Friday 20 September 2013

The d4

Let's change the subject.

Like a lot of gamers, I dislike d4s probably most of all. There are three reasons for this:

1) Rolling them just isn't exciting. They plop on the table, rattle for a millisecond, and you have the result. This is problematic for dice, because the thing that makes rolling dice fun - the thing that makes it special - is the moment of suspense: the dice have left your hand and you are watching the graceful parabola of their movement and listening to the familiar clatter of their impact with the table, and your eyes flick to that spot at which you surmise they are about to stop, and you get this strange feeling of subconscious satisfaction at the way you can predict their motions although you are never quite sure exactly when and where they are going to come to a standstill...and there is a moment's pause as you wait for them to stop in which your brain considers a wealth of possibilities passing before it (win or lose, succeed or fail, live or die) and then the orgasmic climax of the number revealing itself. Although I usually only actually orgasm on a natural 20.

The d4 is the dice type that creates the least suspense because the time between release and result is too short. It's a quick, unskilled and disappointing lay. It blows its load too early and leaves you frustrated and a little bit displeased with yourself and what your life has come to.

2) They are not tactile. They are angular and feel not so much as discrete dice in their own right, but broken shards of bigger, better dice. All other dice types have a friendly, solid, almost avuncular feel. They are smiley, trusty comrades. d4s are harsh, cruel, nasty to the touch.

3) Even setting aside these considerations, the spread of results, and the maximum possible result, are both boring and anticlimactic. The difference between 1 and 4 almost makes you feel as if you may as well not have bothered rolling. And '4' is not an exciting number when other dice types give you 6, 8, 10, 12 or 20. That's a shallow way of looking at the d4, but an important one: even a good result is not very good.

Thursday 19 September 2013

Player Creativity Within the D6 for Damage Framework

Yes, there is still MORE TO BE SAID on this topic.

On yesterday's post various people raised the point that having different damage dice for different weapons is intrinsically good because it gives players the chance to make choices and trade-offs. 

Picador posts this excellent retort, which I can't really add much to:

I'm a big fan of two-handed weapons giving +1 to attack. That makes them more effective vs. heavy armor (verisimilitude) and mirrors the shield's -1 to AC (balance), making the "shield vs. two-handed weapon" choice one of straightforward defence vs. offence. In a game where bonuses to attack are few and far between (e.g. no Strength bonus, few magical weapons), that +1 is a big deal.

As soon as we start talking about mapping HP damage to weapon size, we're back into the weird incoherence of the "one successful attack roll = one connecting blow / hit points = physical wound capacity" system we grew up with. Much better to give a bonus to attack, representing the various combat advantages bestowed by using a large weapon with two hands (e.g. superior reach, control, and armor piercing ability).

I don't disagree in the slightest, but I also can't help but feel that there is a disadvantage of making trade-offs between weapons too obvious. That is, the difference between a sword which does d8 damage and a dagger which does d4 damage is as plain as the nose on your face. It's a no-brainer. There may be other considerations, but the primary consideration is which does more damage in a fight. I don't find that a particularly interesting choice at all in the context of OD&D, where there are no other real mechanical considerations regarding weapons (the case is different if we are playing Rolemaster or Runequest), but more to the point, I think there is a sense in which removing obvious choices like that encourages thoughtful engagement with the game.

That is, if there is no real mechanical difference between weapons, players have to consider other ways to distinguish between them. Suddenly, the primary distinction between the sword and the dagger ceases to be damage, but the trade-off between the prestige and swagger of wielding a sword versus the usefulness of the concealable dagger. That is not only a more interesting choice but one that draws the player into the game world and his character. He's not thinking about mathematics, but about what his character is actually going to be doing during play. 

So, you might say that there is a virtue in forcing players into making non-mechanical choices about the game. The more you restrict differentiation in the maths, the more you encourage creative, engaged thinking with what is "happening". Players are more likely to think about what their weapon actually does as a physical object rather than a simple number. I think that notion is at least worth consideration. 

