and really kept me on my toes with his, shall we say, rigorous approach to optimisation. He’s a lawyer now. Who knew?

I also ran the same group through the entirety of The Enemy Within for WFRP in those years, and a sprawling Earthdawn campaign too but the the main event each week was the all day Rolemaster fest at Simon’s place.

There was a big old shared house just outside the town centre that was pretty much exclusively tenanted by gamers. It had a common room within which 6-8 of us would install ourselves at about 11ish surrounded by snacks and drinks. We would chuck Spell Law to each other as necessary, fake outrage as Simon rolled his killer black percentiles, banish Doug for extreme anal emissions and break only for a chilli chip kebab from the shop round the corner. Sessions would last long into the night and players would drop in and out seemingly at random. Or at least that’s how it appeared to me, it turns out the others actually went to the odd lecture mid game. Lightweights.

I’m still friends with many of the guys from those days, none less than that paragon of gameage, the mighty Gaz. I can happily report that Gaz has never suffered fools gladly. One such fool rocked up regular as clockwork every week, whereupon he managed to irritate everyone with his rather odd take on roleplaying. He liked to speak in a sinister accent all the time, and utter cod Shakespearean monologues when frankly “I hit it with my axe” would have been a blessed relief. I bounced a d4 off his forehead from behind the screen on more than one occasion. Once, his poor PC was knocked unconscious by a cruel roll on Crit Table F. He was not happy, but stayed schtum while we carried on, all feigning ignorance of his plight. After a couple of hours of this he could stay silent no more so offered a few observations on the course of events to date. Gaz brooked no interruption. “You’re unconscious mate. Any more from you and you’ll be fined”. The player (sod it, lets call him Andrew, what with that being his name) zipped it for a few minutes, but after a while decided to speak up again. Gaz whipped Andrews character sheet away from him, dismissively rubbing out and rewriting the sheet to the tune of 5 fewer gold pieces. “That will learn you”.

Andrew remained unconscious for a further six weeks of 12 hour sessions and steadfastly attended every minute, in silence, and in mortal fear of his PCs dwindling wealth. I sometimes wonder if we were perhaps a bit too hard on him. Then again, he was a bit of a nob, so in hindsight, no we weren’t.

I miraculously stumbled out of the other end of university after three years with an honours degree in law and a vast debt to the Student Loan Company. Far more important and longer lasting than either of those things though were the fabulous accumulation of some amazing gaming hours and the beginnings of some lifelong friendships that to this day revolve around studiously pretending to be other people. Don’t get me wrong, we had some hard drinking and partying times along the way too, but naturally we saved our best sessions for our jolly boys outings… Conventions.

About Baz King

Baz was introduced to RPGs in 1979, due to a misunderstanding on his part of what Wargaming actually meant. More than 30 years on, and he's coming round to the idea that he might well have been right first time after all. Baz has been GMing for almost all that time, and has never tired of telling people that they are facing 6 goblins, scattered around a 30' chamber. Not afraid to move with the times, he has been known to not use a screen on occasion. Baz looks forward to levelling up so he can get that next feat and spend it on the rest of his name. Until then, lets face it, it's great being king. Baz lives the high life in darkest Essex, surrounded by things he doesn't really need and couldn't really afford. Still, game on eh? He blogs at rpgtreehouse.wordpress.com.

3 Comments

  1. Andrew Watson

    17 June 2013 at 11:16 am

    An optimising lawyer, never seen one of those before…:)

    Also I very nearly ended up studying Law at Anglia, although it had become the University Polytechnic of East Anglia by then.

  2. Stronty Girl

    17 June 2013 at 12:57 pm

    Nice article. Voting on that term’s games? Wow, that sounds uber-organised for the students I’ve gamed with! 🙂

    But it seems to me that a game that let a character be unconscious for 6 sessions had a great deal more than one nob present in it! Couldn’t you have told him to his face that you didn’t want to play with him?

  3. Baz king

    17 June 2013 at 5:37 pm

    Could have done Stronty, but honestly, it never occurred. It was more like The Inbetweeners with dice than anything mature, grown up and cerebral. Different times.

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