Recently my wife posted an article on Facebook about how different parenting was when we were kids and now. I’ve seen several similar articles and sentiments in the past, most of which boiled down to “our parents made us play outside more often.” Such articles reminded me of my early days of gaming, where a group of friends and I would want to play only to find that we had no place to play. Our parents wanted us all out of the house.
I began roleplaying in the early 1980s, just when the appearance of console games, home computers, VCRs, and cable TV often made staying inside a more attractive option than going outside. Add roleplaying games to that and you get a guy who suddenly had sunburn issues during the summer when he never had them before. You also get a guy, who, along with his friends, was so addicted to indulging his new passion that he wasn’t going to let a little thing like the outdoors stop him from playing.
Playing outside had its challenges. Wind was a huge factor, and in winter months it was difficult to play on snow and ice-covered tables and benches. I also didn’t enjoy keeping my books outside, as they tended to get dirty and wet, depending on conditions. Given that there was usually only one picnic bench to hold everything, one strong gust of wind or careless reaching of the dice could cause a river of soda (pop) to drench half the materials on the table.
Taken together, these factors forced my GM (at this point I was more player than GM) to take a rules-light approach. Our fantasy games (usuallyÂ Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, although we went throughÂ RunequestÂ andÂ RolemasterÂ phases during this period as well) became less about dungeon-delving and more about court intrigue, diplomacy, and investigation.
As players, this meant that “who” our characters were became more important than what was on their sheets. Rolling dice, specifically combat, was so minimized that there was little difference between “barbarian with +2 battle axe” and “paladin with +5 holy avenger;” as far as we were concerned they were both good warriors. What mattered was whether the barbarian could navigate her way through a civilized city in order to find her imprisoned brother or whether the paladin could sniff out the vampire pulling strings in a royal court using probing questions, intimidating lackeys, and waving garlic around.
The rules evolved into a “diceless” system where we let a PC succeed or fail based on the strength of her roleplay or whether we felt she was skilled enough to succeed in any particular dice roll. When we felt that a situation really called for a dice roll we’d keep a d20 in our pockets and make up a percentage chance for success or failure. If we really felt the need for a proper battle then we’d wait until we were inside again.
Looking back, I think those days really shaped my own style. I tend to run NPC-heavy, investigative campaigns with little emphasis on combat. I spend a lot of time working on PC and NPC personalities and connections, while not worrying so much about what’s on their character sheets – I can make that up as I go. I also tend to enjoy rules-light systems over rules-heavy ones and I think this is a large part of why.
So how about you? Has any inconvenient or unusual situation really influenced your style? Do you think you’d be a different GM or player without that experience, or did it simply expedite the evolution of your style?