You’re Playing It Wrong!

We all remember our first RPG. For most of us, it was in high school, for many more, in college. A few of us even came into the hobby as full grown adults, with jobs and kids and mortgages. But whenever it was, there was always that first game, that first time we sat down with others, pulled out a pack of dice, some character sheets, and said those four magical words: “I loot the corpse.”

CC-licensed (by-nc-sa) by Daniele Muscetta at

CC-licensed (by-nc-sa) by Daniele Muscetta

I started earlier than most. My dad had played Dungeons & Dragons, and then Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (1st Ed.!) in college, and though he left his gaming days behind him after he got married and had kids, I was lucky enough to get his books as hand-me-downs. It’s not inaccurate to say that I actually learned to read with the AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide and the Monstrous Manual. You know the one, with the kind of goofy red dragon, and the unicorn and the centaur and the troll and the bugbear and the- well, I’m getting sidetracked. The point is, while the other kids were reading Dick and Jane

Jane said “Run, run.
Run, Dick, run.
Run and see.”

I was busy reading about saving throws and encounter tables and Wands of Wonder.

Jane said “Roll, roll.
Roll, Dick, roll.
Roll to Save vs. Death against Demogorgon’s tentacle rot attack.”

It wasn’t long before I was spending every moment I could dreaming up adventures, turning every sheet of graph paper I could get my grubby little mitts on into a dungeon map, and needling my friends into joining me to play after school. What we ended up playing, being young children with no adult supervision, was only barely recognizable as D&D, of course. It was more along the lines of playing pretend with an occasional roll of the dice to settle arguments. I was a generous Dungeon Master, and every foul beast my friends slew all but exploded with massive amounts of loot. Magical items lay under every rock, and not a single chest went by without some wondrous relic within. I didn’t limit myself to what was in the books, either. If the book showed me a magic item? I could make a better one, oh yes I could. Wand of Wishing? Bah. How about a Wand of Super Wishing, which was immune to the power of lesser, non-Super Wishes, and which could reverse any Wish? Holy Avenger Vorpal Sword +5? Meh. Holy Avenger Vorpal Sword +5 (+10 against Dragons) of Tiamat. It could shoot any one of 5 different breath weapons once per round, unlimited charges.

Oh, and it got better. I stole liberally from TV shows as well. If I’d just seen Captain Planet, the quest that week would be recovering the 5 Rings of the Elements, each one having ridiculous powers like summoning and controlling massive elementals at will. The Paladin of the group (of course there was a Paladin) had a suit of armor that was sentient, and could fight on its own, and was also immune to gas/electricty/magic. He’d also made a Super Wish, because of course we were kids and half the fun of the game was trying to break the system and outsmart each other: if he ever died, the Super Wish would find another body exactly like his, transfer his consciousness to that body, transfer all his items to it, and then teleport the identical body with the Paladin’s mind in it and all the items back to where he had died the next round. Oh and the body would have all the same levels and hit points of course.

Oh, how I tried to kill that Paladin. And when I couldn’t kill him, I tried to find other ways to take him out, like putting him in suspended animation (not dead! Super Wish can’t take effect!) in the middle of the earth. Of course, that’s when his 25th level Wizard buddy, a master of 10th level magic (of course we had 10th level magic), used his Rings of the Elements to summon an Earth elemental to drag the Paladin’s body back to the surface, extracted the Paladin’s soul into a soul gem, then animated the Paladin’s body using 10th level magic and set the soul gem into the body’s forehead so the Paladin could control it again. The Paladin was back!

Oh, this was all during like 3 rounds of combat with a demon lord, by the way.

By today’s standards, we were doing everything wrong. Ignoring theme, making up rules as we went along, completely disregarding even the idea of game balance. But we had a blast. And if you’ve been listening to our show for a while now, I think you probably know why it is that I love being a part of Fandible so much. While we may not play quite as hard and fast with the rules as me and my buddies did after school in 4th Grade, and we at least try to pay lip service to the rules of whatever system we play, in the end this is a group where having fun and telling a ridiculous and wonderful story takes precedence over the system itself. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

So! Let’s hear from you guys: what was your first gaming experience? Was it a by-the-book wargame, a freeform indie game, something in between? And where do you think the balance lies between playing the game by the rules vs. just having fun (and how well do you think we manage to hit that balance)?