Tuesday 17 September 2013

Swords and Arrows, and Dragonslaying

I'll shut up about universal d6 damage eventually, but there is MORE THAT MUST BE SAID.

In the comments to Sunday's post, two interesting issues are raised, by Ynas Midgard and Picador respectively. In respect of bows, Ynas Midgard makes the excellent point that bows are "harmonically bound" by slings in a d6-for-damage system (no, I hadn't heard of that phrase either); what this means is that, since bows and slings are effectively equal (they both do d6 damage), but slings have side benefits (infinite reloads, probably also concealability and other fringe advantages) you should always choose a sling over a bow in that system. 

The same is true of more or less any melee weapon vis-a-vis swords. Spears can be used for poking and measuring, and for attacking from a rear rank. Axes can smash down doors. Daggers are concealable. Clubs are free and ready-made. Swords are "harmonically bound" by everything else.

I'm not sure, but it seems Ynas Midgard sees this as a downside to the system. I'm partially inclined to disagree, for two reasons.

1) I like the idea of professional dungeoneers making hard-nosed choices about equipment. I view adventurers as being more like bandeirantes than anything else - tough, bloody-minded types whose decision-making is all about substance over style: the efficiency of a weapon which is also a tool would appeal to such folk. But that also means that the selection of a sword or bow as your weapon of choice is a statement. It may be sub-optimal, but it says to the world, specifically, "My character cares about style over substance". Maybe he has delusions of grandeur and wants to be a knight, or a hero. Maybe he envisions himself as a woodsman or Robin Hood-type with a yew hunting bow. Maybe he wants to impress people by gadding about with a poncey rapier. Whatever - it makes a sword or bow a luxury and an extension of the character, rather than just a default.

2) Wherever swords are found in a culture, they are a sign of privilege, because they are difficulty and costly to make in comparison to other weapons. A large part of the reason why swords are so prominent in the mythology of late-middle-ages Europe and Edo period Japan is that only the rich could afford them: they are about power, wealth, and, for want of a better word, bling. Making them a somewhat rare and sub-optimal choice for PCs enhances their status as a statement rather than a mere weapon or tool. 

Picador, on the other hand, writes some excellent comments going back to the early days of D&D:

I know there's been a lot of discussion recently about hit points and the duration of combat between characters of various levels, but it seems to me that if you were interested in preserving the combat dynamics of Chainmail in the context of D&D's more granular HD/HP system, you'd want to have a corollary to the Fighter's ability to engage multiple 1HD targets. It might look something like this:

"When a Fighter is engaged in melee or missile combat with a single other creature, a successful attack by the Fighter deals a number of dice of damage equal to his or her level."

This solves two problems: first, the one-minute combat round can now use more realistic movement rates without diminishing the efficacy of missile weapons; and second, it's now possible to simulate those Conan moments where he impales the giant serpent on a spear or cuts off his opponent's head in the first exchange, rather than thrashing around with the dude for fifteen minutes.

If you wanted to be generous to the non-Fighters (and, true to Chainmail, allow Wizards the ability to beat up on legendary creatures alongside Heroes and Superheroes), you could phrase it thusly instead:

"When a combatant is engaged in melee or missile combat with a single other creature, a successful attack deals damage equal to the combatant's Fighting Capability (e.g. a 6th-level Magic-User deals three dice plus one point of damage to the creature's hit points)."

I like this a lot. It turns Fighters into genuine combat monsters at higher levels, able, as Picador puts it, to impale a giant serpent on a spear - or, perhaps more to the point, slay a dragon with a single mighty and well-placed blow, a la Turin and Glaurung, or Bard and Smaug. 

Two possible tweaks to consider:

1) Allowing Fighters to 'spread' damage and attacks across opponents. So, picture a Level 6 Fighting Man engaging 3 orcs. He has potentially 6d6 of damage to deal out. He decides (when declaring actions for the round) to try to make three attacks, one on each orc, using 2d6 for damage on each one. He rolls 'to attrit' separately for each orc.

