In the wake of posts from James Maliszewski and Sami Koponen, detailing their personal gaming histories, it was suggested that I write up a similar post.
Well, I can give it a shot.
The Early History – Third to Sixth Grade
I don’t actually remember when I started. It was sometime in 1994-1996. I’ve given this question a number of different answers on different forums. Roolipelikirja says 1996 (for the record, I turned eleven that year), so I guess that’s the official word. I know I started Warhammer Fantasy Battle that same year, when I got the new fifth edition of the game for Christmas and in the process started a small WHFB fad at school. I would later reap its benefits in cheap second-hand miniatures from my classmates who quickly got bored with it.
However, I started RPGs before that. I remember finding out about Ropecon around a week afterwards and being really bummed that I’d missed it. My first Ropecon was the last time the event was held at Paasitorni, in 1997. My first game was the Finnish translation of the Lord of the Rings Adventure Game (Taru sormusten herrasta -seikkailupeli) from ACE Pelit. A friend’s mother ran it for us. I have dim recollections of cardboard miniatures, and a plot that never really went anywhere. I don’t think she liked it very much. From there, though, the way was clear for my first real RPG – possibly the worst introductory mainstream RPG – Middle-Earth Roleplaying Game (Keski-Maa -roolipeli).
I ran several games of MERP in those days to my classmates. Well, “ran MERP” is probably a suspect description, since I never figured out anything beyond a general idea of the rules. I did get a number of sourcebooks and adventures for the game, such as Creatures of Middle-Earth (Keski-Maan olennot), Bree and the Barrow-Downs (Brii ja hautakerot), Dark Mage of Rhudaur (Rhudaurin musta maagi) and Lost Realm of Cardolan (Cardolan: kadonnut valtakunta). I only retain the rulebook and Creatures of Middle-Earth. I remember liking Dark Mage of Rhudaur, though. The siege setup of the adventure was nifty.
In the fourth, fifth and sixth grades of elementary school, I read fantasy literature voraciously. David Eddings was a big one, as were Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance. I also read Robin Hobb’s Farseer Trilogy and tried both Shannara and Wheel of Time, but even then recognised them for the drek they were. I also played the fantasy board games HeroQuest and Dragonfire (of which nobody has ever heard). I never owned HeroQuest, but Dragonfire I did have, though the miniatures have since mostly been lost. I think there are parts of the orcs in my old, old Warhammer army and one of the trolls, the only miniature from the game to remain intact, was many years later painted blue as a PC mini for one of my many short D&D games.
Our local libraries carried fairly good selections of RPGs for the time. I’d missed Finland’s big RPG boom of the late eighties and early nineties, but its fruit was still there for the picking. I became acquainted with Shadowrun, RuneQuest, Rolemaster, Twilight: 2000, Paranoia, Macho Women with Guns, Rapier and Elhendi, Astra, Stormbringer, Call of Cthulhu, BattleTech, Traveller: 2300 AD and Cyberpunk 2020. Shadowrun I played, Paranoia I ran (unsuccessfully – turns out twelve-year-olds don’t do Cold War satire too well), and Twilight: 2000 I tried to get my father to run. He studied the game, concluded it was too complicated and designed us a very simple strategy game instead. It may still be somewhere, though I don’t think the actual rules were ever written down. Paranoia (2nd edition, for those keeping track at home) was the first game that I ran with the full ruleset. Curiously enough, I never ran into the Red Box. I started reading Magus, too.
It was also around this time that I “designed” a roleplaying game of my own. It was called Wonderania (I was twelve, okay?) and I am quite certain I have since managed to eradicate all physical traces of its existence. These were mainly character sheets, as I don’t think I actually ever wrote down any concrete rules or mechanics. It was a very rules-light game, I suppose. Everything was resolved with a roll of a ten-sider, which I, as the GM, then interpreted one way or another.
Around this time I also played what would now likely be called storytelling games with a few friends. I think the usual theme was a crime story of some sort, where our characters were criminals who engaged in all sorts of juvenile activities, such as conquering an amusement park. Drawing of base and hideout maps and listing of equipment was a significant part of this.
