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Monday 27 July 2015

10th Anniversary Classic Rant: First Influences

I read a comment today that I suspect is paraphrased from some famous quote, but I can't find the source for it; though I'm positive that in my academic years I had heard it somewhere. Basically it said this, on Christians: If they tend to base their Christianity on quoting the Gospels, they're fairly tolerable human beings. If they quote the Pauline Epistles then they're usually intolerable assholes, if they spend their time quoting Revelation, then they're utter and absolute nutcases.

I've found that to be generally true, and it got me to thinking also about the old Jesuit statement: "Give me a child before he's 7 and I'll give you a Catholic for life".

So our foundations determine what sources we will use to guide our perceptions, and our early experiences determine our foundations, which mark us for life.

I know from personal experience that these foundations can be "Undone"; but that its very difficult, and only pretty exceptional people making pretty exceptional efforts can overcome this.

Just as it is with religious instruction, so it is with RPGs. I think that our earliest experiences with RPGs probably mark us for life inasmuch as the rest of our career as "gamers" is concerned. Whatever our first gaming experiences are, those are the ones that in one form or another we are always trying to perfect or re-produce thereafter, or if we are on a rejection kick those are the foundations we are blindly thrashing against and trying to overthrow. Only those who come to terms with their origins and embrace them without being limited by them can really be free of them.

Am I free of my early influences? I think in many ways I am, of the negative aspects, but I have cleaved to the positive elements of those early influences.

My "early influences" would come down to three major sources: 

First, Basic D&D. The old red box. This game to me defined D&D, and defined what a good RPG should be; it also defined the "median" of my own personal rules-light/rules-heavy spectrum (ie. anything heavier than D&D basic is rules-heavy, anything lighter is "rules-light").

Second: Advanced Fighting Fantasy. This game was my first major influence for "rules light" and for simplicity, even before Amber. It was the first game that taught me not to rely entirely on rules as written, and to be ok with making some of it up as I go along, and looking at rules as suggestions and not ironclad structure. It also defined a lot of my sense of fun, since some of my first and most enjoyable campaigns were with "Dungeoneer". The world of Titan was my game world before I really got into Mystara or the Realms.

Third: Palladium's Robotech. This was the first major Sci-fi RPG I played. It certainly defined how I think a Mecha game should be. The rules didn't make a huge impact on me compared to D&D basic (if anything, the similarity between the systems just keyed me into the idea of the possibilities of universality), but the material and the construction of the rulesbooks defined a lot for me about what I would like from a gamebook, moreso than the other two sources. I like lots of good images, I like lots of cool stuff. And I'd rather have a sourcebook with a lot of usable material than a pretty sourcebook with a lot of useless crap stuffed in. Palladium's books are always chock-full of material that can be played with, say about them what you will.

Those were the three RPGs of my first two years as a gamer, and yes, I would say they did a lot to define me; both in the sense of defining what I like, and teaching me lessons about what can be better. And that's part of the trick too. If you look at it all dogmatically, you will only come away with a fixed dogma of what you want and end up with some massive blind spots about problems in games, that you will keep carrying with you.

Overall, I was pretty lucky. I'm not saying "brain damage" or anything like that, but its clear to me that people who's first RPGs were Vampire or other Story-based games will have some serious hurdles to overcome if they're going to be able to free themselves of the kinds of bad habits that create problems with enjoying RPGs as straightforward fun.


(Originally posted August 2, 2006)

1 comment:

  1. Nice to see Palladium get some respect.

    And the D&D thing explains a lot.