2) Whats good for the goose is good for the gander, and allowing monsters to do d6 damage per HD only seems fair. No more endless back-and-forth, trading blows with that ancient red dragon. It's you or him, and it won't be long before one or the other is dead.

Monday 16 September 2013

Abstracted Weapon Benefits

Brendan has in the past talked a bit about weapon properties for OD&D. This came up again on various G+ threads, and it got me thinking about the virtues of having different weapons in an abstract combat system where every weapon ostensibly does d6 damage over a 1 minute round.

The approach of Brendan, and the commenters on G+, is to create small mechanical benefits of various kinds for the different weapons. I don't belittle that at all, and I love some of the ideas, but on the other hand the purity of all weapons doing apparently the same amount of damage is appealing to me. 

I find myself increasingly wondering whether there needs to be any explicit mechanical differentiation between weapons given that different weapon types provide in-game benefits outside of combat for an enterprising DM and players. Viz:

  • Daggers are concealable. This is a particularly useful attribute if the DM is being sensible about social rules and not just handwaving the fact that players are wandering around the local nobleman's palace or merrie olde inn armed to the teeth with awl-pikes, tridents and spiked chains. 
  • Polearms, spears and their ilk are useful for probing and measuring. They are an invaluable dungeoneering tool. This is why all 1st level fighters should have a spear or similar as their primary weapon. 
  • Axes can be used to hack down doors and other obstacles. 
  • Slings are essentially infinitely re-loadable provided there are rocks in the vicinity. They can also be used to hurl flasks of oil.

This makes me think that every kind of weapon can provide a benefit of some kind without violating the d6 for damage standard or even introducing any mechanical difference. Even two-handed weapons could be seen as intimidating and factored into the DM's calculations for how potential foes react to the PCs.

I'm coming around more and more to the view that good gaming is about the DM paying careful attention to the details of his world to the extent that the players are aware that every choice they make has consequences. This seems to feed into that philosophy.  

Saturday 14 September 2013

Basic Trade and Cargo

I think of Yoon-Suin as largely an expressionistic setting, in the sense that it's not really supposed to make sense behind the scenes, but rather be evocative thematically. However, it has a veneer of realism for the players to get engaged in.

Since trade is such a big theme within the setting, I decided to come up with a simple way of making trade accessible and gameable. I tried to resist the urge to go down the route of re-jigging the Traveller speculative trade rules, because that has been done well enough already and it doesn't feel quite right in terms of what I want trade to represent. Instead, I went for something a little more complex and Yoon-Suin specific.

In Yoon-Suin, the trade goes in a big back-and-forth from region to region. The Hundred Kingdoms are fecund and fertile but resource-poor, so they produce lots of slaves and lots of animal produce. This gets sent to the Yellow City because it is the only geographical outlet, where it is shipped up the God River to the Mountains of the Moon and Sughd. Back down the river to the Yellow City from Sughd comes tea and opium, and from the Mountains of the Moon, minerals. Eventually this makes its way to the Hundred Kingdoms, which desperately need minerals in particular. The Yellow City is so important and wealthy because it is the hub of all of the trade.

So there are large regional differences to take into account as well as place-specific differences. So the system goes like this:

Goods are divided into units, each weighing 1000cn (100lb). Each type of good has a value per unit, and you obviously just tot up the value of a given cargo based on the number of units (i.e. the weight) of each cargo type. For instance, if dye is 50 gp per unit, and a merchant is carrying 2 tonnes of dye, he is carrying 40 units, and thus 2,000 gp worth of dye. (I use imperial tonnes and round them down to 2000 pounds.)

Goods have a value at source (meaning the price you pay at the place they are produced), a value where desired (meaning the price paid where the goods are not produced but not in great demand), and a value where needed (meaning the price paid where the goods are particularly in demand). The value where desired is 1.5 times the value at source, and the value where needed is 3 times the value at source. These are referred to as "Sourced", "Desired", and "Needed".

Of course, the DM can change these values for special cases. If he feels like some backwater somewhere would pay 20 times the value at Source for some special variety of tea, that's not a problem.

