Originally Published at Rob.BearSwarm.com on 2012-02-07.
Awhile ago I was talking with my friend John. You might know him from JohnWickPresents.com. Keep in mind that I called him my friend, it’s quasi-important\interesting later. Anyway, John offhandedly mentioned something about the Forefathers of Gaming. We discussed, briefly, who our personal forefathers were before the conversation moved elsewhere. For some strange reason that conversation has been rattling around in my brain for some time. I keep going back to it and thinking about my personal forefathers. Something about my list just didn’t seem right to me.
On my way home from work today the strangeness clicked into place. The reason my forefathers seemed off was because I have two very distinct sets. I have my Early Years of Gaming and my Post Personal Gaming Renaissance set of forefathers. I laughed a bit as I realized that my personal gaming track record is less generational and more biblical. I see my gaming experience as more of an Old Testament and New Testament. Every individual, every system, builds on the last, laying down the story of how my gaming life evolved into what it is today. After the break I’m going to talk about my personal Gaming Testaments.
Genesis: Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson
Like so many others my Gaming Bible starts with a red box. I was thirteen or fourteen when I discovered the remnants of my older brother’s gaming stash. Tucked away in the far back of a cabinet at my grandparents house I found a stack of books and boxes that looked like a board game but played like something totally different. It didn’t take long for my parents to forbid me from playing the game, just like they had with my brother. Being an eloquent young man I offered the following argument, “You can’t stop me, I’ll just play at my friend’s house.” Luckily, my parents admitted defeat to my superior logic and there you have it. I was another life long nerd captured in my adolescent prime by the graphs, tables, charts, and terrible art of TSR.
I’ll admit that when I was fourteen I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing with gaming. I don’t think we really had a concept for what a character was or even rolled dice when we suppose to. To us, it was a free-form board game. We rolled dice, added some arbitrary numbers and if they were higher than the monsters we won. It wasn’t the game that drew us in, it was the promise of no limits. Not being confined to a path on a board or a story written by a stranger. Gygax and Arneson gave me that and for that the are my Genesis.
Exodus: Kevin Siembieda
There is some personal family history that needs to be briefly mentioned here. I was never close to my brother growing up but when I was around sixteen he showed back up in my life, in a big way. The details aren’t important, what is important is that I looked up to my big brother. Everything else aside, it was my brother that broke me away from Dungeons and Dragons… by introducing me to Rifts and the Palladium System. Before you condemn him, try to understand what Palladium meant to me. It was the first time in my life that I realized that there were more games out there than just Dungeons and Dragons. There were games like it but still wholly different.
I’ll always have a soft spot for Rifts. I know the system is terrible and the setting would even have Hunter S. Thompson say it’s a bit much, but I still love it. This is also where my lack of bible knowledge shines, since I don’t really know dick about Exodus. But, since it’s the next Book and I’m going with an Old Testament analogy, Kevin Siembieda gets the spot.
Leviticus: Mark Rein•Hagen
To make up for my brother’s flaw of showing me Rifts, he later introduced me to Vampire: The Masquerade. A lot of negative stuff can be said about White Wolf, their fan base, and their game mechanics but to me they will always be the first people to tell me that RPGs could focus more on the RP and less on the G. This early in my gaming development the work of Mark Rein•Hagen was pivotal. It’s the first game I can remember where I was actually fascinated by the lore. I’ve never been a big Fantasy fan and Rifts was just an excuse to cram a bunch of crazy crap together. Vampire presented me with detailed characters in a rich setting.
I’m also going to take a bit of time to talk about Vampire: The Requiem here, despite Rein•Hagen not being involved. Requiem was my first real taste of Edition Wars. When Requiem came out it was a breath of fresh air to me. The die hard Masquerade fans bemoaned the death of the Metaplot but I welcomed the new Mechanics with open arms. I’ve always felt you can tie any Metaplot to a system with ease but fixing core underlying mechanical problems was a chore. Requiem showed me you can take a concept, refine it, and come out with something better. Or, at least, better in my opinion.
Numbers: John Wick
Remember when I mentioned John earlier. This is why I said to pay attention. When I left for college I met some new gamers and they introduced me to this little game called Legend of the Five Rings. L5R was the first game I ever associated a single developer to. Right on the cover, in big bold letters, was the name John Wick. It stuck with me. To me, at nineteen years old, John Wick made Legend of the Five Rings. No one else. Now I know that isn’t the case, but before that it was Rifts by Palladium or Shadowrun by FASA. Even D&D was TSR or Wizards to me. Legend of the Five Rings was a John Wick game.
