Role playing gamges (RPGs) are a virtually lifelong hobby of mine.
OK, I didn't come out of the womb rolling dice, but from early on I developed skills that made RPGs a natural fit for me. My dad (now retired) was an engineer by trade, and in 1975 when I was 11 (yes, eleven years old) I drew my first set of house plans. We were living in Brooklyn, and Mom and Dad went to Charlotte, NC to house hunt. They found a house, Dad had a tape measure with him, and he drew a sketch of the house and took measurements of all the rooms. When they came back, he taught me how to make an architectural floor plan of the house.
We had a complete set of cardboard furniture cuts outs he had made (scale of 1/4" = 1'-0"), and each time they moved, Dad created a 1/4" scale floor plan of the new house so they could decide where all the furniture was going to go. That way, when it was taken off the moving truck, everything went straight to the correct location... no moving things twice!
I was also very much into science fiction and fantasy literature. Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, and Tolkien were among my favorites. On top of that, I always seemed to have a natural flair for storytelling and theatrics. Combine all that with above average math and logic skills, and world building and "Dungeon Mastering" seemed to be the perfect fit for me.
I already had a group of high school friends who lived nearby that I gamed with. We played Avalon Hill war games, Risk, Diplomacy, and any game that seemed like it would be fun and wasn't a run-of-the-mill board game. (These days, Settlers of Catan ranks among my favorite board games). In 1979 when we first heard about Dungeons and Dragons in the news, it portrayed a game that was somehow dangerous in a real world sense. THIS is the article that introduced us to D&D:
Seriously... read that first paragraph... "the victim of an elaborate intellectual fantasy game". WTF???
Well screw whatever fears or ignorance the parents or writers of the piece were trying to spread. This article became for us (as I believe with the rest of American teens) an open invitation to find out what the heck this game was all about. It sounded damned interesting. We ordered a copy immediately.
And it was interesting. It was beyond interesting. We simply loved it. We played nearly every day after school, and the first few summers we played all day, every day. And some people grew worried.
Now, if we had been playing Monopoly, or basketball, or football, or anything people could relate to on a daily basis, no one would have given it a second thought. But this was a sort of byzantine set of rules. There was no game board, there were no pieces. There was just paper, dice, pencils and books.
One of the most humorous moments was when our friend Keith's dad walked into the room, shook his head at the piles of books and paper, and good-naturedly groaned "Whatever happened to Parchesi?"
Our parents actually loved the game. They always knew where we were (we rotated playing at each other's houses). It kept us out of their hair and (contrary to some public opinion) safe at the same time.
But there was a huge movement against such games. That first news article created an impression that permeated the American consciousness. There were Jack Chick tracts like this one:
And then there was the atrocious Tom Hanks movie Mazes and Monsters:
In any case, I've been playing for many years, and taught my kids how to play. Somehow, we all survived. I credit my background in RPGs with developing my professional storytelling skills and haunted house design and directing skills.
In 1997, I was looking for a career change after working for several years in the film business. I asked myself (as I often do), "If I could do anything in the world, what would I want to do?"
I thought it would be neat to work for an RPG company. I was already living in Virginia, and I recalled that one of the game companies I had purchased products from was located in Virginia. I looked through some of my old stuff, and found my copy of Arms Law, by Iron Crown Enterprises (I.C.E.)
I called them up, and a couple of months later I had a job as their marketing graphics designer. Here's some of my work:
|1998 I.C.E Catalog Cover, Art Direction, Styling, Graphic Design|
|Art direction and styling of photograph of hand made (by me) prototype|
of the re-designed Settlers of Catan Game
|Art Direction and Styling of Photograph for Run out the GunsPirate themed RPG|
|Graphic design for Warlords TCG advertisment|
(Does anyone see a pattern here? Puppets replaced by CGI, and dice and paper replaced by game consoles? Some days it feels like I'm fighting a losing uphill battle! Long Live Analog!)
The good news is that the very same electronic games that were the death knell for table top games also made playing RPGs socially acceptable. The economic might of video games is bewildering. As an example, when The Incredibles came out in theaters in 2004, it was one of the blockbusters of the year. It grossed some $70 million in the first three days , and was the fifth highest grossing move that year. The same year, the video game Halo 2 came out. It grossed $125 million in the first 24 hours of its release. Some of the great computer RPGs out there are Morrowind, Fable, and this year's Skyrim.
And to see the level of coolness in which Halo is held, check out this awesome performance of the Halo theme song at a high school talent show!
Back to the tabletop
A couple of years ago, I began re-working my fantasy campaign setting. (This is the make believe world where all your stories take place... like Oz or Middle-earth or Narnia). It is called Shatterworld.
In October, I created my very first blog, and began piece by piece building Shatterworld online. It is far from complete (technically, it can never be completed), but I have enough to have been able to launch my first table top game session in a number of years. Last Saturday we began playing at our local pizza shop. I also have plans to work on a novel set in Shatterworld. Here's a link to a short story I wrote, The Wolf's Ascent.
Here's a log of the first game session, The Amulet of Skuld: Chapter 1
Here's a map of Calabria, the central country where all the action takes place in the Shatterworld setting:
|Not to be confused with a place in Italy!|
And I just started The Ashland Arts Alliance Meetup Group