TTRPGs and Me

In January I tweeted this:

Six months later and I’m now in two weekly TTRPG sessions. And I’m thoroughly enjoying it.

For a long period TTRPGs were a big part of my life.

Like many people of my age, my introduction to TTRPGs was through the D&D “red box” set. When I got my copy I badgered my older teenage cousin and his mates to run a session. They threw us into a tiny dungeon filled with werewolves where we immediately died. Then they went down the pub. But that early taste got me hooked.

I started playing regularly with a group of school friends when I was 11 (1983). We had a weekly RuneQuest session run by my mate Darren’s big brother. I played a Duck.

When Games Workshop announced they were releasing a UK version of Middle-Earth Role Playing (MERP) in 1985, I immediately pre-ordered it from the local game shop. Then proceeded to annoy the hell out of the owner by visiting every couple of days to see if it had arrived yet.

Not all of my friends were into TTRPGs. But they were all into board games. So amongst all of RPGs there was plenty of Car Wars and Rogue Trooper, Space Hulk and HeroQuest. Which, as this video eloquently explains, is the best board game. Day long sessions of Talisman with all of the expansions occurred regularly and oddities like Battle of the Halji made guest appearances.

While I was at college we were playing a mix of AD&D and MERP. But by then I’d also picked up the Judge Dredd RPG and Call of Cthulhu.

I even had a go at LARPing.

On 21st July 1989 I spent a day in a disused underground bunker in Nottingham dressed as a wizard. Before jumping on a train to see The Cure at the NEC. Good Times.

When I sent to university in Leicester I naturally made a beeline for the RPG Society. My first weekend I joined a MERP game that proceeded to run every Saturday afternoon for three years. It gave me a near instant set of friends whilst I was still getting to know my housemates and the other people on my course.

At some point we spun out a regular Wednesday afternoon session. Branching out into Shadowrun, Vampire and Werewolf because they were the new and exciting games. Lots of dice were purchased.

I also started regularly running a Call of Cthulhu game.

I’ve joked at times that everything I know about running workshops professionally, I first learned around a table leading a TTRPG session.

It’s not really a joke though. The need for good preparation, helping to ensure that everyone is comfortable and, most importantly, that everyone is getting something out of the event are all transferable skills. And if you’re shy like me then it’s just good practice at leading and speaking in front of a group.

After graduation I turned that Call of Cthulhu game into a free-form play by mail campaign for the same group. Letters with revelations of cosmic horror and containing extracts from cryptic texts flew around the country for a while.

And then things petered out. Life, inevitably, moves on.

I think our last game as a group was a one-off session of Paranoia that I ran. To try and create a suitably ridiculous atmosphere for Alpha Complex, I kept playing sound effects from a BBC Radiophonic Workshop cassette I’d found in the local library. But it just baffled everyone, so we just went down the pub. And that was that for a while.

I continued to collect RPG rulebooks for a bit. Niche stuff like the Whispering Vault, which I’ve still never played. And I dabbled with writing some source material, eventually getting something published in Valkyrie magazine.

I even tried making a board game. It was based on the vampires from Brian Lumley’s Necroscope series. It had a programme to run on the Commodore 64 which handled all of the core rules. It never saw the light of day but I had fun making it.

And that was it for quite a few years.

Now I’ve jumped back in I can’t believe I waited for so long.

I’m currently playing in two campaigns in two very different settings. Masks (which I’m running) is about teenage superheroes. While Good Society is about telling stories inspired by Jane Austen.

Both are “Powered by the Apocalypse” games. These are games that all share some common heritage, being based on a system of rules that were originally designed for a game called Apocalypse World. But that system has been generalised and adapted in many different ways. It now exists as a template for others to build on.

TTRPGs have had a huge boost recently. Largely due to the rise in popularity of Actual Play streams, especially during lockdown. Video calls, tools like Discord and platforms like Roll 20 have also reduced barriers to play, making it easier to play with friends no matter where they are. Both of the groups I’m in include people who are new to TTRPGs.

But mainly the hobby is in an exciting place because of the sheer range of new TTRPGs there are available. Many more than when I was a kid. And many of these systems are Powered by the Apocalypse games. Or at least have some common DNA.

They’re very different to D&D. In ways that encourage creativity and collaboration while placing a focus on narrative. I love rolling dice and pouring over rule books as much as the next nerd. But it’s the opportunity to create fun, exciting or moving stories that really bring people — and increasingly, more people, it seems — to the table.

So now I’ve got a rapidly growing collection of new games to play. Fantastic stuff like TEETH (“Jane Austen’s STALKER”) and Brindlewood Bay (Murder She Wrote x Lovecraft) and Tales from the Loop (based on Simon Stålenhag’s art).

I picked an exciting time to return to one of my favourite hobbies.