I have a secret.
A buddy and I self-published our own role-playing game by the name of Glenshire Abbey late last year. It’s been an exciting and interesting road, to say the VERY least! Recently I was asked about my personal history with RPG’s, and what exactly possesses a man or two to create their own. Pull up a chair, and let me tell you my story.
I actually didn’t start playing RPG’s of the pen-and-paper variety until after high school. Now, I WAS aware of these crazy and supposedly-evil games that involved weird dice beforehand. I always found the whole concept of RPG’s to be intriguing and made it a point to try and read any that I could get my hands on. I believe I was in 10th grade or so when a buddy (who was really into Palladium) let me borrow several of his books. While Robotech and TMNT and Other Strangeness were both cool in their own right, it was Beyond the Supernatural that really captured my imagination. Beyond was pretty different from anything that I had come across so far- the whole concept of supernatural horror in a modern day setting was very intriguing, and I absolutely loved the world-building that Palladium had done with the setting.
I read up on and dabbled with a few other games over the years, but my first actual gaming session with an actual group occurred when another friend invited me to join in on an anime-styled campaign using Big Eyes, Small Mouth (BESM). Everything changed for me at that moment; RPG’s became more than just a curiosity, but a hobby that I thoroughly enjoyed. Our gaming group also liked to switch things up from time to time, which was a wonderful opportunity to learn about other games, systems and mechanics. One day I got up the courage to start Game Mastering myself, and found that I rather enjoyed the creative aspect of being on the other side of the table.
Some time later, Guardians of Order (the company that created BESM) announced that they were starting a fan imprint called Magnum Opus, where an aspiring writer would be able to publish a gaming supplement under their banner. Benefiting from Guardian’s marketing and presence in the industry was a very intriguing concept to say the very least. I was currently running the campaign that would eventually become Glenshire Abbey at the time, and after some encouragement and a lot of thought, I decided that I would apply for the licensing fee. I took my tax return that year and put it towards the project, and within a few days was told that I had been approved!
The next few months were spent fleshing out the world that we had begun to build within the gaming sessions, as well as gathering artwork and figuring out the logistics of layout. Which, for the record, is a huge pain in the butt if you’re not sure of what you’re doing. I had the benefit of having taken a couple of graphic design courses in college at the time, which I’m sure saved me all manner of headaches in the long run. Eventually I got to the point where I felt that it was ready, so I shot an email to the guys at Guardians to let them know. Communications had slowed somewhat between us; I knew that they had taken on several new projects at the time, so I dismissed it as them being pretty busy. And then, this happened.
I don’t think “devastated” accurately coveys what I was feeling at that moment. To me, this was akin to having run an entire marathon and seeing the finish line, only to have the entire thing disappear before you could cross it. I felt betrayed, and I felt angry. Good lord, I was angry. But more than that, I was confused. I had no earthly idea what to do next. Not knowing what to do next, I quietly put everything to the side and tried to forget about the whole thing.
Of course I couldn’t do that for very long. Some time later I was talking to my friend Tony (who was part of our gaming group) about everything, and we joked that we should create our own gaming system and go the self-publishing route. The more we talked about it the more we laughed, but at the same time, the more it seemed like a good idea. It was a throwaway comment one Halloween, but I challenged Tony to come up with a system using a 12-sided die. Why a D12? I had always joked about them being the most neglected dice in the bag, and that it was time that they were shown some love.
A couple of days later, Tony pays me a visit at work and tosses me a notepad with the basis of what would become ISys. His job involved a bit of travel, so during his last road trip he managed to work out the concept.
It was a slow day at work for me, so we spent the next few minutes going over the notes and refining them. This also happened to be the day that another associate of mine decided to swing through for a quick visit, as he had a job in the area as well. He was a longtime gamer and had a hand in introducing me to a lot of RPG’s over the years. He too was pondering the prospect of self-publishing his own setting, but was also a bit of a perfectionist; I couldn’t tell you how many times he had started, stopped, and restarted his own project.
After a moment he noticed the notebook sitting on the counter and raised a brow. I swore that his head turned a full 45 degrees as he gave it a quizzical glance. Eventually he realized what he was looking at, and gave the notebook a good once-over before asking a single question.
“Who’s needlessly-complicated role playing game is this?”
He then spent the entirety of his visit running down the rough-draft-of-the-rough-draft. He told us what he would do differently, why this part was redundant, and gave a completely incorrect analysis of why a D12-based system would not work. I’m not above taking advice and well-meaning criticism, but all of this was done with the condescending gusto and arrogance of Zeus stepping down from Mount Olympus in order to impart a lesson to us mere mortals.
He couldn’t stay for very long, but he did leave Tony and I each with expressions consisting of equal portions of shock, pure amusement and really, mutha@#$a?
There was a few seconds of silence after he had left. “Wow,” I calmly stated. “He absolutely hated it.” Tony smirked and nodded in agreement. I laughed and slapped the notepad, resting on the counter.
“Good. We’re sticking with this.”
So yeah, that’s the horse that brought me to the dance. This ended up being a little longer than I was expecting, but I guess there was quite a bit of ground to cover =)