I don’t know the year that I first bought Jaiman the Land of Twilight, but I know it was in early high school, 1991 is my guess. Jaiman is a sourcebook for the Shadow World setting which supported both the Rolemaster and Fantasy Hero rules systems. At the time, I wasn’t allowed to buy anything Dungeons & Dragons. Ignore for the moment, that my Star Frontiers books proudly displayed From the Creators of Dungeons and Dragons.
With Dungeons and Dragons, off the table, I had to look to other settings. I had purchased some of Iron Crown Enterprise's Middle Earth settings, but I didn't want to muddle in the Professor's masterpiece. Middle Earth was clearly his world, and only Peter Jackson has the moxie to alter that story. Instead, I settled on the Shadow World; In particular Jaiman the Land of Twilight. The setting had rules for one of the larger systems at the time (Rolemaster), and was interesting enough: There was an epic evil, ancient abandoned technology, standard fantasy races, time travel, and maelstroms of errant magic to hinder travel. It would do…Then again, I never played in that world.
The problem was that everything seemed so very over the top, or at least always a little to epic(i.e. To travel very far, you needed to secure the help of a powerful wizard/navigator who could easily handle the troubles you would encounter). There seemed to be little room for the small guy starting out; After all there were Dragonlords seeking to crush an entire continent; Or the Unlife seeking to unravel existence itself; Or powerful immortals with blasters and anti-grav fields.
What the setting managed to do was seed my imagination for things that could happen. For highlighting the “end game” of a large story. After all, if you’ve saved the very fabric of existence, how can you possibly have an encore? I internalized these ideas and figured, if I ever want to play an epic story, I’ll need to start small.
There are problems with this…Namely, I see the end game that I want the story to get to, and I have the starting point, but getting from beginning to end requires dedication, persistence, and continued investment. And if you are trying to coordinate a hobby amongst a group of friends, having those three components each step of the way can be an extreme challenge. After all, people move away; lose interest in the game, campaign or character; or the entire story was not properly shepherded (I’m very guilty of that, as Matt will clearly attest).
Inevitably, each of these truncated story arcs leaves me a little sad; I want to see the conclusion of these tails. But, a collaborative story is hard to tell when collaborators are no longer there. It is also hard when I allow all kinds of loose ends to build-up without providing resolution.
So what is the fix? I need to think in terms of how I can tell a story in only a handful of sessions; Tell the story that needs telling and get out. Interestingly, this dovetails nicely with a recent trend in role-playing games; Explicitly and deliberately make the character creation (and world creation) a collaborative experience. These collaborative world/character building rules are front and center in Burning Empires, Spirit of the Century, Dresden Files RPG, Burning Sands: Jihad, Starblazer Adventures, and Universalis.
Aside Number One
I distinctly remember looking longingly at the World of Greyhawk Fantasy Game Setting box set at the bookstore in the mall in Pekin, Illinois…Then Normal, Illinois. All the wile, refraining from purchasing it. After all, Dungeons and Dragons was “evil.” I’m fairly certain I should’ve bought that box, because the World of Greyhawk was built by one of the creators of the role-playing hobby, Gary Gygax.
Aside Number Two
Only after writing this did I recall that I ran something in the Shadow World. I couldn’t tell you about the story, I just remember that the group had to hire a navigator and they ended up getting to work with a belligerent, probably rather drunk, baratone-voiced pixy.
Aside Number Three
During my prohibition from buying D&D games, I bought a whole bunch of the contraband, and kept the books in Trapper Keeper™ folders. I figured with my mom's extremely limited vision (yes I know I'm a terrible son) and the fact that we weren't conjuring demons, making sacrifices nor committing suicide; all would be well. This was clearly a case of my thinking “Ask for forgiveness, not permission.” And besides, some of the Rolemaster and Shadow World books had images of demon conjuring prominently on their covers.