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Once Upon A Time: The Long and Winding Road

by Brian Peace


My intro to gaming was not so much a long, rocky road, but a trail filled with big, gaping chasms and almost no bridges. There were so many dead-ends that I am amazed that I am still with the hobby. At first it seemed as though I would never get the chance to run or play at all.

I started in the 7th or 8th grade. I was a comic bookaholic with little hope for redemption. This was before the Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars sent me spiraling into a frenzy that made my previous comic collecting look tame.

It was at this time that a new game came out called Marvel Super Heroes Advanced Role Playing Game. I had heard of AD&D, but fantasy games didn't interest me at the time. Besides, I didn't know of anyone else who played. When I saw the Marvel RPG on the shelf of my local comic/game shop, I felt as though I had found the Holy Grail of all games. I bought the game and a module or two. I made three or four characters to get a feel for it and read the rules thoroughly. I was amazed that they actually had stats for all of the key players in the Marvel Universe. Then I rounded up all of my friends and helped them make up characters. I was going to run an epic of a story.

However, it took me years to actually run even the smallest adventure. It amazed me then and it amazes me now: everyone who made a character was gung-ho about making a superhero character that could do and be whatever his or her little imagination could cook up - but no one wanted to play in a game. They just wanted the concept down on paper. This idea blew my mind. Sure, it's fun seeing your imagination set on paper with stats and powers, but to not bring that character to life and see what he could do in situations was and is beyond my comprehension. I was irked to say the least.

Once I finally was able to run a game, it was only one module at a time and every time it was with different players and characters and amounted to nothing but a hack-and-slash superhero-style slugfest. We had fun, but I wanted to tell a story. I had grandiose ideas for long storylines with all the goodies. I wanted to see characters faced with great challenges and moral dilemmas. I could get this kind of action playing a board game where the tokens had characters attached to them. At the time, I just made hundreds of characters and gave up on playing or running for the moment.

It wasn't until I was in high school that I actually played my first semi-serious game. A friend had made up a world for AD&D and a race for the players called the Valura. They invited me to play since I had a little experience at role-playing and also had done some acting. I made a character that would end up being one of the focal points of the story. I raised a bronze dragon up from a hatchling, helped it mature, bonded with it in and out of character, and then had my heart ripped out as it was killed in combat in the game. I loved every gut-wrenching minute of it. The game died off within 6 months, but it was a definite turning point. I had realized that there were other deviants like myself out there who actually did something other than just make up characters. These weirdoes actually PLAYED the games. The concept stoked the dying embers of my obsession and made me really want to find more people like these.

The year that I graduated from high school, I went to Dragon*Con for the first time and jumped into any game that I could find. I played in an AD&D tournament, was invited to an all-night-get-drunk-and-play-AD&D-until-you-pass-out game, and then I found one of the games that was another major turning point in my hobby. A friend invited me to play a game called Paranoia. I had the best time that last day of the Con just being silly and Paranoid. If you have never played the game, trust me it is a blast if you do it right. It taught me that you don't have to be serious to have a great game and we were anything but. My clone was hopped up on happy pills and was thrown off of a ledge by a commie-mutant sabotaged clownbot. I fell to the earth flapping my arms as hard as I could and screaming, "I feel happy!!! I feel happy!!!" I failed my insanity check, but survived the fall, barely. Like I said, a great game. I ended up playing with that group for 8 months in the SAME CAMPAIGN. We went through most of our clones, but our campaign just kept on going.

I started college the next year and got involved in an outstanding game of Champions. Then I found the game that would be the one that would get me to run games until doomsday. Vampire had come out and I had heard the buzz about it, but I was just not as interested in that game as I was in Champions, Paranoia, and AD&D. Then a friend of mine asked if I would like to be in a game that he was running. I was willing to try anything as a player, so I proceeded to make up a character for the brand-new game called Werewolf: the Apocalypse. I went insane for White Wolf's Storyteller system. It was simple enough that I could spend a small amount of time reading the basic rules and know how to play the game in short order. It took a little more to run it, but it was well worth it.

