Thursday, August 01, 2019

My First "Real" Role Playing Game Experience #RPGaDAY2019 Day 1

Every year game designer Dave Chapman aka Autocratik (Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space, All Flesh Must Be Eaten) issues his #RPGaDAY challenge where he asks gamers to blog once a day for a month using prompts he has designed. This is the sixth year of the project and I've started participating every year, but have failed to make it all 31 days. I'm going to try again this year.

As mentioned earlier, the goal is to use Dave's prompts to guide the posts. This year's prompts can be seen below and they begin quite simply with "First," so that's where I'll start.

I've blogged about my first experience with Dungeons & Dragons in a prior post, but that experience wasn't my first "real" experience with role playing games. It was my first experience to be sure, but it was such a bad experience and so unreflective of the hobby that I don't think of it as my "real" first experience. That honor goes to Citadel of Chaos by Steve Jackson. This is Games Workshop's Steve Jackson, not Steve Jackson Games' Steve Jackson, though Steve Jackson Games' Steve Jackson did write the Scorpion Swamp adventure (not confusing at all).

Citadel of Chaos was the second volume in the Fighting Fantasy Gamebook series created by Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson, but it was the first volume that I purchased. I bought the book at a local book store shortly after my parents purchased me the D&D Basic Set for Christmas. I had read the D&D rulebook several times, but I had not yet played the game so there were some gaps in my understanding of just how role playing games worked. Sure, there was the excellent example of play within the Basic Set, but it was still hard to imagine the array of choices that are available within a role playing game and it was Citadel of Chaos that provided the perfect demonstration of how rules affected narrative.

By the time I picked up Citadel, I'd already read a number of Choose Your Own Adventure books. I was comfortable with interactive fiction as a concept, so the Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks would have interested me even if I hadn't received the Basic Set as a gift, but there was something that set the Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks apart. They didn't just have a pick your path narrative, they also had rules for combat, magic, and interacting with the world. At least, Citadel of Chaos did. Warlock of Firetop Mountain, the first Fighting Fantasy Gamebook only has rules for combat and interacting with the world, it lacks a magic system.

Had Warlock been my first encounter with the genre, I don't think I'd have had the same excited reaction to the concept. In addition to lacking a magic system, the adventure in Warlock has only a single solution. There is only one way to complete the adventure successfully. That wasn't the case with Citadel. There are a couple of ways to have a happy ending playing Citadel and this fact kept me coming back to the book and replaying the adventure several times. By having a magic system and multiple paths to a successful conclusion Citadel gave me a better sense of how role playing games worked.

Sure, the mechanics of the Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks are simple to the point of being almost simplistic, but they are surprisingly flexible and have resulted in a complete role playing game that holds its own and that has a good fanbase.

I don't want to reveal too much about Citadel, only to say that it is worth checking out and that by bridging the gap between Choose Your Own Adventure books and full Role Playing Games, it makes a perfect introduction. Steve Jackson, unlike that cruel first Dungeon Master, wasn't arbitrary in his plot design. He wasn't cruel. He created an interesting and fun narrative that allowed sufficient choices that multiple plays resulted in different experiences. This fact alone, that the same book could result in different stories, was the revelation I needed to completely understand role playing games as a kid. They were stories, often starting in the same place and with the same modules, but where the players shaped what the end story would be.

After that, I was hooked.

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