Saturday, April 24, 2010

Life as a Middle-Aged Gamer (with Kids)

When I read my first D&D book 30 years ago, I never imagined that first fantasy game would be a lifelong hobby. At 15, your long term outlook is pretty limited. I was an avid fantasy and science fiction fan and D&D gave me a way to create my own characters that shaped their own story. After the first game, I was hooked.

I hasten to add the game became more about the social event rather than the tactical table top adventure. I was the youngest of the gamers so in some ways, gaming was a maturing pastime for me. Meaning I had older people that would buy me beer.

Spence, Chuck, John, Duck and I became brothers over time. I was actually closer to them than my family for a very long time. These guys were with me, and I with them, through the best and worst of times. I feel its a friendship that will continue until death and beyond.

Of course our gaming experience wasn't limited to a single game system. We played all sorts of tactical games as well. Being a natural rules lawyer, I was the king of Star Fleet Battles. Yet the group always returned to its roots. The fantasy adventure was always our first choice and the one in which we had the most fun.

Time passed. I entered college and yet still maintained the same gaming group.
Others came and went, but the original five members continued to be the core of the group. Girlfriends and wives came and went, but the core remained.

After college, our gaming slowed down as people moved away to pursue their careers and 'adult' lives. The games became less and less frequent. During high school we gamed all weekend every weekend. During college we also gamed many nights during the week since we all worked at the same restaurant (free sodas and pizza as well). After college we would game one weekend night. This slowed to every other night, and then, after years, settled into one six hour session every three to four weeks.

We lost Duck to California. Later, Chuck found the drive was a drive too far and dropped out. The group gathered other members, but it was never the same. I eventually dropped out as well since weekends are prime family time, and I felt selfish for stealing even one weekend out of three to play.

John and Spence continue with a new group keeping us updated on their latest adventures. Chuck found another group closer to home that was made up of some of the satellite players from previous sessions. I tried pick-up games here in Austin, but it never felt right. There just wasn't a connection to the new gamers.

It was then I started looking for a Virtual Tabletop to try. Duck and I were always the guys to try something new so we investigated several before settling on MapTool. It was more primitive than it is now as the product is still under very active development. Trevor, the lead developer, had me hooked the first time I made a suggestion, and it showed up a week later in the next build.

After Duck and I tried MapTool, we introduced the rest of the group to it. We began playing D&D 3e remotely using Yahoo! voice chat, MapTool and for character creation and storage, but I also have to say this was the beginning of the end for D&D and me. When I realized I had to have a computer program to level characters and create NPCs, I began to doubt whether I wanted to continue with the game system.

Then D&D 3.1 too many came out. Duck, Chuck and I refused to buy it. John and Spence dove in. So gaming basically ended again for the three holdouts.

So yet another discovery was made on the forums. There was this guy who kept preaching Savage Worlds. The rulebook was only $10, and it handled just about any genre. So I dove in and played Against the Orcs via MapTool. The game flew. We fought a battle with 250 orcs, 20 villagers, 6 PCs, and 30 soldiers over two game sessions. I was astounded by how much fun we had.

I then created an adventure in a post apocalyptic setting of my own creation. The Savage Worlds system with MapTool handled that just as easily. To date I've run five different settings in vastly different genres with ease using the same $10 rule book I started with.

Along the way I picked up new gaming compadres. I run demo games for both the Savage Worlds and MapTool community to help others enjoy the freedom I now have with the combination.

So what's an old troll like me going to contribute to this online magazine? My intent is to share a few short stories and some Savage Worlds adventures along with the MapTool framework to support them. I also hope to share some life experiences that allow me to game and maintain a rich family life and career.

My first foray will be in the form of a short story in my WWII era Pulp Sci-Fi universe in which Earth is destroyed but the Nazi menace remains. I'll also write a series of articles titled, for now, "The Sweet Spot." In these articles I'll share my insights and techniques for gaming with a full-time job and a fuller time family.

(This article originally appeared in The Dice of Life.  Additional editing by Rob Miller and/or Kristian Serrano)

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