Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Rough Years and Back (My Gamer History, Part 3)

When I left college, I returned to my home town, or rather my new home town since my parents had moved while I was in college.  That meant I didn't know anyone, didn't have much of a job, and was kind of at loose ends.  I thankfully found a reasonable-paying job (it was a different era back then), located the stores that sold gaming material, and began to look for a new group.

It didn't work out well.  I was back out in the MidWest and the pickings were surprisingly slim.  In the end I risked something I will probably never do again: I put up a sign at a gaming store saying I was running a Star Wars game and was looking for players. I got Brooding Guy, Quiet Guy, Jackass Guy, and Socially Inept Teenager.  I also recruiting my new girlfriend, who had some experience gaming although it wasn't really her thing.  (Later, she'd become Irene, my roller derby-playing, zombie-fighting partner over at Hard Boiled Zombies)  I liked most of them well enough, even Jackass Guy, although he could really live up to that moniker.  Once Brooding Guy announced he was dating a stripper and Jackass Guy made a point of going to where she worked, sticking money into her G-string, and then announcing he had done so at the next gaming session.  All told, the group was doomed.

I then moved, spent a little downtime writing for Shadis magazine (two articles), then settled into our new home as real, honest-to-God married adults.  Thankfully I had moved to a city where one of my old gaming crew from college was living, and she was plugged into the local gaming scene.  It was a lot bigger city, almost two million people, and had a large university smack in the middle of it.  In short, it had a lot going for it from a gamer's perspective.

I actually wrote the article "I Married a Boomer"

At its prime, my gaming group had about ten people in it, about half of whom were women.  When I really think about it that number was closer to thirteen, but I never had everyone at once.  Some people were only interested in World of Darkness games, for example.  Others were only interested in fantasy games.  Overall, if I could say anything broadly about the group, was that it was inconsistent.  We were young adults, working and getting ourselves set up, buying houses, etc.  Looking back, I can see that what I was trying to do was recreate what I had in college: a large gaming group that could meet regularly and consistently.  I didn't know how to run a game for a very irregular, inconsistent group, and I was frequently frustrated and would launch and re-launch games during this time, trying to figure out what magic formula might work.

Ironically enough, it turned out that one of my favorite genres had the answer.  You have to understand that, at this point in the timeline, Hero Games had gone pretty stale and Champions 4th Ed. was now considered to be way to crunch-heavy when compared to other game systems.  Cheap desktop publishing was allowing a lot of small, independent companies a chance to create innovative, quality product with very different rules ideas (this was before the OGL homogenized all of that).  But I was constantly creating campaign concepts that demanded internal cohesiveness: the questing party, the starship crew, etc.

Then one day I was reading an Avengers comic book when I realized that they were constantly cycling characters in and out of the plot.  I realized that I needed a format that was fairly episodic in nature, centered around a single location (thus allowing people to fade in and out of foreground without having to come up with ridiculous contrivances), and was a game I'd like to run.  So, I went back to superheroes.

Needing something that might appeal to my more jaded gaming group members, I decided to do something a little untraditional and went with Cosmic Enforcers.

Published by Myrmidion Press (also known for publishing the RPG's Witchcraft and Manhunters), Cosmic Enforcers was this superhero/sci-fi/fantasy mash-up set in Earth's far future.  You could literally play a spell-casting alien partnered up with a human superhero with a cyborg body.  Think Rifts, only without all the MDC garbage.  Thus it had a little something for everyone.  I also had a pretty inspired game concept: the PC's were essentially brought in to replace the established superhero team which had disappeared.  Between regular crime fighting they could investigate leads about what happened to their predecessors.

The game system itself proved to be clunky, and when the Marvel SAGA rules came out, we switched systems, which allowed for a bit more flexibility in play.  This was, by far, the most successful gaming enterprise of this period of time, not to mention the period in which my wife and I had our most prolific social life.  Unfortunately like it things, it came to an end for largely two reasons.  First, having done several years working at our post-college level a lot of the group decided to seek advanced degrees, which either took them to different cities or just took up a lot of time.  The other thing was much more important: kids.  I realized at one gaming session that I had literally five pregnant women sitting around the gaming table.  In a span of about two years almost every couple in the gaming group had their first child, and the time commitments that created caused a lot of people to drop away.  I was no exception, having done both.  After completing graduate school (in the city where I had been living, thankfully), work took me out into the hinterlands of the country, and I had to start over again.

As a side note, this was also the time I got into wargaming, for two reasons.  One, I had players who had a tough time visualizing where they were in comparison to other players.  One in particular was always where the action was, even if the previous moment they had stated they were far away from that point.  Using minis helped keep track of that.  The other reason had to do with the aforementioned inconsistency.  If I couldn't get the group together, I could at least get one person to play a wargame with me.  Not needing a group but just one person gave wargaming a lot of appeal.  It is because of that reason that I continue to like wargames that are more narrative, rather than tactical in nature.

Next time: something out of nothing....

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