Back then, sonny, let me tell you

I don’t know if it has anything to do with Adept Play as such, but I’ve been receiving a steady arrival of interview requests for a while – even or mostly, for some reason, from people I don’t know even a little. I like it, mysterious as its cause may be.

Across all these interviews lately, it might seem as if I’m ranting about something a lot and repeating myself as old folks will. I talk a lot about the medium and instrumentation, and the good old “axe in the air” makes yet another appearance. The combination of autobiography, which I tried to turn into reflective history, overlaps somewhat with the more recent interview with Nune. I even slam Milton Friedman in this one too. But they’re not actually simultaneous; this interview was conducted in May 2021, almost a year ago. Its emphasis is a little different too, because this one focuses less on economics and more on play and design.

It’s a big beast, like most of them – two and a half hours this time. Fortunately Craig, as another comparably-aged role-player, asked very punchy questions from a solid knowledge base, which always helps me a lot in these things. If you can get through the first twenty minutes or so, which is mostly about things I’m constantly discussing and revisiting in interviews, the conversation gets quite pointed. Yes, it’s “all about me” (that was the interview’s purpose), but each me-moment is about actual stuff too. There’s a pretty deep look into my experiences of the early 1990s, when I had an opportunity to stop and to decide whether I wanted to do this thing at all or not, and when I started using set theory and multivariate models to understand role-playing systems. There’s a lot of early Sorcerer talk which I hope will show an interplay among personal play-experience, mathematical applications, experimentation, my lessons from witnessing publishing and creative effort in comics, and intensive non-directed play. There’s a pretty good look at why and how I started writing about ideas, and how it was tied into Sorcerer and into advocating for independent ownership, i.e., the Forge.

At about the halfway mark, there’s my personal/verbal accompaniment to Bill White’s book, Tabletop RPG Design in Theory and Practice at the Forge, 2001–2012. Strong words are spoken.

Well, what I’d really like are personal parallel experiences. Give a listen – here’s the link to the interview page and its audio file – and think about what you were doing during some time I’m describing at some point in the conversation, and say what that was, or how you were experiencing things.

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8 responses to “Back then, sonny, let me tell you”

  1. The only thing I can mention as a somewhat parallel experience (not that it is very interesting and for that I appologise in advance) is that at some point around 2015 or thereabouts I was considering giving up on the hobby. I had read, played, etc, many different games and I was getting very tired of the a priori generated plot-based nature of the scenarios and the reams of setting material and inconsequential supplements. I'd also grown bored of pure dungeon crawling many years before in the early 2000s, so after a short stint with the "OSR" I was seeing no way out. I wanted something that gave me the same feel of a good novel or movie or TV series, and the RPGs I was familiar with (i.e. most of them) didn't deliver.At some point around 2015 I recalled a moment I had around 2001, at the university's public coomputer section (I didn't have Internet at home in those days, so I used the university's computers to surf the web, like so many others). I remembered seeing a game called Sorcerer on some webpage, and a supplement called Sorcerer & Sword. In those days you couldn't just order stuff with a debit card and there was no Paypal, so I didn't order it. But the game's description made a strong impression with me because the whole idea of summoning entities and interacting with them as a core game experience had a very strong appeal to my aesthetic and fictional sensibilities.Thus, in an afternoon around 2015, I happened to be surfing the web at home and purely by chance I remembered the game and it's cover, clear as day. I knew nothing about indie publishing or the indie scene or the Forge. That day I found out about it and it changed everything for me. I spent the next few weeks and months in a feverish frenzy reading the Forge archives. I bought the original Sorcerer publications second-hand from third-party sellers on Amazon UK, and a year later or so I contacted Ron to obtain the Annotated version and the supplements' omnibus.If it wasn't for that day and purely by chance remembering a game from a website 15 years earlier I would have given up on the whole roleplaying thing. 

  2. A Series of Disappointing Events

    For context I graduated high school in 1995 and college in 1999. I was very briefly in graduate school but quickly left in immense frustration to do what I do now which is video game development.