The people that I was gaming with at the time had one little problem, though: no game could survive two weeks. They all wanted to play or run at least a dozen different games. We would play for a while and then start something new. It was a never-ending cycle of start/stop gaming. Like I said earlier, I wanted to run an epic storyline. I knew that the World of Darkness games, especially Werewolf, would give me the opportunity. All I needed was a stable group.

I was also introduced to my next purchase at about the same time. I played in a game of Amber Diceless and proceeded to buy the core book and all 10 of the novels. I was taken in by the Machiavellian intrigue that Roger Zelazny had cooked up for the world of Amber. The whole idea of reality hopping schemers who had fantastic powers, a several millennia lifespan, and possible children wandering around the various worlds inspired me. The game didn't last long, but my love for the setting and the game system lingered. I even found alternate rules that allowed for better game master control. I played and ran a large variety of games during those years and had the chance to be exposed to a lot of gaming systems but unfortunately still only for a short time for each.

After I left college, I got involved with a few other groups of game-hoppers until I decided to run a Werewolf campaign for a new group. That was all that they wanted, one game every week, but they were in for the long haul. We played that particular Werewolf campaign for 8 months until I burned out. It was my first time running something that long and I was not used to it. Keeping track of all of the different side stories gets a little tiring after a while. I also was running strictly out of a campaign, which is never a good thing unless you know how to wing it when the players get their own ideas. I was a little inflexible and I knew it. I finally had the epic that I had been dreaming of running for years, but I had fallen into the old gamemaster trap of sticking to the script too tightly. I put the game on hold until I could figure out what to do to make the stories more interactive and fluid.

I played and ran games on a more short term basis and bought some Storyteller's guides from the White Wolf range. They had editorial-style articles in the Storyteller's guides that taught the reader how to be a better storyteller instead of just giving out in-game nuggets and special toys for GMs. I read over them and anything else that I could get my hands on. The internet became a very important resource, as well as the people at the local game shop. I had been a regular at one shop since I was a preteen and they were more than happy to give advice and talk about gaming and GMing for hours on end.

I finally started a new Werewolf campaign in 1997, and we just had the finale in April this year. It was the multi-layered epic that I had been wanting to run for years. I started out with a published campaign and let the game evolve until there was no need for preprinted material. The players had enemies that popped up from time to time. Each NPC had its own back story and traits. The PCs were involved in events that would lead to the destruction of their caern, the fall and quest for salvation of one of the PCs, and the reclamation of the pack's home. I had them make up new characters and they played the finale using their old characters on an Umbral Quest to reclaim their lost caern first and then the new characters as some new blood guarding the caern while they were gone. After a breather, we will start the game up with their new characters and I will be using their old characters as elder NPCs.

Most of the people in the group are now part of my White Wolf demo team that I started here in Atlanta a few years ago. We now play Everway and Enchanted Worlds every other week on Sundays and have White Wolf demos at various game shops on Saturdays. I am opening up a game shop in my neck of the woods within the next year, and the demos will be a feature there too.

Granted, my goal was a long time coming, but I wouldn't change any of it. I can now tell the epic stories I always wanted. Although, it's not all roses. I get burned out sometimes because I am the primary gamemaster for the group. I sometimes don't have time during the week to think about the upcoming game. It's a lot of work. Name one hobby that isn't, though. Truth be known, I love the work that I put into my games. When I get burned out, I find a good book or a movie that lends a bit of inspiration, rip off some story elements, and I'm off and running again. If I haven't had time to prepare, I wing it. I have pulled some great stories out of a random event that I threw in on a whim.

There are so many upsides to the hobby that I just can't imagine what my life would be like if I didn't have a couple of shelves and a backpack full of books. Even my 4-year-old son likes it when the gang comes over. He rolls the dice like a pro. Granted, I make him roll a 20-sided die the size of his fist, but he will inherit the 1000+ dice collection someday. Until then, I'll wear the mantle of GM with pride and keep that evil gleam in my eye that my players have grown to fear and love at the same time.

Let's Play!


Brian, who is sometimes known as NightRaven, has a website devoted to his games. He works as a Network Administrator in Atlanta, and enjoys South Park.

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