Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Alternative Timeline - Part I

Old Dragoon's Blog has inspired me. 

I had wanted to do a Timeline of my years in the RPG Gaming Hobby last August when I celebrated my 40th year. I forgot to get around to it as that month was pretty thick with RPGaDay Challenge posts.

As accurately as I can, I am going to map out my RPG Timeline. My plan is to give my readership* some insight into why I game the way I do. With any luck, I will realize something about myself through this endeavor. Ain't self reflection grand?

OK, here goes...

Wait! Preface:

We begin in 1977, Brooklyn, New York.

I am 8 years old. My father is a Police Officer and my mother a Homemaker/House-Wife. 
We are Lower-Middle Class, as are most of my friends and their families. 

The neighborhood is ethnically diverse. Originally the area was largely Irish, Italian, and Polish immigrants, but by 1977 encompassed a much greater range. 

My maternal grandfather is a Movie Theater Manager. He does well and is probably Middle Class. I see a lot of movies for free and sometimes help out around his theaters as an usher.

My uncle (married to my mother's sister) works for the distribution company that handles Time Magazine, Mad Magazine, and DC Comics. I get free DC comic books on occasion

My father has a female cousin who is about 16 at the time. We only see her and the rest of her family on Jewish Holidays and occasionally during the early or late Summer. She reads DC Comics, Archie, and Harvey Comics titles (Hot Stuff, Wendy The Witch, Casper). My dad's cousin introduces me to the Legion of Superheroes, the Teen Titans, and other such series

My friends and I are deeply into comic books. 

I watch a lot of TV. Mostly cartoons of course, but also reruns of Lost in Space, the Twilight Zone, and other Science Fiction shows. I also watch a lot of cowboy and police detective programs. I watch Star Trek reruns Saturday night's with my father on the only evening he is home from work at a time when I am awake. I love Star Trek. My friends and I play Star Trek the way some kids play Cops and Robbers.

My reading level is several grades higher than my actual grade. I read a lot of books, mostly Science, Science Fiction, Folklore and Mythology.

I am absolutely obsessed with Outer Space. I have a telescope my father got from a Police auction. I watch any news or TV programs about astronauts, space, or anything related. This obsession includes UFOs and Aliens. I will watch any show or read any book about those subjects. 

I am also obsessed with Star Wars. The film came out a few months earlier and I watched it five times on opening day. 

I attend Summer Camp at the YM/YWHA for the first time. 

It Begins: The First 10 Years

August 25th, 1977: I play Dungeons and Dragons, Holmes Basic I believe, with my friends Paul and Tom. Paul is 8 like myself and Tom is only 7. Tom's older brother taught him how to play. Story relayed here and here

The campaign lasts a dozen adventures or so. My character is killed at Level 3 when he dives in front of his comrades to save their lives lest they be fried by dragon breath. 

Summer 1978:

I have not played an RPG in about half a year or more.

In May or June, on the first day of Summer Camp, a friend shows a group of us the D&D Basic game. I am the only one with any past experience in that group and are therefore given the job of Dungeonmaster. I DM for a small group that grows larger as the Summer goes on. 

Winter 1978:

I ran and played a lot of D&D during the school year.

I may have played my first other game at this time but I believe it wasn't until...


By now I had regular games going on during the School/Winter months and the Camp/Summer months. 

At some point I played Boot Hill (I believe), Traveller, and Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. 


At this points I Gamemaster twice as often as I am a player.

I receive my own copy of Basic D&D for my birthday or perhaps Chanukah from my 'aunt' (family friend who knew my Mom since Junior High School). Technically, since my birthday is February and Chanukah moves based on the Jewish calendar, this may actually have occurred in 1981.

By this point I had played and run Gamma World and Top Secret. 

I am able to get Dragon Magazine at one of two 'local' stores that sell RPG materials. The stores are actually closer to my grandparents than to my home and I only go there with them. 

I play in a few games of Advanced D&D in 1981 that begin to turn me off to the game and its fans a bit. I begin to see flaws in the game I never noticed before in terms of what it's about, how it works, and why people play it. Nonetheless it is still my main game of choice for the time being. 


I spend my gaming time as a GM vs. being a Player 75% to 25%.

A major turning point in my gaming 'career': 

I am now 13-14 (again birthday in February and much of my gaming based around whether I am in School or at Camp) and I go into Manhattan/New York City on the subway with my friends to discover the pop-culture megastore 'Forbidden Planet'. A bit later, traveling completely by myself, I find the Complete Strategist, a store devoted solely to gaming, almost by accident. 