    Despite going on to major in Computer Science in college my strongest subject in high school was English. I liked and still like talking about literature despite being a horribly slow reader and having a mind that wanders a lot while reading. Also, I did not read a lot of fantasy or science-fiction, spending most of my time reading horror and thrillers of various sorts. D&D pretty much was my only interaction with fantasy.

    Through that lens it was (early) in high school that I began to look for “meaning” in role-playing. For whatever reason I would spend hours going through the monster manual looking at even the creatures I liked: black puddings, gelatinous cubes, beholders, even weird things like modrons and asking myself, “this is cool, but what do they MEAN?!” I understood stuff like Medusa and The Minotaurs' role in mythology but they made zero sense to me as species or as beings with ecology or culture. (The explicit Habitat & Ecology sections of the AD&D 2e monster entries were probably the biggest turn off in RPG history for me). Something like the succubus certainly gestured at something Dracula-esq but had no idea how to effectuate that in terms of D&D.

    At some point I discovered the Mayfair edition of Chill. And here, for the first time, I saw something that made sense to me. The majority (but far from all) the creatures in Chill either preyed on or were the result of ordinary human problems. Ah ha! Now I could set up scenarios where the “weird stuff” meant something. Unfortunately, as Ron mentions in the interview people learn from sample adventures and by this point Mayfair had adopted the Call of Cthulhu model of scenario design with lots of “clues” leading players around. And so I felt immense pressure to have all these prepared letters, and articles, and dream sequences and god knows what else. So while I connected with the material greatly, it just seemed like a lot of work.

    And then I went to college where I didn’t role-play at all. My other big enjoyment growing up had been adventure style computer games from text adventures like Enchanter, Planetfall and Deadline to hybrids like King's Quest and Colonel’s Bequest to the big point-and-click boom of Monkey Island, Gabriel Knight and the greatest adventure game of all time: The Last Express (seriously, check it out, it holds up). So, in college, where I finally had steady access to the internet I found the hobby community around interactive fiction a.k.a. text adventures.

    There was an interesting split in that community. There were the traditionalists interested in puzzle-driven adventure design and then there were the art-ier types who aspired to more literary goals. I was very much drawn to the second group as I was still very much looking for “meaning” in interactive media. And yet! Even among that group, I felt a disconnect. They did want to move beyond puzzle adventures but what they seemed to be chasing were these kind of multivariate branching, explorative experiences that were still centered on author-to-user communication. What Ron now calls “transitive” media.  Yes, it was interactive. Yes, it was malleable and variable.  But it did not center the user as the driver of the narrative.  And that bothered me.

    Here’s the other thing that happened while I was in college. As a computer science major I had an interest in artificial intelligence. When I took the A.I. class I was shocked to discover its utter focus on logic, planning, strategy and pattern recognition. It was the most dry 1970s patriarchal definition of “intelligence” I could imagine. What about the role of intuition or emotion? Was no one looking into artificial creativity? This was immensely disappointing.

    So, I asked around and did a bit of research and discovered the already defunct Oz Project out of Carnegie Mellon University. They had developed the concept of a Dramatic Agent. Yes, it was still based on planning and goal-seeking but it at least attempted to incorporate emotional states and acknowledged the concept or artificial characters in narratives. Here, at last, I was beginning to see the kind of thinking I was looking for. I did an undergraduate thesis project based on this work where I applied their emotional model to a conversation system to produce a dynamic dramatic dialogue driven by the emotional impact of the user's approach to the topics of discussion.

    So, now feeling like I was on the right track my plan was to pursue this into grad school. However, I really fucked up the whole grad school process. I did find myself in a Ph.D. track program at USC but they put me on the research course of basically making more user-friendly tutorial bots. I was interested in interactive literature, not more personable help functions.  Remember this is all about the quest for “meaning” in interactive entertainment. 

