There’s a pretty cool Kickstarter out right now called Playsets. Basically, its digital game pieces on the web or your tablet that you can use as visual aids for pen and paper RPGs. The best part is that multiple people can sign into the same Playset and control things from anywhere, so friends can play together from all around the world.
This got me thinking to my own history with pen and paper RPGs. I started towards the end of seventh grade. I was hanging out with Blaze – yes, that was his real name – and Bryan – yes, that’s really how he spelled it. Blaze was that cool kid you meet in middle school who transfers in from a distant land, in this case it was Arizona. You know the type, the guy who some how got just a one year head start on getting into the interesting music and movies. And one of the things Blaze was into was RPGs.
More specifically an RPG called Rifts. If your understanding of the pen and paper genera doesn’t extend past Dudgeons and Dragons, I’m going to expand on what Rifts is. D&D is set in a generic fantasy setting. There are swords. There is sorcery. And yeah, there are dragons.
Rifts is a little different. It’s a post-apocalyptic sci-fi game about, among other things, a militaristic human-supremacist society fighting demons, wizards, and aliens from other dimensions. Anything was fair ball in Rifts. If you wanted to pay a half-rat cybernetic robot pilot with a drug problem you could. Arms dealing dragon? sure. Magic using gunslinger on a robot horse? That shit was on one of the book covers. If you could think it up Rifts had 80 pages of rules to help you make it.
Okay, maybe it was very different from D&D, but for an awkward kid who grew up on Science Fiction, video games, and was about to become a teenager, this was mana from heaven.
The first time we played Rifts, it took us about three hours just to make characters. That wasn’t because it’s hard to roll characters in Rifts, it was because Blaze’s passion for the game was greatly overshadowed by Bryan’s love for Toejam and Earl 2.
“Are you ready to make a character,” Blaze yelled at Bryan over his pile of open source books.
“Yeah. Um… Sure. I just… I got this level, okay? This level is my bitch,” Bryan answered back.
After too much back and forth, Blaze got him come over and start rolling stats dice.
“Okay, Josh,” Blaze said to me. “It’s your turn.”
“Wait up. This level is my bitch.”
Sometime character creation can take a long time. We didn’t get started playing until just after midnight. But when we did get started, we didn’t stop until almost dawn. That first game was powerful. We got in bar fights. I got shot through a house by a robot suit with a railgun. We laughed. We argued about rules.
We were hooked.
Friends would come and got from our player’s circle, but I kept up the RPG habit until well into college. My tastes changed. I got really into Mage: the Ascension back when that was still in print. It was a much more complex game world. There was a lot of gray areas and the magic system was open for interpretation. To this day, I still think it’s the greatest RPG ever made.
But I haven’t thrown dice in a really long time, but I still have all my books. My friends now are into board games more than anything else. I hold on the hope that I might start up again. And hey, they make apps now for play with anyone all over the world.