Slaves are always Sourced in The Hundred Kingdoms, and each polity there will also have 3 natural products which are Sourced. Other natural products in that given city will be Desired. Mineral products are Needed.

In the Yellow City, essentially everything is Desired. The city produces nothing, but it has access to all other goods in sufficient amounts that nothing is ever in huge demand. The exceptions are tea and opium, which are Needed, because of the debauchery of the city's inhabitants.

In the Oligarchies in the Mountains of the Moon, slaves and natural products are always Needed, and each oligarchy will have 3 mineral resources which are Sourced - other mineral products are Desired, as are tea and opium.

In Sughd, tea and opium are Sourced, mineral products and natural products are Desired, and slaves are Needed.

So if our merchant with his 400 units of dye, which he has bought in the Hundred Kingdoms, takes it to the Yellow City, which Desires it, he can get 1.5 times its value at source, or 3,000 gp. If he takes it to the Oligarchies, he can sell it for 6,000 gp. Once there he can buy 6,000 gp worth of, say, lapis lazuli, and sell it in the Hundred Kingdoms for 18,000 gp. Not bad work if you can get it, although you have to bear in mind that the journey is about 350 miles through dangerous and pestilent jungle, he will have to hire lots of men to keep him secure on the way, and he will likely have to pay taxes at both ends.

The rationale behind the system is that there is no need for PCs to get involved in trade, and thus no reason for the DM to bother with it either, but if it becomes relevant for whatever reason or the players want to do it, there is a rudimentary system available and ready for use. It also means that you can have goods appearing in treasure hoards and quickly work out a value based on the weight.

This system also allows for random cargo generation. When players come across a trader in a random encounter, the DM can roll a number of units and a number of cargo types and assign as necessary. Yes, if you get your shits and giggle robbing merchants and selling their cargoes elsewhere, your shits and giggles are facilitated by the Yoon-Suin rules.

Friday 13 September 2013

A Little Ancient Mesopotamian Campaign Setting With Your D&D, Sir?

Inspired by this approach to hex mapping and setting design, and at a bit of a loose end (you know how sometimes when you have a million other things to do, you just can't help doing something else?), I today drew up this beginning campaign setting map:

The regional hexes are 5 miles; the subhexes are 1 mile. My approach was basically similar to that of The Welsh Piper, but slightly looser and more simplistic, and can be summarised as follows:
  • Choose three terrain types: primary, secondary, and tertiary. In this case, scrub hills, evergreen hills, and grassland. The climate is semi-tropical and somewhat arid; for the evergreen hills think cypress trees in the Levant rather than Norwegian firs. 
  • Make the centre subhex the primary terrain type. Then assign 9 primary, 6 secondary and 3 tertiary terrain types to the 18 whole subhexes, and distribute to taste for the 12 half subhexes. 
  • Roll to determine the primary terrain type for neighbouring regional hexes, based on the terrain types for this regional hex (roll a d12 to determine: 1-6 is primary, 7-9 is secondary, 10-11 is tertiary, 12 is a wildcard.
  • Draw rivers, lakes etc. as desired.
  • Place a settlement, a dungeon, a resource for the settlement, and three 'known' miscellaneous potential adventure locations. This are all the places the PCs are aware of at the start of play. 
  • Fill in information for all the other hexes; but that information is secret.
  • Profit. 
And you don't do anything more than that except for broad strokes. So here are the broad strokes:
  • It's an ancient Mesopotamian, early bronze-age type society. It is not remotely accurate to the real world geographically, culturally, or historically. It's to ancient Mesopotamia what D&D is to medieval Europe. 
  • The players start in the small walled town of Eshnunna, an independent state of a few thousand souls with a wall around it. The inhabitants mine tin from the hills a mile or so to the North, and graze sheep and goats on the shrubland hills nearby. The grassland to the East is part of the range of a nomadic tribe of herders who are there sometimes depending on the year and the climate. They have a frictive relationship with the people of Eshnunna.
  • The hills surrounding Eshnunna are home to monoliths and monuments of an older civilization which they refer to as 'Sumer' and which left the area a few generations ago. This older civilization practised magic. Mastering the language of Sumer and deciphering clay tablets containing their spells makes you a magician.  
  • However, there is a more ancient and half-buried ruin, called Jemdet Nasr, which is home to something altogether more frightening which the locals largely shun. It was inhabited by a people who are referred to as the 'Ubaid', who disappeared thousands of years ago, and who worshipped what are called the "Other Gods" or "Satan" ('the Adversaries') by the men of Eshnunna. These Other Gods are said to lie sleeping beyond space and time and are more powerful and terrible than the Gods of Earth who the men of Eshnunna worship.
  • Jemdet Nasr is a Mythic Underworld.
And as a bonus, two alternative rules for bronze weapons:

