Sunday, November 29, 2009

In the Beginning

At South Shore Middle School in Seattle, when I entered sixth grade in the fall of 1977, I found a new craze sweeping the school. Students were drawing maps of imaginary places with pencil and paper and then pretending to explore those imaginary places. At the time I didn't realize they were playing a game with published rules. I just thought the maps and imaginary explorations were wonderful all by themselves.

I wanted to play, but at the time I was so uncool that even the uncool kids who played didn't want much to do with me, though they did tell me it was published under the name Dungeons & Dragons (D&D). My brother Rob and I were electrified to that level of frantic obsession that only children are capable of, so to regain some peace and quiet our stepmother, Jean, drove us down to Heritage Bookstore in Renton. We discovered that the white boxed-set of D&D being played by all the other kids was sold out, but a new colored boxed-set edited by J. Eric Holmes had just come out, so that's what Jean bought us (many blessings upon her).

Since that time, D&D's been a major part of our lives. D&D helped me learn many things and helped me socialize to the point that I eventually even became intermittently cool. I played all the time as a teenager and met most of my childhood friends through D&D, including my future wife. Wizards of the Coast was started by our Walla Walla gaming friends, and my wife was Wizards's second employee. She still works in the gaming industry and we still play (once a week when we're lucky).

I've been blogging since 2004 but not until now about gaming. I've started this blog in part to explore my D&D campaign world Englandia publicly, where other people can discuss it and debate it and take ideas from it for their own campaigns, and in part to discuss gaming theory - because I've arrived at a cross-roads. Although I've been playing for thirty-two years, in recent years I've found my creativity flagging and my joy in running games bogging down in rules and planning.

I've also arrived at a realization. Reading the D&D old-school-renaissance (OSR) blogs over the last year has helped me to understand that these problems aren't specific to me, much to my surprise, but are instead a not uncommon reaction to modern D&D rulesets. The more I study the OSR observations and theories, the more I think the decline in my capacities as a Dungeon Master (DM) is related in part to the very problems the OSR movement has been criticizing. Maybe not, but maybe, and if it is true, then maybe the OSR prescription for this ailment is also right.

Maybe by simplifying my gaming rules, by changing the focus from the characters to the players, by shifting from static scripting to dynamic scripting, and by making a homemade megadungeon environment one of the pillars of my campaign, this will dramatically ease the burden of DMing and return gaming to the creative recreation it used to be for me.

Let's find out.


  1. Like many, I found your blog because of your story about the roots of Wizards of the Coast. I thought it only fitting that I get context to the story by finding the roots of your blog. I've enjoyed it thoroughly so far and appreciate a perspective so different from that of most gamers.