Also: the end of the month approaches quickly, and that means it’s time to hand out rewards to our deliciousdelightful Patreon backers! If you like what we do, and you have a couple of spare bucks laying around doing nothing but burning a hole in your pocket, I can think of many worse things you could do with that money than to give some of it to us! Any contributions you guys make go towards keeping the lights on and keeping the pizza flowing every week, and there are all manner of amazing rewards for our supporters at every level (with many more to come!). If you can’t donate, that’s okay, we still love you almost as much. What we do appreciate just as much as your shiny, shiny dollars, is having you spread the word about us far and wide! Review us on iTunes, post about us on your favorite forums, blog about us, tweet about us, Like  us on Facebook, +1 us on Google+, do whatever it is people do on Orkut. Every new convert to the Cult of Fandible is one less person who will die screaming in the fires when we- wait, I’ve just been handed a note by my editor, looks like we’re not allowed to talk about the fires. Or the screaming.

For now.

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About the Author
Born in the freezing heart of upstate New York, raised in the searing heat of the Caribbean, then mellowed for several years in a fine oak barrel until he reached a perfect balance of snark and zen, Daniel is Fandible’s resident tech expert. Graduating at the top of his class in high school, and accepted to an Ivy League university, he instead chose to run away with the circus, where he learned valuable life lessons, and grew to hate clowns. He then travelled the globe for years in search of the six-fingered man, only to find the power was inside him all along. These days, he surrounds himself with glowing screens and wearable technology in an attempt to summon forth the Singularity by way of cargo cult. He is a Leo, and his favorite color cannot be seen by any but the pure of heart.

6 comments on “You’re Playing It Wrong!

  1. Lucek says:

    My first RPG was barely even. It was a me and a friend sitting round in after school with a system I can’t even find (at the time I thought it was D&D but the older I get the more I think I was wrong. Best guess a knock off of D&D 2nd ed with cards). That didn’t last. It was basically all combat and I just played the fighter. I didn’t look at Role play again till college. Got drawn in with the D&D 4E tide thanks to penny arcade. From that A friend “admitted” to playing online and I joined her group that died a painful death when her and her boyfriend contracted bird flu and were hospitalized.

    That’s when I got into what I now consider my first experience. A friend wanted me to bring him into play. Never doing so before but thinking I could GM I agreed. The group I organized was a horrid comedy of errors. And the first game I was going to run died in the crib. That said there was another group there that had lost people. So all the people who came for My game stayed for LB’s including me.

    7 people sitting round a table. Chaos like you can’t imagine. 2 hour fights that had no point but to be 15 minute fights. Mostly tho, it was finally finding out what it meant to make a character. Not just words and numbers on a page. But getting a feeling for them. The evangelizing priest of bahamut tree with the pet wood worm that lived in his neck my friend played was what got me out of my shell.

    It was also where everyone in the party got to cringing when I said “I’ve got a plan”. As I had complicated and elegant plans that never worked mostly due to me not rolling over a 4 90% of the time. “I’ll wedge the sarcophagi so if there are undead inside they can’t jump out. (Rolls a 2)” Yeah dave, we’ve all been there.

    That was a great game. It lasted most of the summer till LB left for college (he was a teacher and went to get his masters).

  2. Doug says:

    I’ll bite. I was guilted into my first roleplaying game after brutally mocking my good friend when he tried to invite me to play. Even when I showed up, I still planned to swagger in, make a few jokes, and blow out of there within 20min.

    Shortly after arriving, I flippantly asked our GM “Do I gotta play a fuggin Elf or something?” And with simple honesty he answered, “Why? Do you want to play an Elf?”

    His calm, rational tone startled and confused my 17yr old self. “Uh -no!- why would I want to be a pansy Elf?” And again, with utter calm, and even a bit of enthusiasm, the GM responded, “okay, so Human maybe? A Human racist against Elves. That could work.”

    I stuttered and stammered. Within two sentences my confident cynicism had been confounded, and I was completely outside my comfort zone. I stayed for the rest of the session to find out just what the heck this roleplaying thing was all about, cut a bandit in half from shoulder to hip, and the rest is history.