Lazy variant: On a natural 20 the attack is 'critical' as normal but the weapon breaks.
Complicated resource-management variant: Each bronze weapon has a twenty-round 'life'. Every round of actual physical combat the weapon is used in, chalk up another notch. When the tally reaches 20, the weapon has become blunted and useless. 

Thursday 12 September 2013

The Knowledge Economy

One of the principles that I think runs through my games quite a bit is that knowledge is power. I'm at pains to imply within the setting that it's often who you know and what you know rather than who you are which is important, and I like rewarding players for finding things out, meeting NPCs and establishing connections, and generally interacting with the game world in an interested and engaged way.

It seems to me that there are two approaches to reflecting the importance of knowledge within a game. I'll label them "meta rewards" and "in-game rewards", and deal with them in reverse order.

In-Game Rewards

In-game rewards are what players get when they use knowledge to unlock more useful knowledge, or to otherwise gain an advantage within the game. Example 1: players in a CP2020 game meeting an important NPC at a party, getting to know him, offering to do something for him. They now have increased their pool of knowledge (they know another NPC) and this might be used to further their aims later on (the NPC is important, has connections, can do things for them or get them connected to more knowledge through contacts, etc.). Example 2: players come across a band of goblins in a D&D game, talk to them, hear a rumour from them of a dangerous sorcerer in the local area. They have increased their pool of knowledge and now have access either to an important helpful NPC or somebody they might want to rob. Example 3: players break into an archive, discover a treasure map. They have now found a way to get both money and/or XP. 

The aim of the in-game reward is to, basically, positively reinforce active and intelligent player involvement in the game setting. The reward itself is slightly tenuously linked to the activity (it is not immediate, and may come in the form of gold or XP months of game-time later), but the idea is that knowledge about the setting has tangible in-game benefits. 

Meta Rewards

A meta reward would be giving actual XP or equivalent for discovering new information. Example 1: players in a D&D game are explorers. As they uncover more hexes or geographical/cultural information, they get XP rewards. Example 2: players in a Call of Cthulhu-type investigative game are given XP rewards or equivalent for finding new, hidden knowledge about the Other Gods they discover in an ancient tomb. Example 3: players in an Unknown Armies-type urban fantasy game are given XP rewards or equivalent for discovering that Tom Cruise actually is a thousand-year old Prolonger.

The aim of the meta reward is, obviously, to reward the seeking of knowledge for its own sake, as an intrinsic element of the game: the game is about finding things out.


I basically only ever use in-game rewards, because that's the style of game I generally run, but I certainly think that XP for exploration is something that I would like to consider for a D&D game, and that XP for revealing information about Horrible Ancient Stuff would be a great mechanism for a D&D/Call of Cthulhu mashup. 

There is, of course, a point at which in-game rewards and meta rewards tie together, in that an in-game rewards (find out about an NPC and carrying out a mission for him, in return for which he gives you a map, which eventually leads you to treasure) morphs into a meta reward (you get XP for the treasure, which means levels). This is one of the many ways in which the creators of D&D sort of awkwardly stumbled across pure game design genius: D&D rewards active player involvement with all elements of the setting both within the game (knowledge = opportunities to get more treasure/power), in the meta game (opportunities to get more treasure/power = XP/levels) and back again (more XP/levels = more power and advancement within the game setting). It's a virtuous circle which few if any games can match when done right. 

