Long ago, 1987 to be precise, in a basement in Carlock, IL I was introduced to my first role-playing game, Alpha Dawn. In this dark basement, childhood friends and I laid out a map of a futuristic cityscape (here is a replication provided by the StarFrontiersMan). On the map, we laid out tokens for characters and vehicles. Each of us had a sheet with statistics representing the capabilities of characters and vehicles.
And down the spiral I went. This role-playing game captivated my imagination; There were spaceships, hover cars, aliens, laser guns, and space pirates. Here before me was the means of stepping beyond the “lawlessness” of childhood “Cops & Robbers.” The rules were a framework for resolving conflict, and an 11 year old boy and his friends sure can create a lot of conflict in their play. There were now rules to say “who shot first” (it was Han).
Beyond the play, there were the rules themselves. They were something to study; Something to explore, to delve into and learn how it worked. With my devotion, both in time and passion, to understanding the rules, I would wager that I could have gotten college credit. I could certainly recite numerous stats and nuances of the system. And that was only Alpha Dawn. There have since been many others:
- Burning Wheel
- D&D 2nd Edition
- D&D 3rd Edition
- D&D 4th Edition
- DC Heroes
- Middle Earth Role-Playing Game
- Rolemaster 2nd Edition
- Rolemaster Standard System
- Star Frontiers
And there are others that I’d love to play:
Since a role-playing game, like other games, is an abstraction of the “real world”. The rules system provided a means to engage the tiniest fragment of that “real world.” My friends and I would spend countless hours creating characters, living vicariously through the adventures of our proxies. And in this alternate world we would defeat the grandfather of assassins, create a stone giant smoothy, contemplate operation badger drop, collecting ogres’ heads for our franchised brewery, spitting in the face of tactics, escaping from overwhelming odds in our failing starship, and so many other things.
It was these shared experiences that brought the proxies together, but more importantly gave the players a shared language, a shared experience, a commonality. Or, in other words, it built friendships.