I started this blog with the best of intentions, yet dropped it as soon as I got busy. But I’ve been thinking a lot about my own tabletop gaming, lately, which has led into reading other peoples’ thoughts on the topic, and back around to my own, in a loops of increasing self-awareness of my own gaming tendencies and preferences. So, that said, I’m back! I realized that I really did want to share all of this with people; an audience, large or small, is a helpful thing in hashing out ideas because even if they never respond just know that they’re there (or could be) almost forces the writer to consider the expression of their thoughts more carefully.
I very much tend toward the “old school” when it comes to tabletop RPGs. I say this as a person who came into gaming in the early-to-mid 1990s, which was something of a transition time as RPGs had suddenly found themselves having to compete with more accessible and addictive games like Magic: The Gathering and the long-time King of the Castle (Advanced Dungeons & Dragons) was rather desperate to win back its audience from upstarts like RIFTS and Vampire: The Masquerade. In fact, RIFTS from Palladium Books was my eventual introduction to the role playing game hobby — but it isn’t where I started.
Growing up, I had played all of the “family classics” like Monopoly, Risk, and Clue, and was thus pretty well convinced that I just hated board games. To this day, I find most of the games Americans my age and older grew up with to be boring time-fillers as opposed to enjoyable activities. In the time before Internet ubiquity, it also wasn’t as if I could just hop onto Reddit and discover whole new worlds of hobby interests. So it was almost by cosmic accident that my parents got me a copy of HeroQuest (designed by the folks at Games Workshop, even taking place in the Warhammer Fantasy world, though marketed in the US by Milton-Bradley). I will never forget the Christmas of my 5th grade year, as that was when I came away with a grand haul of eldritch and macabre playthings: Monster Face (or “Mr. Potatohead For Aspiring Necromancers”) and Creepy Crawlers (which served quite well to create new monsters for HeroQuest, including at least one giant animated intestinal tract!). HeroQuest was also among them, and it immediately intrigued me. I probably spent the next couple of hours reading the rulebook and flipping through the book of quests, putting together plastic miniatures, and so forth, and eventually got my parents to sit down and actually play through the first quest with me in the role of Zargon the Chaos Wizard.
From there, I of course had to introduce the game to my best friend, and we derived hours of fun from playing both the published quests and coming up with our own — even designing new heroes to delve Zargon’s dungeons before we had even encountered the notion of official game expansions and house rules. HeroQuest didn’t last all that long for us, however, as the very next year a new friend in my first year of middle school introduced me to RIFTS, a full-on role playing game which I immediately saw as a conceptual expansion from the simplistic HeroQuest game system. I know that this is something of a decade-or-more later parallel to what many gamers went through before me with games like Dungeon! and the D&D Basic set and reading their accounts make me feel like part of a club, even if I was later to the roll call.
Many games came later, both board games and RPGs, which introduced all manner of play styles and genre concepts to my young friends and I, but through it all HeroQuest has remained definitive in how I think of a fantasy game. While I have of course expanded my style repertoire with overland adventures, political intrigue, and genuine role play, the dark dungeons, encroaching evils, and foreboding exploration of HeroQuest sticks with me in a way that nothing has ever been able to match. I am therefore an unapologetic fantasy RPG aficionado. I see endless potential in the simple dungeon conceit and its various spin-offs — whether in the Underdark of some D&D universe, or the abandoned tunnels of the World’s Edge Mountains of Warhammer — and never get board of mapping or making my players map. The sense of exploration, of delving into the unknown deeps of the world, is satisfying at a deep level of the psyche, and it’s damned fun to boot.