Werewolf: The Apocalypse 20th Anniversary Edition is shuffling into layout. It feels good. It triggered a lot of desire to go revisit old places, though man, things are pretty different than they were when I was tackling it last. I was either in Atlanta or in the mountains; I was either dating, engaged or newly married; I had one dog or three.
Oh yeah, and I was running D&D. Possibly with a diversion into Champions (there was the horror version, the 2025 game, the Scion-before-there-was-Scion game, and then absolute fantasy Champions up in the mountains… nothing that straightforward though, go figure). But for some reason I’ve always been running D&D. Actually, there’s kind of a story in that.
There are a lot of gamers out there who have always been playing D&D. Most often they’ve been playing it in the same style, keeping to a favored edition and set of themes. I’m a little different than that. I started a genuine homebrew world back in the days of 2nd edition, when I was in college. Ran it for a bunch of friends, one of whom would later go on to intern at White Wolf, get hired full-time, and then run my resume past the dudes there. She also knocked out some badass Mage and Vampire fiction as well, as anyone who recognizes the name “Amanda” or “Elizabeth Dimitros” understands. (Elizabeth Dimitros was already a familiar character to me, but that’s not my story to tell, it’s hers.)
When I came down for my interview and got hired, Kathy talked me into running a D&D game for a bunch of the locals (some of whom had developer credits of their own — very impressive for the guy going out for a lowly editor position). I put together a one-shot and away we went. I wound up getting the job, and moving down to Atlanta out of my beloved mountains for a job that would prove to be fairly rewarding. Not long after I arrived, the gang asked “So when are you going to start running that D&D game again?” So back I started up… and to some extent, I have never been allowed to stop.
It’s kind of hilarious, actually. When I was a teenager I went to the Asheville Gaming Society regularly, where the rule of thumb was that people would run a game for five Saturday night sessions, then a new schedule of games would draw up. The amount of exposure I got to new systems there was fantastic. Traveller. Paranoia. Beyond the Supernatural. Toon. More D&D. Champions. Heroes Unlimited. Cyberpunk 2020. Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. We even tried Living Steel, for crying out loud (though that lasted one whopping session). In college Shadowrun and Rifts and Teenagers from Outer Space and Vampire: The Masquerade would get added to the list. I have never been hurting for experience with other systems.
But I never stop running D&D.
It’s almost a dark secret, given my professional history in the RPG field. Plenty of White Wolf fans would have been disappointed to find out that I spent my time in fantasyland, not even a mock Arcadia. And admittedly I’m kind of surprised I’m not bored of it by now. But…
But it’s fantasy, and for all that many things in fantasy have been done to death, it’s really all about the execution. Each new game I run mashes up those old familiar tropes with something new: the righteous asskickers fighting Gothic Horror of Castlevania and Vampire Hunter D, the swashbuckling flair of Assassin’s Creed and Dumas, the elaborate weirdness of Gormenghast and Bas-Lag. And while that alone wouldn’t be enough, it doesn’t have to be: because of the characters.
The real trick to being stuck in something like the D&D ghetto is that if you have really good friends who play really good characters, it’s kind of hard to get sick of swords and sorcery. The garrulous bartender with a taste for bacon and eggs who has a thunderstorm living in his blood reacts to the world around him differently than does the immense librarian dedicated to preserving the soul of the largely empty city that is his entire world. Both of them are a far cry from the somewhat Scarlet Pimpernel-ish urban rake who conceals a dark pragmatism under his Italian Bertie Wooster-like exterior. And these games keep going because these characters keep affecting things, and coming out changed by their experiences, and watching the world change in response to their actions.
It’s kind of hilarious, actually. I find myself looking back to the Gaming Society rule, because if we changed campaigns every 5 weeks, I’d probably be playing a lot of different things again. (I’d also probably have to have more of my collection out of storage.) Yet some of the long game would be missed. I’m interested in diversity, but also very interested in the way that characters can age and mature like wine if they’re given the opportunity.
It makes me wonder what kind of GM I’d be if things had turned out differently — if I’d been asked to run something other than D&D. Hard to even picture it, really. Just can’t quit.