Wednesday 11 September 2013

Exploring the Infinite

I've always been far too lazy and self-critical to actually try to write fiction longer than, say, 5 sentences, and I'm at peace with that - I'm not much of a frustrated novelist DM. Nonetheless I do get ideas for novels from time to time. (Don't worry: this isn't a jump-the-shark post where I start posting my fiction - none of these ideas ever comes remotely close to fruition.)

When I was a teenager I had this idea for a story in which a group of explorers were travelling up a river of infinite length. I never thought about it in much more depth than that. I just liked the quixotic, "because fuck you, that's why" nature of exploring something which by definition could never be fully explored.

It makes me want to resurrect the idea, especially since I think wilderness exploration is sort of in the blogging zeitgeist at the moment (at least in the circles I frequent), and the tools for random wilderness creation are growing in sophistication and usefulness. (See e.g. Welsh Piper's stuff from a few years back, and Talysman's last minute hexcrawl.)

A randomly generated, forever-flowing river which never reaches the sea. With new sections added as and when the players explore beyond the border of the current set of hexes. Banks lined with strange civilizations and outlandish monsters. Horrible rumours about what lies downstream. Careful management of resources - gifts/bribes for the natives, food, messenger pigeons to send back home. And the prospect of ultimately giving up on the quest when Eden is found?

Wednesday 4 September 2013

On Charm; Or, the Perfection of Imperfection

A short while ago I wrote a rather complicated entry about the preference I have for different systems. I think I over complicated matters considerably; I actually think the main reason why I tend to like the games I like is to do just with a very simple but ill-defined quality: charm.

This thought occurred to me as I was planning a game I'd like to run eventually, as a kind of palate-cleanser once a particularly busy period of my life is over. It's a campaign set in a sort of fantasy, faeries-are-real medieval Northumberland focusing on the Border Reivers, incorporating some of the ideas I had regarding localismhex contentshex travel, and also Talysman's subhex crawl series.

The set-up seems perfect for Reign Enchiridion, a game I recently bought and have wanted to try. The idea is that the PCs are, of course, autonomous actors, but also part of the same extended border family, getting involved in managing resources, fighting competitors, raiding, currying favour with the nobility, expanding their territory and wealth, as well as adventuring. Reign, with its elegant company rules which merge seamlessly with those for individual PCs, its gritty feel, and its generic, customisable nature, seems perfect.

So why is it that the thought of actually running it using Reign just doesn't inspire me, but using Pendragon or a kind of customised form of BECMI D&D does - even though the latter would involve much more work?

I think it's because, ultimately, Reign doesn't charm me. Pendragon and Basic D&D, on the other hand, do. Why is this?

Partly, it's about passion. I have no doubt that all RPG designers are passionate about their system and also playing games, but this is communicated more effectively in some games than others. Greg Stafford, the designer of Pendragon, loves what he is trying to achieve. It seeps through the page. This is a man who really gets T. H. White, and Malory, and Gawain and the Green Knight, and all of that jazz, and he wants to make sure you get it too. And you do.

But this is only part of it: I also think we, as humans, tend to like things that are imperfect, and even to be slightly suspicious of things that are perfect. I'm sure that is not true for everybody, but it's not an unremarked-upon phenomena that a lot of the (supposedly) great masterpieces of Western art which everybody is familiar with - Hamlet, the Mona Lisa, whatever - are somewhat flawed. And I certainly think it is true when I consider the cultural products I really love: The Lord of the Rings, and Star Trek: TNG, and Bill Bryson's travel books, and Carlito's Way, and the Disney version of Beauty and the Beast, and Raymond Carver's poetry, and War and Peace, and "The Rite of Spring", and Tchaikovsky's 6th symphony, and Darkness on the Edge of Town, and the book Wonder Boys - these are a few of my favourite things, and yet none of them are really technically perfect. They are often messy and there are things in them that don't make sense or strike the wrong note or that I wonder why they are in there in the first place. There are parts of War and Peace where you just think to yourself, Leo, what are you on about? This book could have been half as long. Where was your editor? But when you're really into it you just feel glad to be alive and in the world and able to read it.