  3. Mawdrigen says:

    My first RPG was actually Red Box D&D. I played with a couple of guys who at the time were my friends. Unsurprising to anyone who has listened to the Cult I started life as the GM.
    I don’t tend to remember details of my campaigns I’ll admit because I am mostly making them up on the fly. I remember the games I have played in, but not the ones I’ve run. I’m fairly certain that the first “campaign” I ran was something about stopping a necromancer raising an army of zombie dragons…
    The first campaign I can remember the details of however was a few years after that and came about solely due to a combination of reading Dracula while watching Akira. I had one hell of a weird dream about biker gangs hunting vampires in my home town of Grimsby (where biker gangs would not look out of place anyway). So I sat down with a map of the place, sketched out various gangs turfs, got a load of greasepaper and laid it over the top and put in the various evil creatures hunting grounds. Then got my friends to roll up a gang that ended up living in a cave under the graveyard. Furioshin, Rikooidan, Kazangunjin, and … the other one… Taz something then went off looking for vampires to kill. Given we were using Vampire the masquerade, with only the first book printed, and they were playing mortals they got REALLY good at leading vamps (and later werewolves and cyborgs) into traps.
    When Buffy started being shown on the TV, I totally stole ideas from it. The good ones that is, no vampires with souls here, but vampire cults worshipping demons? Heck yes.
    The campaign lasted about…4 years I think, with the Gravewarriors (as the gang was known) eventually starting to forge the various gangs together to take on the larger gangs and claim Grimsby for their own. Unfortunately the campaign fell apart before they got to that point, due to a combination of things.
    The campaign was awesome however. Where else would you see a Japanese Biker gang, in an English town, killing vampires with sharpened Motorcycle chains?

    PS I finally managed to sort out patreon!

  4. Thanak Drahz says:

    My friends and I started playing wargames as kids. The first RPG we ever played was Rifts (yes, our introduction to character creation was using Rifts…).

    As for ‘playing it wrong’ we just outright dropped entire sections of the rules that we felt we didn’t need (particularly the megadamage system). To start with we didn’t even have a designated GM, we just each had a character and ran story/NPC actions by committee. Oh yeah, those were the salad days.

    After a few combat sessions it dawned on me that the base damage most of the other players were dealing with their fists was higher than the maximum output of my Rogue Scholar (with 17 assorted lore and technical knowledge skills and admittedly over-developed backstory explaining how I had learned them) with a double-handed hammer. It was around this time I realised I was playing a different game to everyone else.

    My gaming career since this point has seen me spend at least 60% of my time behind a screen of some sort. And much of that time I’m acting as GM.

  5. Syren says:

    In my early youth(say 10ish) I played a great deal of free form roleplays via forum, at a forum I still visit and roleplay with some twelve years later. As it was free form there were only really two rules, don’t invade agency in combat without working it out in advance, and don’t be a dick unless it is in character. We had a metric fuckton of simple ass wingit systems we would make on the fly mostly to categorize the degree of whatever we happened to be doing in game. The complexity of these systems varied from small form dots, to category levels that required a shared document and a side wiki to keep everything straight.

    All throughout there were a lot of people who were making an attempt at higher level games, but I learned quickly that with the way that roll games tend to go sometimes in the skill based snail pace problems doing that kind of game play by post was torture. The threads often died especially when combat would hit.

    It wasn’t until about two years ago that we gathered our forces from the UK, Japan, Australia, and the total coastal difference of the US and organized a time and date to try one of our oft failed systems.

    Exalted. Which I count as my first.

    And we did it, we did a whole campaign from exaltation to Creation dominance in about a year. It was the start of a new age, and since then we’ve had a dice game running pretty much constantly every weekend to apply the time. I’m even running my own RT session somewhat soon, and looking to running an Eclipse Phase game at the same time. The pace continues still, and I hope to hold this crew together for a while.

  6. Beautiful Monster says:

    I strongly suspect you were my first GM, playing in that room behind the carport at your mom’s house. Whether it was you or another of our friends, by the time I came around, the rules lawyers were alreday in the group. I think kobolds were involved though. Or 3rd garders…I get those confused.

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