Learning the Rules – Seventh to Ninth Grade
When I started seventh grade, I moved to a new school. This one had an afternoon club for roleplaying games, run by the arts teacher. In there, I played RuneQuest 3rd edition – leading to the first PC death that I remember, when my warrior woman (he made us all play characters of the opposite sex) fell into a freezing river and drowned.
I also ran Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (1st Edition, Hogshead), which led to my first confirmed TPK in the early encounters of “The Oldenhaller Contract”. This taught me that when running a prewritten module, it was a good idea to check how many characters it was meant for, and if the number of players at the table differed from this, adjust the amount or power of enemies in the combat encounters.
Well, you live and learn.
Shortly afterwards, I changed schools again, and found Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. It was a purchase largely motivated by stuff like Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms novels and especially Baldur’s Gate. I loved the settings and then fell in love with the crunchy bits – not the rules as such, only new rules items, like spells, character classes and monsters. Especially monsters. I think it was the spring of 1999 when I ran my first game of AD&D. It was a Forgotten Realms adventure that I’d written myself, set in Selgaunt, Sembia. It was a riff on the Phantom of the Opera, and had the players ever got that far, would’ve featured catacombs under the Selgaunt Opera House and so forth. They didn’t. I think they started a tavern brawl and one fell through the staircase, and stuff.
In the summer of the same year, I kicked off a Forgotten Realms campaign with the module The Accursed Tower, written by R.A. Salvatore. It’s not a very good module, in hindsight. It featured Drizzt, of course, and in the eponymous tower, a trio of undead housecats. The housecats’ statblock was directly lifted from Skeleton, Animal, in the Monstrous Manual. So? Well, those stats are meant for things like skeletal horses and bears and stuff. The housecats were among the more dangerous denizens of the dungeon. I realised the writer’s error around midway through the fight.
(This happened occasionally with AD&D and D&D. Another time, many years later, I was running 3E, and the party was wading through a river of blood that came up to their knees, on one of the Nine Hells. Then, they were attacked by some beast hiding underwater! It was a giant carrion worm, with a grapple modifier of… wait, that can’t be right, this is marked as a Small creature… except it’s got a -2 size modifier on AC and a double-digit grapple bonus… okay, it’s actually Huge. You’re being attacked by a carrion worm the size of a Volkswagen. Nevermind how it snuck up to you underwater when the river only comes up to your knees. Just roll to escape grapple, willya?)
I still have all the character sheets from that campaign, except for one. There was a priest of the god of sailing played by my then-girlfriend, an overweight paladin named Sir Zolton who was eventually crushed by a wagon in Silverymoon, a priestess of Sharess, and a pair of fighters, a woman named Gwyneth and an elf male I think was called Turian. Gwyneth died in The Accursed Tower, killed by a ghoul, and later came to plague the party as an undead. She was replaced in the party by a carbon copy, which was just as well, considering the time it took to create characters.
Turian was played by a rather annoying guy. We didn’t have to throw him out of the group, fortunately, since when his character was killed by sahuagin attacking the city of Luskan, he left on his own accord. And there was much rejoicing.
The campaign went on for something like 18 months and is still one of the longest if not the longest campaign I’ve run. Also, since I started that campaign, I’ve always had a game of some description going on. In addition to The Accursed Tower, it featured one of the most dangerous low-level modules I know, “Beneath the Twisted Tower” from Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting (2E). It’s for levels 1-3, and the BBEG is a 9th-level drow wizard. I had fun roleplaying the gibberlings, though.
The campaign was eventually terminated by the release of Dungeons & Dragons Third Edition. I ran some short games for the same group, but then contact with them dwindled and ceased in the summer of 2001. Never met any of them since.
During these years, I also dabbled in Vampire: the Masquerade with some other friends, but nothing much came out of it. I couldn’t really disassociate my playstyle from AD&D, and I once did, in fact, play a Ventrue with a trenchcoat and a katana. Another character of mine was a morbidly obese Nosferatu computer whiz.
Around this time I also started really collecting RPGs. It started with AD&D stuff, but once the D20 boom hit, I branched out, and later got a lot of different games.
In addition, during these years, a friend of mine introduced me to FaerunMUD. I’ve spoken of it previously, and it remains a significant influence on my development as a player. On FaerunMUD, roleplaying was enforced with an iron fist, and it was there that I really learned to roleplay instead of just killing orcs with a complicated ruleset.
