See? I don't even know which is right. Worst. Nerd. Ever.
RPGs were a huge part of my life for a good ten years. From the age of 14 we'd spend entire days playing through another chapter of months-long campaigns. As I got older, I found a new gang to play with - through which I met Mr Cheese, who later came to work at Digitiser. We'd meet every Tuesday night, but the group broke up eventually, as everyone drifted back towards their real lives.
For me, I always preferred being the GM - the Games Master - to being a player. I'd spend the entire week dreaming up the story for the following week's session, drawing pictures of monsters, creating maps of locations... It scratched that itchy part of my brain which still has a need to tell stories, to create worlds, and characters. Role-playing fuelled and satisfied my imagination.
I still miss it terribly. Video game RPGs don't quite do it for me in the same way that the old tabletop ones did. They're too restrictive, too many rules - which my group would always be prepared to ignore in service of the story.
Tabletop role-playing isn't the phenomenon that it used to be, but it's still around; my step-daughter is an avid Dungeons & Dragons player, a fact I take great comfort in .
Also: I take great comfort in doing this - listing my favourite tabletop role-playing games ever. Here they come now!
It fired my imagination; it felt like an acceptable form of play-acting, at an age when running around in the woods pretending sticks were guns would be considered unseemly for a teenager. One of my favourite AD&D memories was of visiting my sister - then living on Edwards Air Force Base in California - and playing a game with her none-more-80s-American neighbours. The husband looked like Ned Flanders, and they had a US flag on their wall, and we drank Kool-Aid and ate chips.
Though I loved the thick, hardback, AD&D books - the Dungeon Master's Guide, the Player Handbook, the Monster Manual - with their gorgeous cover artwork, I was never a massive fan of fantasy as a genre. I've tried, and failed, on a number of occasions, to read The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.
When I discovered that there were other role-playing games out there, which were more in line with my sensibilities, I left Dungeons & Dragons behind.
But I still remember it fondly as my gateway drug. Harthor The Hound (yes, I know!), you will never be forgotten.
The most thrilling part of this game for me were the huge fold-out maps of other planets. When I studied the map for our own Moon, I discovered that several of the craters had been named after members of Marillion (not a joke).
However, I loved its Watchmen modules. Written by Dan Greenerg, it filled in a ton of the classic graphic novel's backstory, using the notes Alan Moore had written for the creation of the series.
Rather than go all Mad Max, and have mutants running around (though I believe there was a mutant expansion) it tried to keep things grounded. Though real-world events have rendered the game obsolete, at the time it felt real and believable in a way that most other RPGs never strived to be. It may also hold the honour of being one of the most depressing games ever created.
Well... they could, but every time they did (and it happened frequently; almost any wound was lethal) their consciousness was downloaded into a new clone body. Everybody had a secret - missions kept from the other players - and the general vibe was a bit wacky, and dripping with heavy-handed satire.
We also spent some time playing Toon, an RPG set in a Looney Tunes-styyle cartoon world where being blown up by TNT, or having an anvil drop on your head, would merely put you out of action temporarily rather than kill you. Intended as a parody of other role-playing rules systems, the players and the Games Master - here styled as a "The Animator" - were actively encouraged to break the rules.
Fun, but limited.
It mixed hacking, mega corporations and cybernetic implants with spell-casting and dragons. Animals evolved overnight into new magical forms, and some humans transformed into orcs and goblins (though, in a Europe sourcebook, it rather racist-ly implied that orcs mostly came from humans of Indian and Pakistani descent).
Nevertheless, my favourite aspect of Shadowrun were its gorgeous full-colour rules and sourcebooks, which depicted the world beautifully. It was popular enough to become a series of trading cards, novels, and video games. Surely it's overdue for a movie?
It created names for races only glimpsed in the films, offered schematics of never-seen-on-screen ships and locations, and even provided a full floor plan of the Millennium Falcon that successfully made sense of what was shown in the films. Most significantly, it signalled to Lucasfilm that there was still very much an appetite for Star Wars.
The Star Wars Roleplaying led directly to Timothy Zahn's trilogy of novels that kicked off the so-called "expanded universe", and it's possible that without it we wouldn't still be getting Star Wars movies today.
As a setting I always slightly struggled to wrap my head around it. In my efforts I tried to read some Lovecraft novels, but just found them a bit weird.
Inspired in part by Pat Mills' Marshall Law comics series, it was a wry, cynical, satirical spin on superheroes - alien technology, super soldiers, a heroic origin, and Virtual Reality brainwashing were all considerations when creating a character.
With its tongue firmly wedged in its cheek, it was set in a world where Chuck D had a national holiday in his honour, Europe was ruled by fascistic Scientologists, Halloween is banned, and US military veterans are hated by the public, but given privileged status by the government.
Players assume the role of super-powered mercenaries, who have been brainwashed into thinking they were former super-heroes, who'd lived in a stylised Silver Age comic book world.
Expansions offered maps of whole city areas, and blocks, and - having been produced by Warhammer creators Games Workshop - there were a range of rather lovely lead miniatures.