I don’t really remember ever not playing role-playing games. The table-top kind, with the dice and the character sheets. Sometimes maps.
It was Shelby who first introduced me to RPGS. I’d had an invitation to play D&D with a friend in Denver when I was younger. This was in the early 80s, and the strange time of the Satanic Allegations & Moral Panic.
Heavy Metal, Dungeons & Dragons and childcare centers were singled out (and how fucking weird is that 3-hit combo?) and investigated for alleged Satanic Ritual Abuse and hidden messages and driving kids to the Devil.
Frankly, it is shocking that the far-right neo-conservative Christian extremists haven’t tried to resurrect it in today’s political climate, but I’m here to talk about gaming, not scared assholes. Which isn’t to say that gamers can’t be assholes and sometimes scared, but I digress further from my digression.
I didn’t get to play D&D when I was a wee lad- I don’t know if Mom was reacting to the Moral Panic, or if she just wasn’t a big fan of the Kid who offered to teach me to play. I do have a hazy recollection of mom sort of clutching her pearls (metaphorically) and saying something about how D&D had caused some poor sick kid to commit suicide. My mother meant well, but to my child-mind that connection was forged in solid steel: D&D lead to Bad Stuff, and I sure didn’t want to get into Bad Stuff.
Anyway, many years later I was introduced to gaming by my friend Shelby. We still game, together and regularly, and neither of us has committed suicide (and I keep my devil-worshipping life private) so obviously it worked out ok.
I’ve written in the past about how the core gaming group of my teenage years was Matty, Shelby, Podjo and myself. Marvel RPG, D&D, Paranoia- and many other long forgotten games. RPGs were also a gateway drug into table-top fantasy games, strategy games etc. I wasn’t as big on the strategy games (and I never got into the collectible card games, though Podjo definitely did as I recall).
Well, I wasn’t into the non-RPG games. I liked the character aspect- it was way more important to me (and fun) than just rolling dice.
Except for one non-RPG game.
Leading Edge put out a board game in 1989 of the James Cameron action/sci-fi Aliens. A great movie for a teenage boy. Absolutely Badass.
So this board game was simple- really simple, you could play it by yourself (the Alien attacks were randomized) and easy/quick to learn. Podjo bought it- and the Expansion Set- and we spent hours playing.
There were great optional rules- the Dietrich rule (if a Marine holding a flame unit is grabbed by an Alien roll to see if they involuntarily ignite any nearby comrades), the Frost rule (if a Marine is standing next to an airshaft when wounded, roll to see if they stumble down the shaft), and the 2nd Frost rule (in the Reactor scenario designate one Marine to carry the ammo bag, if they get hit with a flame unit, it blows up).
It was a lot of fun. Simple, mindless, exciting. And an excuse to trot out our encyclopedic recall of dialogue.
I don’t remember when I last played- I think it was in the summer of… oh man, ’95? I was twenty and crashed at Podjo’s for a 2 week period, and I’m pretty sure I dusted off the old game and played a quiet game or two.
When I started working in LA, in 2000, I “discovered” how the Internet seemingly exists to encourage nostalgia. I found some old books/old movies/old music albums that I had lost track of over the years. And I looked to see if I could find the Aliens board game. I could- but I sure couldn’t afford it. It was only published for a year or so, in 1989, expansion set in ’90.
Every so often- as late as 2005 I think- I would look at Ebay for prices on the Leading Edge games. It was always a bit dear for a paper map, some cardboard cut-outs and rubber stands.
Board games of that type still exist- I’m sure. They predate table-top RPGs (hell, thats sort of how RPGs came about- from the miniature military scenario games) and can be a blast to play.
I still play RPGs- we have a roughly bi-weekly Deadlands game that I’ve been running for a little over 6 years now. My Bettie, Shelby and Chris are the founding players.
Last night was a Deadlands night. I go down to let Chris in.
Chris is skinny again, looks a little tired, carrying a black box.
“I got this for you.”
It is a slightly battered black box. It looks familiar. I probably recognized it in less than a second.
A second can take a long, long time though. That battered black box. How many memories floated through my head in the milliseconds between recognizing it and before I said something along the lines of “Wow. Oh wow.”
I know I said that, because Sam was with me, and he told me: “Daddy! You said Wow oh wow! What is it?”
Sam was shaking with excitement. Because he could tell- sense or see- just how excited I was.
I’m pretty sure I thanked Chris profusely. I hope I did. I’m not sure. My mind was 17 or so years ago- or even further, really- sitting on the floor of my room in DC, rolling to see if Drake got splashed with acid, or if Apone involuntarily sets Hicks on fire while being dragged off to his doom by an Alien.
Sam wanted to open the box RIGHT THEN, but he managed to wait. We played Deadlands (it was a pretty excellent session, I think), and I stumbled to bed shortly after midnight.
Woke up around 5, made tea, came upstairs to do some writing. Sam clears his throat down in the living room about a quarter to six.
“Daddy. I awake. You show me game. You said wow.”
So I did. Sam thinks it is pretty cool.
So do I.