    Before quitting in utter frustration and disappointment I tried talking to more humanities focused departments but my ideas were way too techy for the literature people and way too literary for the techy people. Not to brag, but I was literally ahead of my time. Today, there are interactive media departments with sub focuses on narrative experiences. I still think they are very oriented toward transitive experiences, but I think I would have a much easier time kicking in the door now than then. Oh well.

    So there I am in the early 2000s really mad about the state of interactive digital media as it relates to a more literary experience. What I decided was that I needed to work with “more sophisticated computers” and by that I meant human beings. I decided to turn my attention back to role-playing because with human beings we could assume the problem of characters and their drives and emotions to already be solved. It was just a matter of organizing stuff so that it had “meaning.” I could then go back, if I wanted to, and figure out how to replicate the results digitally.

    I, of course, picked up where I left off: running Chill. I also started exploring games that seemed heavily invested in “genre” under the mistaken belief that such games would, of course, care deeply about the literary tradition they were designed to model. Here, I played a lot of Deadlands and 7th Sea. While those kinds of games certainly talked a lot about “tropes” they once again lacked the discussion I was looking for: meaning.

    At this time, I'm, of course, just looking around the internet for lots of resources and I find The Forge. I see Ron’s discussions about Narrativism and its related ideas about Premise and Theme and now I’m getting very excited. Here it was at last: MEANING! I picked up Sorcerer as well as Sorcerer & Sword. 

    Sorcerer’s philosophy of “the demons don’t exist” is the giant punch in the face to the “Habitat & Ecology” sections of the AD&D 2e monster entries I’ve been craving.  Sorcerer & Sword, of course, reveals itself to be the “genre text” I’ve actually been looking for! Actual curation, actual analysis! The lit. crit. of RPG texts! I started reading fantasy fiction seriously for the first time in my life. (I was very drawn to Ron’s descriptive phrase of “adventurous horror story”).

    Of course, then began the hard part of effectuating any of that at the table. I could kind-of-sort-of see the link between my notions of artificial dramatic agents and the idea of “just play the NPCs” but actually making that happen smoothly was a challenge. Cue a decade of conversations at The Forge.

    In the interview Ron talks about wanting people to move on from The Forge and I took that seriously. I went off and just did my thing. I knew about Adept Play but only occasionally glanced at it. It wasn’t until I read Bill White’s book on The Forge that I got a little nostalgic for that caliber of discourse and decided to come back in full, especially since, once again, I find myself surrounded by a mountain of games that seem like they should totally be my thing but don’t quite work for me in the end. I needed a refresher.

    • At some point between 2001 and 2006, I started referring to "The long dark night of Jesse Burneko."

      I recall a couple of other conceptual points that seemed to strike hard at the time. One concerned my take on stories' content, e.g., that Aliens is not about aliens but motherhood, Night of the Living Dead is not about zombies but human social divisions, et cetera. I think the impact was that I wasn't talking about symbolism or a secret message, but straightforward about-ness, in that this kind of content is what we know and respond to, when we make and receive stories. It's not coded, it is.

    • One of the big take-aways for me from Bill's book was how much of what I remember about The Forge happened between 2001 and 2006 when I would have sworn things were more spread out over its entire lifespan.

  3. Down Memory Lane

    I’m not completely sure exactly what you’re looking for, but it sounds something like a gaming autobiography. I thought I’d list some of the highlights, so here they are. Some of them might be out of temporal sequence.

    I first came across an rpg in about 1977. Star Wars had been out for awhile, I was a big fan of the Lord of the Rings, and I was in elementary school. A major blizzard hit New York City, and schools were closed; I remember snowdrifts being so tall they were over my head, the biggest I’d ever seen at that time. We had a delightful time building snow forts and having snowball fights. During one of these events, a friend told me about this new game, and what it was like to play; it sounded incredible, but I had a hard time understanding how it would work. Later that summer, this friend showed me the AD&D Player’s Handbook. I fell in love with it right away; it looked and sounded so much like LotR, I wanted to dive right in. 

