Episode 18Despite the fact that I'm working on one o' them eeevil MMO computer games, I'm a paper RPG player at heart.
My eldest brother first mentioned the original Dungeons & Dragons books to me back when I was in grade school. He tried to explain what it was like, but I wasn't invited to attend his gaming club with the older kids. So I tried to play D&D with a friend, based just on my memory of how he'd described it. Boy did I not get it right. For one thing, the 'dungeon map' I drew was a cutaway cross-section. As I recall, that made it very hard to describe things to my player.
I did eventually get to participate in a one-shot game with my brother's group, but not of D&D. They were playing Chainmail, the miniatures game from which D&D evolved. I got to control one very tiny unit of troops, led by a knight. The troops all got wiped out, but my lone knight leader figure tromped all around that map, and I role-played my heart out through that little guy.
The first paper RPG I ever ran was TSR's wild west themed Boot Hill. Not because I'm particularly interested in the genre, but because it and Empire of the Petal Throne (which I mentioned in a previous blog) were all that my brother left behind when he left for college.
I still remember a moment in that game when a skilled gunslinger, armed with a shotgun, managed to miss an enemy who was standing right in front of him. That was the moment when I first understood that the rules of an RPG are important. If they allow ridiculously improbable things to happen, they can spoil the fun.
A lot of paper RPG players denigrate the rules, thinking of them as (at best) a necessary evil, or (at worst) an actual impediment to having a good time. I disagree. To me, the rules of a paper RPG are the physics of the world. They're what enable the player to grasp what we all feel instinctively in real life: a sense of the odds. If the rules can provide that in a way that feels right, without being very complex, then that is (in my opinion) a GOOD set of rules.