I remember it like yesterday, it was…
25 years ago, I started a journey into worlds unknown. Worlds of magic and vampires, of robots and spaceships and heroes and villains. The funny side to this is that I have hardly ever actually played and almost all 25 years were spent telling the story and crafting villains. From explaining combat to voice-acting hill giants, I have seldom experienced the play side of role-playing games.
Years ago all you needed was a pencil, paper, some dice and, if you were lucky, a half decent storyteller or dungeon master. Now days you have so much more to influence your game from plastic miniatures and official, beautifully drawn maps to a trove of digital content with artwork and the wonders of Google to assist. When we started none of this existed – at all.
But the writing I am about to embark on is not about what we never had, or what you have now. It’s not about how things have changed or what may come in the days ahead. It is simply about my journey and what I have learnt as a storyteller. From what I figured out as a person, to what I learnt from my players and fellow storytellers, and how these learnings influence my overall game design, and how I present it.
From my many adventures and tales, and how they made my choices more defined, to my opinion on what I was successful with and a wealth of information in the middle. So over the next few posts we will unpack and explore the many thoughts and influences I have collected over time and hopefully impart this knowledge onto soon to be great story-tellers.
However, before we start, I think a journey back to my first RPG experience should be told and how that day, in the back of a car with two friends when I was 14 years old, essentially changed my idea on what a hobby was forever.
Where it began
Those two friends were Jonathan and Gareth. Jonathan was and still is a best friend to me and Gareth was at the time his younger neighbour. We were discussing what to do when we got home from a morning out with his dad when Gareth casually said “Lets play Vampire” which had my mind going to plastic teeth and chasing someone around the front yard with a cape and a wooden stake.
After asking what exactly he meant they tried to explain to me what a role-playing game was and tried their best to explain how it works. Now to anyone that has done this, you know how silly it sounds when you explain it for the first time but when they both follow it with “Craig can be the story-teller” you have to know how bizarre my day was about to become.
Once we were back at Jonathan’s house, we waited for Gareth to run next door and liberate his older brother’s – Devan – copy of Vampire the Masquerade from his room. Unknown to us at the time was what this book was valued at or that it had a very clear age restriction and for very good reason.
My first RPG
For those of you who don’t know, Vampire the Masquerade is set in the world of darkness where you, as a player, take on the role of a vampire. The game is set in city of choice, such as Chicago and deals heavily with vampire bloodlines, politics and power struggles. These scenarios require deep and emotional storytelling and mature players who understand what it means to be a human turned into a vampire. Players must come to terms with the idea of drinking blood to survive and tackle their humanity in an unknown and depraved underworld filled with werewolves and witch hunters. Think Brad Pitt in Interview with the Vampire and how he initially struggles to accept his new fate.
This was not the case with us though and we quickly turned this dark and beautiful world into something more akin to Quentin Tarantino’s From Dusk till Dawn. We cared not for the roleplaying element and cared even less about the carefully constructed world of vampire politics. The most driving thing we had was “What would silver bullets cost?” and “Can I put silver bullets in an Uzi?”
Needless to say that at 14 years old and with no idea what I was doing we ended up laughing our way through crazy combat situations with no idea how the rules worked or what repercussions there were for assassinating the Prince of the city. I had no idea what I was supposed to explain and quickly had to learn that what I envisioned in my mind was vastly different to what the two players saw in their mind. So, a lot of time was spent trying to get us all on the same page regarding where exactly a person was standing never mind what their personality was supposed to be.
a storyteller was born
I went home that night and instantly began constructing what I felt should happen in the next session, still not knowing what I was doing. My journey had begun, 25 years ago a storyteller was born and through all my years growing I still look back at that moment, in the back seat of a car and wonder… what if he never said those words?
So, this concludes the introduction to a weekly adventure into my mind and what I have learnt.
I hope you find this interesting and useful and that you learn from it, because to this day at 39 years old, I am still learning.
Craig is a Dungeon Master of 25 years and will be releasing a different piece each week, covering multiple facets of his journey! Part 1 will be released next week Wednesday.