    Of course, the book didn’t tell you how to play the game. I saw one of the boxed sets in a hobby store, and asked a friend about it; he scoffed, saying it was “just for babies” and we should never get it. Suitably chastened and intimidated, I resolved never to go near a boxed set. Ah, the folly of youth. 

    We sat in on a game played by some older kids (they were like 11 or 12, they seemed so much older at the time, lol), and although I had no idea what was going on – when to roll what die and so on – I loved every minute of it. We tried to reconstruct what they were doing by ourselves, and this amounted to “roll the big die and the GM says what it means.” I decided this was too subjective, and made up my own to-hit table by weapon type. I don’t remember what exactly we did with saving throws, except that we rolled a d6 for them. This worked for us for awhile. 

    Then the momentous news came: a friend said, “you have to get Dragon #22! It has everything we’re missing!” Somehow I got my hands on a copy, and we all shook our heads in wonder: “so that’s how it’s supposed to work! Wow!” Looking back, I’m not sure this really added anything to our experience, but we were happy that now we were playing “the right way.” 

    One amusing anecdote comes to mind. One day, a friend of my Dad’s, a fellow geologist, was over our house, discussing geochemistry with him. This guy had brought a friend, an older fellow, to the discussion. At one point my Dad called out to me: “why don’t you bring that dungeon game here? My friend is curious about it.” So I brought over the DM’s guide, and explained it as best I could to these guests. My Dad’s friend was curious, asked me questions, and seemed intrigued by how imaginative it all was. Then I left. Afterwards, my Dad said, “you know who that other fellow was, the older man?” I shook my head. “That was Mr. DuPont, of the DuPont chemical company.” So it turns out I explained D&D to the owner of a chemical company when I was a little kid. 

    My friends and I kept gaming. I still wasn’t satisfied, though, and wanted more detail: what did a hit really mean? Could I trip someone? How about aim for a specific target? So I made up a hit location chart. We had a bit of fun with this, chortling when we hit an orc in the groin and so on. As we kept playing through Junior High, I got more and more dissatisfied: I questioned everything, including classes and leveling up. Through the years, we tried every game we came across, Tunnels and Trolls, Melee, etc. Even Rolemaster, although I gave up the system after just one combat – we had to flip through so many charts it became a headache. 

    Then Champions came on the scene, and boy was that a revelation! I loved the advantage/disadvantage system, and that you could use different martial art maneuvers. Play however, particularly combat, I found horribly tedious. We stopped tracking endurance and that helped a lot. I was leery of the Hero System when it first came out, but my friends embraced it enthusiastically: we found the perfect system for everything! So we used it for fantasy games as well as everything else for awhile. I remember wanting to try Bunnies and Burrows, which I thought was a really clever system, but never had a chance: why learn a new system, people protested. 

    Then it was time for high school, and I had less time available for gaming. I was heavily into science, and was briefly mentioned in the NYT for a project I did on the chemical composition of the presolar nebula. Still, I found time for a weekly D&D game. Then it was on to college, and gaming stopped. Where I was, at that time gaming was uncool. No one I knew wanted to do it, and sneered with contempt when I dared suggest such a childish thing. After college was grad school, and I didn’t game then either; at one point, I was doing two graduate programs at the same time in unrelated fields, and didn’t even try to get a game together. I mourned the loss of the hobby. 

    A few years passed, I started the career I’m currently in, and then D&D 3.0 came out. Shyly and tentatively, I joined a new campaign, after a hiatus of something like 10 years. We played, and rather quickly all of my old questions and issues resurfaced. Why did combat have to be so slow? How could we make it more exciting? Did we really need all this complexity? My questions led me to try out all kinds of games. I remember a game called Milennium’s End, where you used an overlay map to determine where your gunshot hit; I tried different versions of Call of Cthulhu, and explored every free rpg I could find on the net. There hardly was a net at this point. I remember one of my main uses of it was reading about and discussing Babylon 5 on one of those mailing lists; the creator, J. Straczynski, responded to one of my comments once. Netscape was a major technological advance, when it became widely available. There were still phone books then, too, back in the Stone Age.  

