Tuesday, 24 May 2005

Phil's History, Part 4

Part 4 of my personal quest for the ultimate gaming experience! (part 1, part 2, part 3).

I graduated from university in 1989, enrolling into the Ph.D. program, so suddenly, I had a lot of time on my hands.

This was the time when we started to do some SERIOUS roleplaying. This meant full-fledged simultaneous campaigns, different gamesmasters, tons of different systems. Mostly we played systems such as Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, Call of Cthulhu, Rolemaster, Even things such as Judge Dredd. Surprisingly, we never played (A)D&D, and to be honest, that hasn't changed since. This was also the time when we could afford to buy almost every new roleplaying game, and also every game produced by Games Workshop (Talisman, Mummy's TOmb, Space Hulk, Heroquest, etc...).

Since we were so much into roleplaying, we also designed our own system, Schimmen en Schaduwen (still available online), a Dutch roleplaying game. Although I wasn't involved in the original design, I wrote many of the later adventures and also did some editing of the later supplements. We sold it mostly at conventions (such as the then yearly Fantasy World in Antwerp), and even now, more than 10 years after the last book was published, we occasionally meet fans of the game.

One of the better kept secrets is that we never really tried the game ourselves. So we invented this whole world, a combat system, career advancements etc., without actual playtesting. It was always funny at conventions to have players talk to us about how great the system was, and what our opinion was about this or that character, and how cool magical item such and so was. My lesson from those days basically is that most game authors use the smoke-screen of 'playtesting, game-balance, and research' a lot to hide the fact that most of it is actually quite random.

Then 1993! A major rupture in the gaming universe! Yes, I discovered Magic the Gathering. I saw it first played at EuroGencon 1993 somewhere in the South of England, and I was hooked. I was one of the first players to bring the game to Belgium, and the next two years can only be described as a Magic addiction. We organized tournaments in the Pieterman Bridgeclub in Leuven, drawing a respectable crowd, and went to tournaments all over the country. At one point I was even refereeing, since in those days I was one of the only persons with an internet-conenction, so I could keep track of all the changing rules.

Slowly but surely Magic became more serious. Tournaments became more professional, you had to be qualified to be a referee. Since my Ph.D. was getting serious as well, I didn't have the time anymore to follow-up on it, and so one morning during the Summer of 1995, I took all my cards, went to the Lonely Mountain shop, and sold them all over the next few weeks.

In 1996, my Ph.D. was finally finished, and so again, lots of free time became available. This was when I decided to get back into miniature wargaming. We did play the occasional game (mostly fantasy, Martin Hackett's rules), but now we were serious: we were going to tackle historicals!


  1. "but now we were serious: we were going to tackle historicals!"
    At last!........

  2. Phil,
    Glad you played Rolemaster. I started with it way back around 1980 using "Arms Law" as a replacement for the AD&D combat system. Once the rest of the rules slowly leaked out of ICE HQ, I ran a campaign from about 1982 right up till I moved to Washington DC in 1990. However, we also played a lot of the Hero system RPG rules as well. In DC, I switched over to the GURPS system for a great medieval Japan campaign.

  3. One RPG game you inexplicably missed from the list is a brilliant Detective game set in 19th century London, loosely based on the Sherlock holmes stories. You're forgiven for this hole in your knowledge, because it was invented by a friend of mine, Kevin Jacklin, now looking after Convivium and Reiner Knizia. We played it a few times, though not in a serious play-testing fashion. Of course, with RPG, unlike miniatures, the play testing is only important if you take the tables and charts too seriously. A bit of improvisation and common sense goes a long way.
    But this is difficult in a competitive wargaming situation. Even there, when you have an umpire, players tend to argue and lobby for their point of view. The way around this is either tell the players to behave! (but this can be awkward) or try to have games where what counts is the storyline rather than who wins. This then reflects the roleplaying world, where it's seeing what happens to your character rather than 'winning' which counts.

  4. aha! I think from this point on I'll recognize the situations and memories from Phil myself!

  5. Haha, Maarten has risen from the dead!