I purchase my first two RPGs that I obtain with my own money - Villains and Vigilantes (2nd Edition, Fantasy Games Unlimited) and Star Trek, The Role Playing Game (Basic Game, FASA). I begin GMing and playing both games fairly regularly, cutting my time with D&D rather significantly. 

During the school year I create and run my very first homebrewed game system. Essentially a mix of AD&D 1st Edition and V&V 2nd Edition, the end result is a workable if cumbersome Star Wars game. This begins my tendency to modify, kitbash, or otherwise confidently mess with game mechanics. 

I would play and run more systems in 1982 as my network of gaming friends increased and each owned different games. It became a thing with us to try a new game whenever one game out and we had the funds. 

I get my first job working after school on Wednesdays at a comic book store in Brooklyn not far from my house. I mostly use my earnings to buy RPG books and comics. The rest covers food and snacks most likely. 

Finally, I first discover Japanese Anime and Manga around this time, though I had unknowingly watched Japanese cartoons in English and purchased Gundam models without knowing what they were. A friend of mine, originally from Myanmar (then called Burma), had watched Starblazers, Battle of the Planets, and Tranzor Z in Chinese and Japanese back home. He revealed the true natures and stories of Space Battleship Yamato, Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, and Mazinger Z. Thank you Aldrin.


At this point I am rarely playing, GMing almost exclusively.

In the Summer of 1983 I begin a campaign of heavily houseruled AD&D that will last about three and a half year of real time. The game is set on my homebrewed world of Aerth and patterned after things I learned running V&V. It isn't really a Medieval Fantasy game but rather a Superhero game disguised as one. 

I continue to try out numerous RPGs, thanks in part to older friends at camp and other gamers I meet at my 'friendly local game store', The Compleat Strategist. My after school job and errands give me the funds to purchase games on occasion. 

The games I focus on at this time include Star Trek (FASA), Star Frontiers (TSR), Space Opera (FGU), and Villains & Vigilantes (FGU). I am already realizing my preference for Science Fiction and Superheroes over Fantasy, which is something I'd always known but never stated outright. By 1984 I was telling potential players, "I don't really like D&D."

The games that would come out at this time and really influence my approach to RPGs were Paranoia (WEG), Toon (Steve Jackson Games), and Mekton (1st Edition, R. Talsorian Games). I embraced the lighter, more flexible rules, the concept that the rules really were just guidelines, and comedy was a viable way of approaching RPGs. 

In addition to the cultural and racial diversity my groups have always had, I start having female players join in at this time. I wouldn't have a regular member until the end of 84' or the beginning of 85', but a few female players pop in and out of my campaigns and attend one-shots.

Aldrin introduces me to an older friend of his who is attends the High School of Art and Design in Manhattan. He, Nelson, further introduces me to the world of Anime and Manga, including taking Aldrin and I to a meet with a group that gets together once a month to watch Anime from Japan in Japanese. Recorded off Japanese television these shows and movies are neither dubbed nor subtitled. My mind is blown. 


I finish my long running AD&D homebrew game after three and a half years. It is a bittersweet finale but a solid ending and epilogue to the campaign.

It is the final year in which I will attend Summer Camp and I will not see the majority of my friends from this time in my life ever again. We went to different schools, lived in different parts of Brooklyn, and I was about to attend High School in Manhattan. 

Ah yes, I get into the High School of Art and Design. I meet many more gamers and of course all of them are also artists. My campaign folders and notebooks quickly become the envy of all gamers who see them as they are filled with character illustrations, concept art, and vehicle designs.

I discover the DC Heroes RPG by Mayfair Games in addition to many more, but it is this one that sticks with my group for a while as we're big DC fans and the point buy character creation is right up our alley.  

My games of choice are now primarily DC Heroes, Star Trek, and Mekton.


My high school gaming was dominated Mekton, Palladium's R-Word RPG used to play Macross (Palladium Books), Star Trek (FASA), Teenagers from Outer Space (1st Edition, R.Talsorian Games), Toon, and Ghostbusters (WEG).

It is at this time that I first gain the reputation as 'The King of Licensed RPGs' for running popular games of DC Comics Superheroes, Ghostbusters, the Micronauts, Mobile Suit Gundam/Zeta-Gundam, Star Trek, Star Wars, and other IP related games. 

I homebrew even more systems and run a long game of Star Wars using a mix of Mekton, TFOS, and other bits from here and there. 

While I am hardly ever playing RPGs as a player during this time, I do become involved in the greatest Superhero RPG campaign of all time, my friend William's Age of Champions game. The campaign, which began in 1981 and ended around 1992 encompasses more than a dozen players, even more PCs (as people have alternates), Player Character Villains as well as Heroes, and is played practically every day in some form or another. For my part I play a few hours here and there on the weekdays and rare weekends. I will be a participant from 1986 to 1989.

