The last part of my history progressed to late ’90s, so here I’ll continue about how came to encounter the Forge – this was a major turning point in my roleplaying hobby. In between high school and college was my year in military service in… -99 to 2000, unless I’m mistaken. Continuing from there:
Meeting the Forge
After I came back from military service and moved to Helsinki for my university studies, I was pretty distanced from practical roleplaying. My brother Markku introduced the local university roleplaying club to me, but I didn’t take any strong initiative in that direction – partially this was because I had no real creative direction for my roleplaying, part was just my natural reticence.
My memories of these years are somewhat hazy when it comes to roleplaying, mostly because of the lack of direction I mentioned above. A pretty definite turning point comes about in 2003, when I wrote what I called a “tabletop larp” called Temppeli for the Ropecon of that year. The game was an ambitious piece that strived to combine immersion and director-stance, utilizing techniques that would probably be considered hybrid Forge/jeepform today. My deal with Markku then was that I’d write the scenario and he’d run it, which we did – I myself spent the convention in ticketing duty.
But those first years of the millennium, those are somewhat more vague in my memory… what did I do then, exactly? I literally have to delve into my archives to see if I have anything that I worked on then that’d jog my memory. It proves that while I didn’t have a gaming group at the time and didn’t play a lot, I still thought about roleplaying then. Roleplaying was so meshed with my creative process that even during my major fairy tale binge early this decade I wrote extensive notes for a fairy tale roleplaying game, it seems – I’d forgotten about this one, I haven’t touched it since early 2002. Another similar thing is a large Kalevala-based superhero campaign/rules framework I seem to have worked on during the next winter; this one I remember well, I often draw on those experiences when interacting with other designers who seem to be stuck in the same place I was; I spent enormous amounts of time then fiddling with the logical end-point of my late ’90s play. The rules-set I ended up with has its starting point in Basic Roleplaying System (not a coincidence that it’s one of the most prominent unified mechanics ever), while the end-result resembles the Whitewolf Storyteller system on crack: the entire rules-set in all its minute detail is dedicated to a point-buy with a player-defined skill/ability system that’d allow the players seamless control over the strengths and weaknesses of their character. The whole game has practically nothing else to it, it’s all a huge character creation system. A bit like GURPS in that regard.
I worked on many other things during this period as well – now that I trawl my archives the picture is starting to emerge. Here’s a rough timeline of what happened through those years:
- In 2000 and 2001 I hardly roleplayed. I remember participating in a few abortive attempts at the Helsinki University roleplaying club. Mostly that play left me deeply unsatisfied; the groups didn’t cohere, some campaigns never got more than a chargen session, and even those where the GM worked at it diligently felt like chores in the end. In hindsight I don’t think the other people in those games enjoyed themselves too much, either.
- Sometime in 2001 or 2002 I stumbled at the Forge. At the time it was little more than a repository for articles – or at least I don’t remember reading the forums. Anyway, I wasn’t that interested in forums at the time. What I do remember is reading Ron’s GNS article and vaguely liking what I read. This wasn’t the sort of flashy insight you might imagine – at the time I read a lot of rpg stuff in the Internet, this was just another bunch of stuff along those lines. Still, the seeds started germinating then: I spent more and more time following the development of the Forge after that.
- In 2002 my own creative spirit was again engaged with roleplaying games in various ways. I think that this was probably a combination of reading the Forge and participating in those various game sessions in Helsinki – I’d seen what the urban roleplaying scene had to offer, so I could start working on my own ideas again. This was speculative design mostly, except for one thing: in the fall of 2002 I started an intense, new D&D fantasy adventure campaign called Bextropoliin kuningas in Helsinki. More on that below, it’s important.
- In the summer of 2003 I was myself: I sketched out several game designs then, wrote Temppeli (from which I started, above) and ran serious playtests of a completely reimagined superhero rpg I called Voima Yli Muiden, one which I remember having idly considered for publication even then. Before the end of the year I signed up on the Forge forums after having read them intensely for the last year.
The turning point for me in all this was two-fold: through the winter of 2002-03 I spent increasingly more time reading the Forge and playing D&D with a completely new group I gathered in Helsinki. “The King of Bextropolis” was an intensely rewarding campaign in hindsight; although I didn’t participate at the Forge at the time yet, I remember vividly how aware of GNS theory and other new ideas I was when constructing and running the game. The campaign was a very creative endeavour for all of us who participated: many things were tried, many people came on and dropped off later. The campaign was originally started out of simple interaction: I wanted to play a roleplaying game with my older brother Markku, and the new D&D was a reasonable starting point for both of us (Markku at the time hadn’t played roleplaying games for years, I understand). The gaming group that we gathered to play my strongly hombrewed D&D campaign was robust enough to continue to this day – my brother Markku and another stalwart, Tuomas Lempiäinen, run 4th edition D&D for the group now.
In fact, the Bextropoliin kuningas episode in my rpg career is so important that I’m not even going to try to describe everything I learned in those weekly and twice-weekly sessions through 2002-2005. It’s a story for another time – it’s suffices to say that before the experience I was not a roleplayer anymore, while the very faults and victories of those experiences motivated me to proceed in the directions I’ve since taken. I remember those years very fondly, and will immediately grasp the opportunity to again play with the guys, should life take me to Helsinki for an extended time again.
After 2003 I start remembering more things: more interesting, more satisfying play started cropping up. I’ll write about this recent history in the next, probably the last episode of this blog series.