    I went through a stage where simplicity was my goal; how much could you do with simple rules? I came across Risus, which excited me so much I wrote Cthulhu Risus, with the author’s permission. A few people (other than myself and my friends) even found it and played it, which thrilled me. I eventually found the Forge, and was excited to see people thinking deeply about these topics. I asked a few simple-minded questions on the forum, one of which became part of the inspiration for Ron developing the IIEE concept. 

    As a practical matter, the d20 system overwhelmed everything. Once again I found myself wanting to try out different games, but people responded with, "why learn a new system? Just use d20." Depressing. 

    Around this time, I came across Noam Chomsky’s analysis of the media, and further exploration and reading led me to human rights work, mainly for East Timor and some for Palestine. After the 1999 WTO protests, where I got tear-gassed multiple times and smacked around with a night stick, I became a political organizer for the local Green Party. This plus my budding career took a lot of my time. I’d occasionally dip my toes back into the gaming world, and eventually joined a weekly gaming group where we mostly did one-shots, which let us try out a lot of games, including our own designs. The most fun I had tended to be with simpler systems, like Cthulhu Risus. I joined an Ars Magica campaign, which I liked because of the setting (we were in Spain before the Reconquista), but was constantly frustrated by the rules. The campaign fell apart, mostly because of me – the way I’d describe it now was one of the players crossed one of my lines, and wouldn’t accept that I wasn’t having it. 

    After East Timor became free and my career started to take off, my human rights work became minimal. I played in a couple of campaigns using the Savage Worlds system, which ended successfully, but I concluded I never wanted to play that system again. The same thing happened with FATE – I played in a very enjoyable fantasy game, but I decided I was done with the system after that. D&D 5e came out, and I started a campaign which lasted 3 years and actually “finished”. Now I’m done with 5e too. My quest for fulfilling gaming continues. 

    I’ve had a couple of my own designs brewing through the years, and Ron helped with consulting for one of them. I’m currently enjoying exchanging ideas with others on Adept Play, taking Ron’s courses when I can, and seeing where it all takes me.

  4. My Life & Role-Playing

    That's the title of a series of article/interviews in "Different Worlds", the not-just-Chaosium magazine published by Chaosium from 1979 for some years (names of those interviewed can be found by searching Fascinating reads (the ones I have), even if "life" and a … 5ish year old activity seems a bit grandiose. Some 40 years later, less so, so perhaps "My Life IN Role-playing"? Or "My Life as a roleplayer"?

    Be that as it may, I have been trying to organize scattered notes for a while now, attempting to clarify for myself the what and when of my experience, thought and play as a roleplayer. Turns out to be a difficult project to squeeze in with the rest of life of late. But even the effort so far leaves me pretty well-equipped to offer some parallel experiences. Let me pick … "entry into the hobby" and "finding product".

    Summer of 1976 – most of my friends were 13/14, but I was 12, having started kindergarten at 4.  I was in the midst of a mad rush into reading fantasy and science fiction, as well as playing board/war games from Avalon Hill, SPI, and similar. The later dated to a program back in elementary school, where kids (like me) who seemed too easily bored were presented with complicated games to keep them occupied. For the former … in junior high (grades 7-9 at that time), I spent a LOT of time at both the school and various town libraries (1970's tween childcare for working parents, in some part). Luckily, the libraries were insanely well stocked with Tolkien, Le Guin, Andre Norton, E.R. Eddison … and I was hooked.