I learn so much about gaming from Will. Not only am I exposed to Champions, a game I was previously turned off of by its apparent complexity, but Will's philosophies help me develop a number of my own. 

My style changes at this time. While I was always an open world, live-in-the-setting type GM, I now see the worlds and their inhabitants as living, breathing entities will their own rules, physics, thoughts, and how actions have ramifications both seen and unseen. 

I no longer plan adventures in the 'traditional' way. I create materials and see which ones the PCs interact with and what happens because of that. This all prepares me, though I know it not, for the next game to influence my future in the hobby...


I am asked to GM at an RPGA (Role Playing Game Associated) Convention/Event in Manhattan called CrusadeCon. I attend and run a pre-prepared AD&D Adventure. Unfortunately, a terrible snow storm hits NYC that day and nearly 60% of the scheduled attendees do not show up to the convention. On the other hand, nearly every GM scheduled to show does so.

In order to help with the frustration of the situation, I run an impromptu game of my homebrewed Star Wars RPG for several the GMs without a session to run. The short game is incredibly well received.

At my lunch break I see one of the other GMs running a Star Wars game with two of his friends and fellow Gamemasters. The game he is running looks official and not fan made like mine. When I ask him about it he says that a real, official Star Wars RPG has just been released by West End Games. I go to lunch unable to think of much else. 

At the end of the convention there is an award ceremony, and I tie with another fellow for best GM (as voted on by the attendees). I receive a gift certificate to the Compleat Strategist. Just before the ceremony ends, the MC announces a last, special award, given to a GM who helped make the event successful by entertaining those Gamemasters left without anything to do because of the blizzard. It is me. I receive a second gift certificate and a near standing ovation from the assembled participants. 

The following Monday I go to the Compleat Strategist and apply both gift certificates to the purchase of the West End Games Star Wars RPG. I still have those copies of the 1st Edition Rulebook and Sourcebook to this day. After reading through them, running Star Wars games became my favorite thing. I absolutely fell in love with the system, the expanded information and ideas inside the books, and WEG's attitude towards gaming.

I now knew what kind of Gamemaster I was, the kind of games I liked, and the approach I would take going forward. 

Genre Tropes, Cool Ideas, Awesome Visuals supersede Rules.
Rules and Mechanics should fade into the background as much as possible.
There is a World/Universe. It has it's own way of doing things. Figure out what that is.
There are Adventures to be found but I have not written an Adventure. I will not. 
Interact with the Universe and it will interact with you. 
Be bold, be humorous, be smart. Do not be boring. Boring will kill your character.
Incredibly Fast is not nearly fast enough.
Think quickly. If you can't, find a way to buy yourself some time. 

To Be Continued...

Barking Alien

*I love it when you guys get together like this. Everybody brings something: chips, dip, drinks, and whatever. It's nice that you can all fit in that one small apartment. 


  1. Great post! I should something similar. Playing since 1977... you're an early adopter! Please more of this.

    1. Thanks my friend, I'm glad you like it.

      While it hasn't brought about any great epiphanies yet, it does 'paint a picture' you might say.

      Only five years in I am houseruling and homebrewing.

      At 6-7 years in Anime influences are sneaking in at a time when most people in the US didn't even know what Anime was.

      At 9-10 years I am aiming for rules lighter, story/setting driven open world games.

      It's the evolution of my preferences and style over time, based on my exposures and the games I'd played, that I'm find really interesting.

  2. I've been thinking of something like this, but I like your version.
    : )

  3. I'm a similar age to you. I was blown away by how similar our interests are and by how our lives diverged.

    It causes me to consider how my life might have been different and what I can learn from you now, given that I'm a relatively new gamer and aspiring gamemaster.

    1. I really don't know what to say. Your comment means a great deal to me and I can't thank you enough for it.

      I've said before that I do this blog largely to entertain myself and that I would very likely continue to do it even if no one came to read it. I can attest that this remains true, but it is so much more rewarding to know that people do and that it may have really connected with someone out there on the world wide web.

      Here's hoping that we, each of us in the hobby, continue to inspire ideas in others and spread the joy of gaming.

    2. Just to follow up, yesterday I GMed for the first time ever!

      One of my players has been gaming for over thirty years!

      Somehow I managed not to suck and I put some serious fear into the PCs by killing off NPCs in their party.

  4. I can't even remember what I ate for breakfast! No way I could recount my adventures like this! Awesome read!