Recapturing the Magic

One of my earliest clear memories of role playing, in any form, is of running a few friends through an AD&D adventure.  We were 12 years old and having the time of our lives. I know that one of our characters was a 44th level Dwarven Wizard.  I also know that we had access to the most powerful spell we’d ever seen, and it was a second level spell!  We would charge through the dungeons, throwing this spell around like nobody’s business and laying waste to monsters left and right.  It was madness!

I’ll never forget this uber-spell.  It was called Feign Death.

Looking back, I can’t help but have a mental image of a series of well rested, slightly bewildered monsters waking up and looking frantically around for the armed-to-the-teeth party that just tromped through their living room in a threatening manner.   I also can’t help pining for, keenly at times, the sheer, raucous, pure fun we had.

Now that I’m a crusty old RPG player and designer, I have to be hyper-focused on the rules.  I’ve got to check and double check that adding a single mechanic won’t break the entire game or tweaking a class this way or that doesn’t cause the players to fall in to a min/max hell they can’t escape from.  In the rules heavy systems like D&D and Pathfinder, it can sometimes be a ten minute pause to figure out who got staggered and why they weren’t exhausted instead.  There’s a big part of me that misses those earlier times when the rules were there to fall back on if we needed them, but the majority of the game took place with us barely cracking a book open.

We weren’t encumbered by a lot of adult concerns at 12.  Mortgages, car payments, jobs, rules.  None of these were our primary concern.  We simply met at the local library once a week to play a game.  And oh, what a game!

In the space of a few minutes of setting up all of us were transported in to a realm where the only limits were our imagination and the only real problem we had to overcome was a librarian shushing us every 15 minutes or so.  Even that couldn’t dampen our fun.

That others were watching us and scratching their heads, I have no doubt.  Didn’t bug us in the least.  That we missed, misinterpreted or plain old ignored any number of rules and mechanics in the game I also have no doubt.  And I can honestly say I don’t think I’ve ever had as much fun gaming as I did in those first years of playing, between the ages of ten and fourteen. Everything was pure storytelling and reacting – we built a world together.  Granted it was a juvenile world filled with things that were very, very cool to 12 year old boys, but it was our world and we were eminently comfortable inhabiting it.

As our group grew and the last of us made it through puberty, we started playing a new system.  I don’t remember which one of us was the first to pick up the books, but by the time I was 13, we were deeply embroiled in a massive campaign using the 1st edition of the Palladium Fantasy RPG.  This was by far the best system I’ve ever played with a group, and it lead to the longest campaign I’ve ever run as well.

Go ahead, take a moment to stop shaking your head, and laugh uncontrollably until you’ve got your breath back.

Mechanically this was not the best system we’ve ever played.  The rules had any number of holes in them, and the game was supremely unbalanced.  And thank goodness for that because if it had been straight up, mechanical  D&D 3.5 or Pathfinder,  we wouldn’t have had nearly as much fun!  If we didn’t like, or as was often the case, couldn’t find a rule, we’d house rule it.  On the fly, with barely a pause.  Unbalanced?  Damn right it was!  That was the point – a 1st level Human Wizard just wasn’t going to survive the same kind of encounter as a 1st level Elf Assassin.

Remember, this is the 1st edition of PFRPG, before such atrocities as MDC had been released on the world, and Glitter Boys were but a twinkle in a game designer’s eye.  Yes, if you rolled a 6 on a d6 during character creation, you could add another die to it.  The charts for stats and bonuses went right up in to 30.  To a group of intelligent thirteen and fourteen year old kids who could now grasp rules but hadn’t quite left that magical existence of being a kid, this was pure awesome.

The heroes in our campaigns (us) were extraordinary in a very literal sense. They could easily overpower the typical peasant.  Kings?  When you’re a 12th level Warlock, Kings are simply people with fancy hats.  Also, the enemies we faced were of the same stripe.  We (as characters) had risen far above the normal mortal existence, and why not?  The Universe needed us to combat those villains who had done the same!  Was it a bit silly?  Actually, no, not in the world we had created.   Did we have an amazing time?  Absolutely.

If the game hadn’t been unbalanced, we wouldn’t have been able to build the amazing characters that we did.  If the system didn’t have a few holes, we would never have learned to plug them on the fly and continue on with the meat of the thing – the story.   In stead, we would have been frequently stopping our joint narrative to look up a rule, find an obscure reference or (horrible of all horribles) try to grapple something.  That would have been a good 30 minutes of two people pouring through books while the rest of us twiddle our thumbs or doodled on our character sheets.

That just about never happened in our games though.  We’d gloss over the bad by making it our own, and the story would continue.  Out of character discussions happened, but far less frequently than they do now, as adults, playing many of the modern systems.   We were closer in spirit to Fiasco than we were to D&D.  I realize there are rules light systems as well, and this may be a prelude to me trying some of these out – and on that note, I’d love to hear your recommendations.

We find that now, for every hour of game play, there is at least 10 minutes of minutia – checking rules, looking up something special about a spell, and what not.  I really feel like we’re missing the total immersion, the complete sense of fun that we had when we could gloss over all of that stuff and not worry about throwing a monkey wrench into the incredibly, delicately balanced systems that we play in now.

To hell with that, I say!  Rules heavy systems have their place, and they can be very fun to play.  As much as can be accounted for is done so within a massive system which anyone can reference at will.  Those are not bad things.  But for now, I’m also going to encourage you to give being a kid again a try.  Play like you’re 12 years old, and you don’t care if anyone is watching you.  Cast aside your minis and maps in favor of pure imagination.  Put your trust in your GM when it comes to where a particular foe is.   If you can’t find that one rule, skip it!  Stay as much in the world you’re creating as you can and get goofy with the amazing things that can happen when the only limit on the game is how far your collective imaginations can stretch.

[tags]rpg, role playing games, puberty, gaming, immersion, rules, mechanics, D&D, pathfinder, palladium[/tags]

5 thoughts on “Recapturing the Magic

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  1. Amen, bruddah!

    I remember buying RoleMaster used just so I could add crit tables to D&D. “Electricity fries brain and central nervous system. Target dead, everyone else stunned 1 round from light show.” I laughed until I cried.


  2. I remember those RoleMaster charts. 🙂 We used to revel over the original Palladium FRPG’s sexual deviations. The one where they eventually put stickers with non-sexual deviations over ’em.


  3. A couple of good rules-light RPGs are Everway and Over the Edge. I can’t speak for the setting of OTE as we just use the rules in a different setting, but the rules get the job done.

    Also, if you can find a copy someone suggested the NoPress RPG Anthology. It’s a collection of 8 independent rules light RPGs.


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