Dungeons and Stuff – High School
When I started my first D&D 3E campaign, I was unsure if I could find players. Thus, I asked everyone I knew, and asked a friend to ask everyone he knew.
The first session of The Sunless Citadel had twelve players. It was slow going, but somehow we managed to get all the characters created and start in on the module in the same session. The second session had, I think, five players, and that’s how we rolled from there, for about a year. We did The Sunless Citadel, “Gorgoldand’s Gauntlet”, The Forge of Fury, and started on Pool of Radiance: Attack on Myth Drannor. I’ve always been a module-oriented GM, I suppose.
During high school, I ran a number of mid-length campaigns. There were a couple set in the Warhammer world, one of which featured the awakening of Cthulhu as a lead-up to a heavily modified Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil. Another I wrote up in story hour form on the EN World forums. I also collected a number of D20 games. We tried Star Wars. We tried Spycraft. We tried Babylon 5. We tried Call of Cthulhu D20. Swashbuckling Adventures. Sláine. Conan. Rokugan D20. Afghanistan D20, of all things. And we ran Dungeons & Dragons. Man, did we run it. All told, during those three years we must’ve had something like thirty campaigns (defining campaign as a game that was run for at least two consecutive sessions before folding). Some of them were played straight, others ran into really weird directions. Games were almost weekly, especially when school was in session.
I was still the primary GM of the group, but by no means the only one. I think all of us tried the screen at least once, with varying levels of success and enthusiasm.
We also occasionally broke from D20. There was some Vampire: the Dark Ages, and in 2002 came out the superhero RPG that I still love, Godlike, which saw a couple of campaigns with the group. Shadowrun was dabbled with, and I think someone was running Cyberpunk 2020. A friend sold his Legend of the Five Rings collection to me, but I never got around to running it. There was a Feng Shui one-shot or two.
“The group”, at this point in time, is actually a player pool of ten people, mostly from my high school, who formed pretty much all the games I participated in during my high school years. We were never all in the same game, though, and not all of us could stand each other.
I supplemented my gaming by a lot of IRC games played on the Otherworlders network (then PsionicsNET). It was mostly Scarred Lands, mostly with Americans, and mostly in the middle of the night. There was one short period when, counting all my regular IRC and real-life games, I had five weekly sessions of D&D – most of them at night.
Hereabouts is also set my one abortive foray into the world of LARP. I was supposed to participate in a game named Faerun IV: Baron of the Stonelands, which ended up getting cancelled a week before the event itself.
Focus and Diversification – After High School
I eventually graduated, as people are wont to do. This time, the group stuck together and D&D campaigns continued. However, at Ropecon 2004, I ran into Living Greyhawk. It was on Saturday, I think. It was actually the first ever RPG session that I played at Ropecon. The module was called The Living and the Dead, and it was written by J-P Saarinen. I created myself a wizard I called Xaylen Ambedor, and found myself playing a first-level character in a fourth-level adventure. Xaylen was just quickly thrown together with survival in mind, and I neglected to fill out some roleplaying content on his character sheet, such as his deity.
Well, the adventure progressed. We faced ettercaps and ghosts, and prevailed over them as we delved deeper into a strange cave complex. In there, we came upon a door with strange writing upon it. None of us could read it, so we tried to open it.
Wrong move – it was a trap. The door didn’t open, and we heard rumbling from behind us. It was Indiana Jones’ big rolling boulder, merrily bouncing at us along the corridor – except that unlike Indy, we had nowhere to run. It was a dead end. Very dead, it looked like. The DM announced that the boulder had a hit bonus of +13. Xaylen’s Armor Class was 11. He had three hit points left.
Some members of the party braced for impact, taking full defence actions. A few healed themselves, that they might survive the impact. Me, I had no spells left, nothing. So, the DM asked me for my action. I looked at my character sheet, and noticed the empty “Deity” space.
“I find religion,” I declared, and scribbled down “Boccob” in the empty space.
The boulder hit the party. Xaylen was first up, and the boulder’s attack roll came up “1”. Critical miss, the only result that could save his bacon. The rest of the party went down like tenpins.