    I'll touch (speculatively, because I'm not sure – they weren't mine) on where the rulebooks came from when addressing "finding product" in a bit. But I started playing something we called D&D in that summer of 1976, amid the bizarre, diffuse, barely post-Vietnam War spectacles encouraged by Ford's American Revolution Bicentennial Administration. We had Outdoor Adventures. We had the three booklets, we had Greyhawk, Blackmoor, Eldritch Wizardry. We had lots of board wargaming experience, and an enthusiasm for Tolkien. We did NOT have a copy of Chainmail. We enjoyed what we played, mostly, but realistically … it was a mess. As we added other bits, the creative experience sometimes got better, sometimes not.

    (Quick overview of the next years: we kept playing through junior high and the summer after (1978), but in my first year of high school I lost track of many of those particular friends, and I (with some others) were waiting on the AD&D DMG (1979) to "fix" the game. We'd try "real"/D&D roleplaying (often HIGHLY influenced by non-TSR stuff we tracked down) from time to time, but just as often played a fantasy or SF-themed board game (Greg Costikiyan's Swords & Sorcerry, the various Middle Earth games leading up to and including SPI's War of the Ring, Ogre, Melee/Wizard, the T&T arena combat game Monsters! Monsters!, etc.) But by 11th grade, AD&D DMG in hand, I started a school-sanctioned D&D club with a new friend, and the following year, after he graduated, I got another guy to help me keep it going. We … sorta figured out how to (using your analogy, Ron) use the game instrumentation enough that doing so was at least PART of the enjoyment, so that the gaming was not "just" an excuse to socialize.)

    Now … where did those first, 1976 materials come from? It could have been someone's older sibling, home for the summer from a Midwest or SoCal college/university. Or … certainly the wargaming magazines (SPI's "Strategy & Tactics", Avalon Hill's "The General") had D&D adverts by then. Adverts with a little box to cut out, fill out, and put in the mail to order the game (which I did, once I scounged up the money). And maybe SF mags like Galaxy did too? D&D spread to me and my friends before any significant media coverage, I think. And certainly "catalog" (in the back of a game, or included in an earler delivery) based mail order was an important early aquistion tool for me. I figured out C.O.D. and postal money orders in order to get game stuff and Moorcock Eternal Champion novels. I had a credit from Zocchi Distribution in my wallet for years, because I money-ordered something that was out of stock.

    I did also have a local, section-in-the-hobby/crafts-store source (it stopped selling game stuff decades back, but it was still around as a hobby/craft store until COVID hit). Years later, I realized the "regional" nature of some of my aquisitions – Fantasy Games Unlimited was just across the state line, Bard Games was actually IN my home town, and the store stocked their stuff. If I could afford the train ticket down to NYC (and not tell my parents where I was going for the day), The Compleat Strategist stocked almost EVERYTHING available back then.

    And then there was going to conventions and buying stuff there. I know I was at GenCon XIII in 1980, and GenCon East in 1981. But where did I get my Tunnels and Trolls 4th Edition? That wasn't a store buy or a mail order, I'm pretty sure. And I know I went to SOME other convention in that 1976-79 time frame … Was it a SciFi con? 1977 Origins in Staten Island? Memory fails.

    Anyway, convention purchases were also a thing that I (and others, certainly) did.

  5. The Unconstructedness of Dungeons & Dragons

    I think Dungeons & Dragons’ “unconstructedness” lasted for quite a long time, or, at least, that was my experience of it, growing up in a very rural part of New York state with limited access to any larger world of role-playing. Even games that were supposedly for beginners were hard to comprehend if you didn’t have someone else with more experience as a gude. The first role-playing game I ever owned was TSR’s Marvel Super Heroes (1984), but I was too young to understand what it was or what to do with it: my parents bought it for me thinking it was a board game, and I remember being upset that it was not a board game and was not something we could make sense of. A year later, though, I got the Frank Mentzer Dungeons & Dragons Set 1: Basic Rules (1983), and reading that helped me figure out how to play Marvel Super Heroes.

