Friday, August 1, 2014

First RPG Played: Death Test

Back in July, Tom Chapman of Autocratik proposed that everyone spend each day in August talking about one RPG, framed by these questions:

1st - First RPG Played
2nd - First RPG Gamemastered
3rd - First RPG Purchased
4th - Most recent RPG purchase
5th - Most Old School RPG owned
6th - Favorite RPG Never get to play
7th - Most “intellectual” RPG owned
8th - Favorite character
9th - Favorite Die / Dice Set
10th - Favorite tie-in Novel / Game Fiction
11th - Weirdest RPG owned
12th - Old RPG you still play / read
13th - Most Memorable Character Death
14th - Best Convention Purchase
15th - Favorite Convention Game
16th - Game you wish you owned
17th - Funniest Game you’ve played
18th - Favorite Game System
19th - Favorite Published Adventure
20th - Will still play in 20 years time…
21st - Favorite Licensed RPG
22nd - Best Secondhand RPG Purchase
23rd - Coolest looking RPG product / book
24th - Most Complicated RPG Owned
25th - Favorite RPG no one else wants to play
26th - Coolest character sheet
27th - Game You’d like to see a new / improved edition of…
28th - Scariest Game you’ve played
29th - Most memorable encounter
30th - Rarest RPG Owned
31st - Favorite RPG of all time

The idea seems to have taken off like, well, like Dungeons & Dragons circa 1978.

My answer to the first question is two answers really—The Fantasy Trip’s Death Test (if it counts as an RPG) in the fall of 1978, or (if Death Test doesn’t count), Dungeons & Dragons in the winter of 1978-79, played (presumably) with the three little brown books plus supplements.

As I remember it, Death Test was an expansion of the $2.95 “micro” games Melee and Wizard, giving rules for creating a “dungeon” to test a group of warriors created with the Melee and Wizard rules. Since it was usually played one-on-one with one player as referee and the other controlling all the “characters”, and since it was pretty one-dimensional in terms of stressing combat, it’s unclear whether it really qualifies as an RPG.

Melee and Wizard were pretty nifty as pocket games to take out and play for an hour or two, but the “extended” Death Test got boring pretty quickly. Or so it seemed to me after slogging solo through room after room of my friend’s original creation—“This time it’s NINE GOBLINS in an L-SHAPED ROOM, ha ha ha!!!”

I played Death Test once with my father who was always on a different wavelength where RPGs were concerned. He had never read a fantasy novel and didn’t believe in God-for I think the same sorts of reasons. And RPGs just confused him. It bugged him that one player got to “control” everything. He didn’t understand the “angle”.  But he didn’t mind a bit of controlling when the opportunity presented itself. In his first and only “dungeon”, created just for me, each room was named after an American president. The rooms didn’t have labels or anything. He just announced, when I opened a certain door, that I was now entering the John Adams room, or whatever (and three dragons, seven goblins and a minotaur were suddenly fast approaching). So I’d slam the door, go down the hall and open another door and “You’re now in the Dwight D. Eisenhower room” (five gargoyles and a wizard). And so on. I never did find out what it all meant. I suspect he didn’t know either.

For Dungeons & Dragons, I say “presumably” the three little brown books, based on the dates, and because I had no idea what was going on. “I had my hand cut off. I had my hand cut off!” my best friend screamed with joy after playing D&D for the first time (he had tried to open a trap or something), “this is the greatest game ever!” The next night, he dragged me to a secret gathering of pimpled wallflowers (or so I liked to think of them—I thought I was different) in the back room of my favorite wargame store. As I remember, I tried to pick one of the pimpled guys’ pockets (I didn’t yet understand the cooperative aspect of the game) and was then invited to a back room of the back room where I was summarily psionicked to death.

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