When the campaign ended in 2008, Xaylen was a wizard 7/divine oracle of Boccob 4. I’d written two modules for the campaign and played or run around 150 sessions of it.
Living Greyhawk had a huge impact on my gaming. Though I’d always had an affinity for adventure modules, LG honed it to a fine edge. I learned a great deal about designing adventures, what works and what doesn’t. My regular player pool expanded to some 30 people, and I played with dozens of new people. I still have several file folders full of LG material in my bookshelf.
My gaming wasn’t reduced to LG, though. The new edition of Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play came out in 2005, and we had to play that. There was some more Godlike. I played in a short World of Darkness campaign that I think was supposed to turn into Mage: the Awakening. There was a Delta Green campaign that never continued past the first session because of scheduling difficulties. Another friend ran Heavy Gear. Dark Heresy came out in early 2008, and was gleefully run. Zombeja! Ovella! was proven to be a nice, short party game and good for introducing people to gaming. There was also that short stint of D&D 4E (three sessions, something like 21 hours) that ended with my misspelled name in the back of the PHB. I dabbled in Exalted and GURPS.
But always there remained the discipline of stee… sorry. There was still D&D. In 2007 I started in Keskiviikkopeli, a game group that’s played since 1988, mostly AD&D 1E, but nowadays 3E. The campaign I started in was Paizo’s Shackled City adventure path, as run by Sampo, but I also participated in their 1E campaign and was present as it converted to 3.5. Unfortunately, I had to drop that game when I moved to Tampere.
A Part of the Scene – 2007 and Onwards
In January 2007, I woke up and found a strange e-mail from my inbox, from a fellow who said he’d read my LiveJournal and forum posts at Majatalo.org and concluded that I know my stuff and can write. Therefore, he’d like me to write him a book on RPGs.
The result of that was Roolipelikirja, which came out at Ropecon of the same year, with mixed reviews. The one in Roolipelaaja was particularly brutal. Other opinions I’ve encountered have been rather more balanced. I would welcome a chance to revise and the book, though – especially seeing as about a quarter of it is now obsolete thanks to a glut of new editions hitting the shelves in the last two years.
My first Living Greyhawk module, Unyielding, came out a couple of months later, with the second, the regional campaign finale I wrote with Sampo Haarlaa, released in June 2008. Additionally, feeling a certain dissatisfaction with the content of Roolipelaaja, I offered the magazine a few articles. The last issue saw my seventh.
Additionally, for reasons beyond my understanding, it was recommended that I apply for tabletop RPG admin for Ropecon 2009. I’m now doing the job to the best of my ability, which I hope will be sufficient.
Now and Next
I’m currently running Pathfinder Society, under D&D 3.5 rules in Tampere. I’ve been swamped with work for the past two months, though, and not much has happened on that front – except that during one of my visits to Espoo, where I go to play new modules so I don’t have to eat them all, my second character died.
The good thing about PFS, like LG, is that it’s an nice popcorn game. Sessions are self-contained adventures, so it’s not crucial to remember what’s happened before, and you don’t need to immerse yourself deeply in character. It’s mostly about having fun and maybe offing a couple of orcs.
I’ve also started to run the Pathfinder adventure path Rise of the Runelords. We’ve played one session, and haven’t been able to make time for a second. It’ll be hard to do that in the summer when people buzz off to Anjalankoski, Pori, Espoo, or wherever.
Additionally, I’ve promised to run another adventure path, Legacy of Fire, in Espoo during the summer. I figure I’ll start with 3.5 and convert to Pathfinder RPG once it comes out. Might be a good idea to do that with the Rise of the Runelords game, too.
There have also been rumblings of a Cyberpunk 2020 game, but nothing has materialised, beyond a temptation to play a bald media named Scorpion Mecca. I love the translation of that game. It’s not all that hot on a technical level, but it just oozes attitude – and as we know, attitude is everything.
Savage Worlds looks interesting, and I would welcome a chance to play it. Then, there are a lot of games I want to play. I own most of them – my collection has over 400 titles, and counting.
Ropecon is in a couple of months. It’ll be my 13th, and my first as one of the organisers. Good thing I’m not superstitious.