    We didn’t play much Dungeons & Dragons at first, we stuck to Marvel for the most part, but eventually we had amassed several other Dungeons & Dragons products – the Mentzer Expert Rules, Oriental Adventures, and various issues of Dragon magazine. It was obvious that the material in Dragon Magazine and Oriental Adventures were for a substantially different game than what we had in the two Mentzer box sets, but we grabbed onto what seemed cool and compatible and ignored the elements that didn’t seem to fit. I finally figured out that Oriental Adventures and the Dragon Material was for the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons game, and got a full set of 1st edition rule books – the Players Handbook, the Dungeon Masters Guide, and the Monster Manual – mere months before the 2nd edition was rolled out. I distinctly remember feeling cheated and upset that we had finally gotten all the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons books that I thought we needed and now, in order to play the official game, would have to buy another set of books.

  6. Closer to the Heart

    There are two distinct times I questioned the worth of roleplaying as an activity. The first time was in the mid-00s. I found my first "real rpg" group at 15 years old or so. Before I played many different kinds of games I found online (remember the days of free games on personal websites, just simple text documents with maybe stolen art from a movie), along with AD&D/Hackmaster at sleepovers and camping trips.

    This group had a Storyteller, and we would be expected to play along and experience the story like good players. This didn't work, and was clearly dysfunctional on many levels. None of the games ever got off the ground, the longest series was maybe six sessions.

    I was getting absolutely burnt out trying to meaningfully participate. I stopped caring about reading the rules, making interesting characters (that were never honored), and doing anything beyond reacting in a funny voice. Heck, sometimes we'd roll dice and the result wouldn't be overruled.

    I sold most of my rpg books I owned, tossed out my folders and binders of free rpgs I printed up or doodled out a design of, and kinda gave up on it. If this was the stated ideal for rpgs, to experience a story and re-live your favorite moments from film & television…I felt it was sort of pointless as a creative activity.

    This didn't change until new people, not gamers just some nerdy friends, came into the group. I had, out of pure novelty, bought a cheap copy of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles & Other Strangeness at a wonderful used bookstore which is sadly now gone. All the new players were taken by the wild character creation and wanted to play. The old group of real gamers balked, so I said "fuck it, let's game somewhere else".

    This was the best decision I made, it rekindled my desire to play and got me away from a toxic social circle that went full Chick Tract (white supremacist cult about fallen angels or some nonsense). I ran TMNT, this broken mess of a game, to show people it could be more than linear stories but open, spontaneous and expressive play. You haven't lived until you saw a mutated platypus use kungfu on a fascist cop pig. I then stopped lurking on forums, and began to engage in the wider hobby (for better and worse).

    I played a lot of games during this period. I started organizing weekly meetups for analog games, and running DnD Encounters because there was no DM (I thought of the kids who wanted to play)! I learned 4th Edition and ran a 8 to 14 person game from ages 8 to 68 in 3 to 4 hour time slots (people saying 4e combat is slow are ridiculous). I was back, I felt joy playing games again.

    Skip forward years, and one big move from college town in Northern Washington (Bellingham) to Portland Oregon.

    Story Games™ had become the thing. There was a loosely organized game night that was fun and open to many different kinds of experiences. Eventually, someone imposed a structure and set forth a rule that only the acceptable kind of game was allowed.

    I was disgruntled, but I played along for a bit but felt the same feelings again. If these linear games, which were constrained by the designers idea of what a story should be told or how other media "worked", were considered "good game design". Did I just like trash? Were the comments that only retrograde edgelords and control freaks played "those games" true? Maybe people grew beyond the experiences I wanted and I was the one who needed to change. I tried, it didn't work, I can't not be me.

    So I just started playing at home but aside from a few bright spots – I kept finding the wrong people to game with. It just rarely clicked and I grew frustrated, gaming ground to halt.

    I am slowly emerging from this period. I ran a game of Dungeon Crawl Classics and Trollbabe at the start of the pandemic. I am having fun now playing games when I get the chance to. It's back to the expressive and spontaneous, rather than controlled and planned out. While the pandemic, and life events are preventing me from gaming more – the fire is lit, and I love to play again.

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