Sunday, November 29, 2009

Dungeons and Dragons and Kung Fu and Stuff

Probably my nerdiest hobby-pursuit-pastime-whatever is Dungeons & Dragons.

I've been at it for over a quarter-century. I got my first D&D boxed set in 1982. We were in California at the time, as my dad was working as a visiting researcher at Stanford university. I brought it home to Finland, and eventually me and a couple of more or less equally nerdy classmates gave it a try. I think I was 13 or 14 at that time. For some reason, I was fairly quickly elected Dungeon Master, and that's pretty much the role I've been playing ever since.

Hard Granite
I like to show off my pictures, so I'm putting some here that I feel have a touch of fantasy about them, even if they have nothing to do with role-playing or swords-and-sorcery as such. This one I called Granite Gods. It's actually from my home town, Helsinki.

Back in the day, the biggest problem for D&D'ers in Finland was that materials were plumb near unobtainable. No Internet shopping then. No bookstores or game stores in Finland carried them. I think the closest places that did were in London and Paris. That meant that every time somebody's parents traveled, we placed orders, which may or may not have been delivered correctly. And, of course, we circulated copies of source books and modules and what have you.

Wanderers, Suomenlinna, Helsinki.

My first campaign ran, on and off, for maybe four, five years. It was pretty much your bog-standard elves-and-dwarves-and-hobbits-oh-my swords-and-sorcery affair. The world was pretty much our own invention; we cheerfully located and plugged in various modules wherever they felt right. We didn't have that many breaks from gaming, actually; instead, we tried out a variety of different games and systems. Paranoia. Call of Cthulhu. Star Wars. Top Secret. Cyberpunk That sort of thing.

Rusted Knocker With Flowers
Rusted Knocker With Flowers, Saignon, France.

Then school ended and we went our separate ways.

When I got into University, I fairly quickly looked up the role-playing-game club. I recruited a bunch of people for a campaign. That was set in an Arabian Nights style world, using TSR's Al Qadim supplement. It was way better and more creative and unusual than the Forgotten Dragonloft Realms of my first one. It was also much more structured: I had thought much more about the background of the party, and made the players craft backgrounds for their characters to fit it, too. That campaign ran for quite a few years.

Mosque In The Night
Mosque, Deir el-Qamar, Lebanon. Interestingly, I was running my Al-Qadim campaign well before I met my wonderful Arab wife, Joanna.

It was also the first time I started using the Web as a campaign aid; I linked up with several Arabian Nights game sites, and set up a site of my own for it too. By the time it had run its course, I had produced well over 250 pages of written materials for the setting. The site is no longer live, although I think I have an archive somewhere. If anyone's interested, I think I could dig it up.

My third big campaign went weird fast. It started out as a low-magic affair, set in the historical Roman empire -- Egypt, to be precise. I quickly discovered that I didn't feel comfortable DM'ing something in "our" timeline -- I was getting hung up on the details and was afraid of screwing them up. I did a quite a bit of reading on Rome (and learned a lot about it in the process), but in the end I didn't enjoy that all that much. I found a way out, though -- the party got themselves into a scrape that required a Michael Moorcock-esque dream sequence, and that dream sequence turned into a whole new campaign that quickly went through a whole bunch of settings.

Via Romana
Via Romana, Tyre, Lebanon.

I think the best part of it was the time spent in the Star Wars universe. As campaigns go, that was fairly short, but progress was fast, and it unfolded kinda nicely -- and there was a pretty cool plot twist, too, shamelessly cribbed from KOTOR 2. Fooled 'em, though. Most of that was set on a planet I called Chaco, after Chaco Canyon in New Mexico. It had been a major manufacturing and military hub in the time of the Old Sith Empire, but following their defeat it had suffered near-complete ecological collapse. Most of it was toxic, uninhabitable and monster-ridden desert; its small habitable northern latitudes were peopled by a bunch of warring, feudal clans and another bunch of warring nomads raising livestock and scavenging the desert for ancient artifacts and technology. And then there were the mysterious Chaco Sith... Good times.

That campaign ran for many years too; eventually winding up in the Planescape setting. Eventually things got unbearably epic, so I just sort of canned it, and started a new one.

This has been going now for just a couple of months, but it's started out really well, I think. It's set in a kung-fu fantasy version of China during the Warring States period. The leader of my party has been appointed Magistrate of a small, out-of-the way village bordering the steppe. They've already solved an old murder mystery, thereby putting some unquiet spirits to rest, and have started on doing something about the bandit menace. The materials are online, such as they are. You can find them here.

Stone Steps With Branches And Tree House
Stone Steps With Branches And Tree House, spirits just out of the frame.

It's a good group, that one. We've been playing for well over ten years by now -- I think we started some time in 1995 or thereabouts. Some of the players have drifted off; a few new ones have joined us, but the core group is still the same. And the funny thing is, I only know most of them through the campaign -- after all this time, I have very little idea of their life outside Dungeons & Dragons. Is that weird, or what?

Blood rose
Blood Rose, Kaisaniemi park, Helsinki.

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