As far as game mechanics or style goes, Legend of the Five Rings isn’t a huge departure from what I’d played before. It had an emphasis on story but didn’t slouch on the mechanics for it. For years after I discovered L5R, it was my go-to game. Even later upon discovering 7th Sea, I still preferred L5R. John Wick becomes my Book of Numbers because he was my first gamer rock star. You can imagine how it felt to meet that man around six years later, when I had started writing my New Testament.
Gospels: D. Vincent Baker
It was at the first Fear the Con in St. Louis, Missouri when I decided to check out this little game that every podcast I listened to made jokes about. I sat down and played Dogs in the Vineyard and had my first taste of shared-narrative and free-form character creation. I had never played anything like it. Before DitV, gaming was all about rigid sets of rules and clearly defined Player\Game Master roles. To tell me I could argue when a trait applied was revolutionary to me. To tell me I could make stuff up while I was a Player was even better.
Vincent Baker founded my New Testament by introducing me to Indie or Contemporary gaming. It’s an incredibly important milestone in my gaming life. One so monumental I can only equate it to writing an entirely new Testament.
Acts: Jared Sorensen
Lacuna and InSpecters introduced me to the concept of micro-gaming. The idea that games weren’t always meant to run indefinitely wasn’t a new concept but it was one that I’d never seen put so concisely. Lacuna is a game with a point and once its run it’s course… You’re done. Jared also helped drive home more and more narrative aspects to gaming. InSpecters was the first game I ever played where you rolled dice not to achieve success but to control the story. More concepts that were delightful to me at the time.
Jared is also one of the first game designers that I talked about design philosophy with. When I was going to meet Jared in person everyone told me his was a total dick and that I should just avoid him. While I can totally see why people got that impression, Jared’s been nothing but awesome to me. I’ve since had some of the most memorable conversations about gaming with him and his views have really changed the way I look at a game. Of course, I don’t totally agree with him but sometimes he’s had a good point or two.
Epistles: Fred Hicks and Rob Donoghue
It almost feels cliché to list Fred Hicks and Rob Donoghue on this list. It seems like every contemporary gamer cites these two and this influence on the hobby. For me the really weird part about their inclusion is how little I’ve actually played of their games. Don’t get me wrong, I own a ton of them. Shit, I even bought some of their 4th Edition D&D stuff. Yet, I’ve never played Spirit of the Century and only recently tried the Dresden Files. Still, it’s their influence that shaped so many games I love.
The Evil Hat guys are one of the first developers I can point to and say, “This game I love is because of ideas you had for your game.” Since it’s the implementation of their rules in other games it only feels fair to pay homage to them here.
Apocalypse: John Wick
Even weirder to me that I’ve become friends with John, is how he seems to keep aligning with my gaming preferences. His work on Houses of the Blooded came out just at the right time for me. I was really picking up steam with this shared narrative idea and Houses went a long ways in capturing what I’ve wanted in a RPG for years. I have wanted a gaming tattoo since I first started getting ink stabbed into my body. It wasn’t until Houses that I knew what I wanted permanently etched into my skin. While the game isn’t perfect, what it stands for to me is. My tattoo is more than just tribute to a game I like, it’s a symbol for the type of gaming I want to do and the type of gamer that I am. Also, I think it looks nice.
John also gets to wrap up my current New Testament because he’s become an actual friend of mine. I still have little moments when I wish I could travel back to Nineteen Year Old Rob and see his expression when I tell him, “See that book? The one with the rock star game developer’s name on it. Yeah, someday you’ll be friends with that guy.” I think I would have given Future Rob the finger and told him to go fuck himself. I was kind of a prick back then.
There you have it. My Gaming Testaments. There are more names that I could list here too. Cam Banks, Eddy Webb, Jason Soles, Brian Snoddy, Gregor Hutton, David A. Hill Jr., Greg Stolze, and probably a dozen other designers that I’m forgetting. I don’t want to discredit those who contributed to my gaming upbringing but I really just wanted to narrow it down to the top five of each era.
I’m curious what the next chapter of my development will be. I’ve grown too old and wise to think I’m not going to change my outlook on gaming again. I’m just curious what the game will be that is unlike anything I’ve seen before.