D&D and Pedragon are the same way. There is so much in both of them that makes you think, eh? That if you consider too deeply you realise make no sense whatsoever. That make you think, come on Mr Stafford, you really think it's okay to just say, "Magic is the GM saying that whatever happens, happens"? Or, come on Mr Gygax, you have this incredibly abstract combat system with 1-minute long rounds and yet you're telling me it's important to have different stats for awl pikes versus voulges versus guisarmes versus voulge-guisarmes?

And yet at the same times there is something indefinable there, some sort of spark, that makes you understand that for all their flaws - probably because of their flaws - these games feel as though they were written by people who understand what is really important in life. They feel as though they were written by people you'd want to have a pint with. They feel like they were written by people who know that it's more important that the game feels like being in a TH White novel than it be scrupulously fair, realistic and cohesive - or people who know that accidentally generating a pack of Wights on a wandering monster table on Dungeon Level 1 and seeing the players panic and flee for their lives is the thing that people are going to remember and enjoy about that session. Or that the fact you have to roll a different kind of dice for every piddling little subsystem is good because rolling different kinds of dice is fun. Or that having inexplicable result X come up is good because it means the GM has to come up with interesting explanation Y. And that is why I like them. These are games that feel as though they were carved by somebody out of wood. Not grown in a lab.

Monday 2 September 2013

How I Started Playing RPGs

I won't do the whole 30 Day Challenge, but reading about it did give me the urge to tell My Story, such as it is, for your edification and amusement, or perhaps boredom and disinterest.

When I was a young lad, probably around 9-10 years old, I got into Fighting Fantasy books. I don't quite remember why except that I'd read and loved The Lord of the Rings already by that point and so knew that I liked fantasy books, and I had seen a school friend reading The Forest of Doom and somehow got the impression that it was in some way edgier or more adult than Tolkien's work. Since the local library had a large collection, I started going through them at a rate of 3 or 4 a week. (A vagrant memory that just comes to me: reading The Warlock of Firetop Mountain in a dentist's waiting room as I was waiting for a check-up.)

Fighting Fantasy had a more 'advanced' introduction to genuine role playing games, called Fighting Fantasy - the Original Role-playing Game, and eventually (probably after I'd finished all of the game books) I got around to buying this. Around this time a friend and I had started trying to write fantasy novels after school (mercifully these are lost to history); we merrily plundered the Fighting Fantasy books for material, and one afternoon we turned to this 'advanced' tome to find out what on earth this RPG business was all about. We couldn't quite get the hang of it, but this early experiment led to us getting the Advanced Fighting Fantasy books out from the library and trying to figure out those.

A few months later, and coincidentally, another friend started running Basic "red box" D&D at school at lunch times. I have a very distinct memory of my first session: I was told to roll up a character and generated a halfling who had a DEX of 16 - I can't remember who the other PCs were, though. The adventure involved going into a dungeon and killing a carrion crawler, and then being confronted with a red dragon who we tried to negotiate our way past before he killed us unceremoniously with his breath weapon. It was a dick DM move of the highest order, although clearly something about it already had me hooked - though I think that was probably more to do with the Advanced Fighting Fantasy games that I started running for friends in the neighbourhood in after school games.

It's hard sometimes as an adult to remember just how much free time you had as a kid. From 4pm every school night and all day at weekends I had no responsibilities whatsoever. The amount of time I spent playing Warhammer, Warhammer 40k, D&D or other RPGs, reading, writing silly stories, as well as all the other kid things like playing cricket and football, going on bike rides, playing computer games, watching amounts to oceans of hours. Yet I can hardly believe that I found time to fit it all in, looking back. I must have had a seriously packed schedule. What the hell do I do now that gets in the way, apart from work? What is it about being an adult that makes us kid ourselves that we are actually busy? We should try being children and see what the meaning of being busy really is.