A few years ago I had never played a Role-Playing Game, but I’d definitely heard about them all of my life. I’d almost gotten to play a game of D&D 4th edition with a friend in school, but it looked too complicated and he/we didn’t find anyone else who wanted to play. I was still interested, but I didn’t feel like I had the energy, time, or money to invest in games with complicated systems that were in 350+ page books that I couldn’t get in any local store (I hadn’t access to Amazon yet). But I was aware of and in some cases a part of the RPG culture for most of the time I can remember.
Fast-forwarding to 2014, when I had moved out, and had been a part of a fairly successful board gaming group for a few years, I was investigating more possibilities of games to play, going in every direction that seemed interesting. At the time Dungeons & Dragons was going through a re-brand with D&D Next, which was soon being released as 5th Edition (which is just called Dungeons & Dragons on the books for some reason). It seemed to be created and marketed in such a way as to attempt to attract new players (but don’t all new editions do that?). It seemed that there would be no better (foreseeable) time to get into the game; the starter set had just come out and there was no convoluted supplements, expansions, or errata to deal with. And if I was going the get myself and a group of people interested in playing that starter set seemed like the best bet, so I ordered one.
I was quite surprised when it arrived (after a bit of a problem with the USPS) that even with my general knowledge of the subject and excited-ness to learn the book was hard to get through. Even this 30-page mini version of a 350+ page book was incredibly boring to read. I couldn’t believe that this product that was created for, and marketed toward, new players seemed so unfriendly to those new players. And after trying and failing a few times to read the starter rules I shelved it. But not before I looked up a few “simple” “1-page” RPGs online. I gave them a once over and thought maybe I’d play them, and if they went over well I’d take another look at D&D (at least I understood the little ones). But in the end my excitement had waned enough that I just put them in the box and forgot for a while. The box sat on the shelf unused. Occasionally I would think about playing one of the smaller games but it always seemed to be in the wrong place. For more than a year I barely looked at and RPG.
But then, when I was moving again, my games were getting shuffled around and I wanted to pick a core set of games to keep in a location where I could play them. In general I picked one game per genre and on a whim I put the only Role-Playing Game I had into the mix. I never got the play it with that group, and I probably wouldn’t have, considering I didn’t finish reading how to play myself, but I though maybe one of those smaller single-page games would hit the table at some time. Even still, just having it around and visible again piqued my interest once more. But, once again, I started looking at the smaller RPGs that were easily accessible and inexpensive. I went to see if any of them had been updated and amazingly some had been, and new ones (at least ones I hadn’t seen before) were floating around. I downloaded some more pages, organized them and started reading the more thoroughly. I really liked how much game was being put into these little packages. And that I could create the world I wanted to play in with them and didn’t feel restricted to what the games’ creators had come up with because of the structure of the game. I do know that I could do something similar with D&D, and create my own world, but when reading about the game or starting to play, the focus on (very) high fantasy and magic is obvious and very difficult to shake. I personally am more of a medium fantasy type of guy and games almost don’t exist in that category, preferring to go from Conan straight to Lord of the Rings. I liked being able to shape the world how I wanted it to be, and even with such tiny games (usually 1-page +”expansions”) I could still take the mechanics I liked and keep them in, throwing out or changing the other “suggestions” the game offered at my leisure. In fact the smaller size made it easier to do that, as I didn’t have to comb through hundreds of pages to find potential inconsistencies.
But still I couldn’t find the perfect one for me. I combed through forums, blogs, and RPG websites to find as many as I could and printed out the best ones (I’ve got 22 currently in the binder) and starting to look more seriously at the systems that were “universal” or just of a somewhat different theme. And there are a lot of good ones out there, but they still didn’t feel quite right. 1-page didn’t seem long enough for me, there needed to be a little more depth to the system, but 10 or more pages was more than a “simple” system could handle; at least I didn’t want to read that much for something I had to print off myself and seemed like it should be flushed out a bit more into a small book. I wanted something in-between. The “universal” games were generally longer in rules, but lacked the focus and mechanics shaped by the scenario that the “themed” games had (RISUS being a great example here). It seemed I wanted something like the “Dead Simple” RPG system. One that was essentially the same from game to game, but had various tweaks with each of the different themes to make it work.
After hours of searching and not finding just the right thing I wanted I got the great(?) idea to create my own system. That way I could control how everything worked and make it, if not the perfect system, just that much closer to the game I really wanted. I had jotted down a few notes previously about how I would’ve liked to improve RPG systems, so went back to those notes and started revising them. I found that with a little tweaking I got something workable in my head, and then that amazing thing that happens when you’re working on a project started happening; things just started to fall into place. The more I worked, the ideas just fit together and kept coming. Of course, this comes with the less-than-amazing part where I have to write it all down. And as I started doing that I found that the project quickly grew in scope. What I had envisioned as a simple “5-page” game that I might go back to and add a few things later became (first a little more squished to keep it 5 pages and) something that looked a lot more like a full game. Not one of the modern 300-pagers but closer to the “classic” home-printed, staple-bound games. Suddenly I had 5 pages of rules, 5 pages of game master guide, 5 pages of monsters, and then extra stuff about potions, spells, hirelings, stores and more. And suddenly I needed more games to research how they handled different gameplay aspects. I didn’t want to copy but I also didn’t want to flail about blindly for mechanisms or balancing. So I looked into a newer, smaller systems I could easily get my hands on to compare, most notably Chris Gonnerman’s Basic Fantasy RPG.
And after a few weeks of working on it I found out about a local RPG group starting up in my area (a rare thing in a small town) and I was able to join and start playing a game. (I had played several single sessions and playtested my system before so I wasn’t a complete n00b) It was D&D, but as it turns out that system is a lot more fun to play that it is to read the rules (I did have a good general idea of how to play before going in, just something I picked up from the internet and the video circles I watch in). It also gave me an excuse to purchase the rulebooks, which actually have way more fascinating information that the starter kit books but are still not excitedly written. Everything was stacking up. I had both smaller and larger systems to use as comparisons and I was working through what was now to become my RPG system and various “supplements”. I called it RPG LTE: Swords and Sorcery for various reasons, but mainly because I thought it was a good name and one that is expandable with other RPG LTEs to come in the future.
My plan was to finish up the “core rules” in three 5-page parts (consisting of: Game Rules, Game Mastering, and Monsters) and then follow that up with several single page supplements and a small book of this “beta” that would be available in limited quantities (I have already printed books with a PoD service, but I had no idea that would be the easiest part). That got all muddied up as I finished most of the final supplements before finishing the “monster” section (when creativity calls, sometimes you gotta follow it). So I printed the beta book and have had it along with several of my other books at the art shows and cons I attend. And, after a few more tweaks, I gave the beta a “soft” release on my website a few weeks ago, to which this is the follow up, and there will soon be a “hard” release with a post that is more focused on the game itself and what it is trying to accomplish.
That’s been my “journey” so far, and I’m sure it’s far from over. Hopefully as I continue to acquire, play, and work on RPGs I can keep this story going, learn more, and have fun indefinitely. It’s always hard, especially in this day and age where people do so much, to get a good role-playing group together and even harder to keep it together. But actually getting the games played, and exploring the world as well as the mechanics is a great experience, and one I will hopefully have many more times, with many more systems in the future.