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So for Christmas 2013 my brother bought me an old copy of the red Basic Dungeons And Dragons boxed set that I first got from my parents, I believe, for Christmas 1982.  It brought back good memories of games that I then hadn’t played for over 20 years and as my boys were 15 and (nearly) eight I thought it would be a fun thing to do with them occasionally.  As Christmas 2014 approaches I look at my shelf to see that boxed set has been joined by several Pathfinder reference books, all the available Hollow Earth Expedition books, All For One, Leagues Of Adventure, Savage Worlds, Hero Kids, several Al Qadim reference books, an original AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide and Basic Fantasy.   My collection of boardgames has grown too this year with my old copy of Talisman being joined by Munchkin, Carcassonne, King Of Tokyo, Eldritch Horror and Tales Of The Arabian Nights.  I’m running an RPG group at a pub every other Monday night, running an established Pathfinder campaign there as well as starting an online Arabian Nights style campaign and planning a third online campaign with several people who I played with back in the day (one of whom has since moved to Austraila).  Oh, I also write a blog about RPGs.

Basically I’ve done what I tend to do with hobbies and dive in with both feet but I’ve had a terrific year.  So I think the questions I’m asking myself now are

  • Has it really only been a year?
  • Why did I ever stop?
  • What have I learned this year?
  • What am I looking forward to about next year?
  • Isn’t it about time I stopped buying games that I don’t have time to run?

I really can’t believe it’s only been a year I’ve been back playing and while I know I can’t turn the clock back I really wish I hadn’t left it so long to pick up the dice again.

When I got the Basic D&D set last Christmas I realised that I really wanted to share this with my boys because I got so much out of it as a teenager.  Although I owned the basic set I don’t think we ever played more than a session or two of it as I quickly got into AD&D which was the game of choice with my friends for a long time, at least until we found MERP.  I rolled up characters with the kids and another of my friends joined us to run through the adventure in the original rulebook.  It was good fun but after a game or two I quickly realised that I wanted to play AD&D.  Looking online I also realised pretty quickly that there was no way I wanted to spend the money on 1st edition rulebooks as they were changing hands for serious amounts of money.  Doing some research I got slightly confused about the differences between D&D 4th edition and Pathfinder but I decided that Pathfinder seemed like the system that was closest to the game I remembered so I bought that (a choice I haven’t regretted).

The next thing was to find an adventure that I could run with the kids which didn’t have a theme that was too adult for the 8 year old.  I dug out some pdfs of old D&D games, including Keep On The Borderlands which we tried a couple of sessions of, but finding the balance proved to be quite tricky.  Later in the year we ran some of Dyson’s Delve which was a lot of fun but early on I struggled to find something suitable.  This was one of the reasons why I eventually ended up with Hero Kids, not only are the rules simple but more importantly to me the adventures are really well written with opportunities for lots of different types of play but set at the right level for younger kids.

On the off chance that I could put a game together for some of my friends who used to play I asked on Facebook if anyone fancied playing.  My expectation was that I would need to wheedle people into it and that I might get a session or two at most.  The reality was that nearly fifteen people replied to ask when we could start playing!  I knew I was out of my depth but I also knew that some of those who responded either hadn’t stopped playing or had been back into the hobby for a long time so I asked for help.  The result was that we persuaded a bar to let us have their basement room at no cost on a Monday night and we ran a couple of one shot games.

I played in a D&D 4th edition game (which was a lot of fun) and we also ran a Firefly game.  The evening went well and we started doing an evening every four weeks (this time in a pub function room) with two games one of which I ran.  My Pathfinder group were initially sceptical about whether they’d actually want to play every month but after a couple of sessions we started meeting every other week because we were enjoying it so much.  The second table soon decided that they liked that idea so we’re running every two weeks and have normally at least 12 people each time.

Obviously if I was going to run Pathfinder I needed an adventure to run and looked at various options (including Rise Of The Runelords which I’m now planning to start with my third group early in 2015) but really struggled to find anything that I thought I could GM and that grabbed my imagination.  Doing some searches for first level adventures two modules quickly surfaced as having great reviews everywhere and both were not only by the same company (the awesome Raging Swan Publishing) but could also be set in a small and freely downloadable campaign setting.  Having looked through the reviews I decided to grab Retribution (although I ended up with Shadowed Keep On The Borderlands too) and run that for my Monday night group.  The amount of actual roleplaying that was going to be needed (remember I hadn’t not just been GMing, I hadn’t even played since at least 1993) did scare me but I ran the adventure and it went really well.  I learned a lot about over planning and expecting to work out what the players will do at any given time and the players had a really good time.  My group really enjoyed Retribution and are currently halfway through Shadowed Keep, I’m currently preparing another Raging Swan adventure (Road Of The Dead) to run next.  It was also the impetus behind me starting this blog to keep track of The Lonely Coast campaign (otherwise known as the Woodshed Poets campaign).

YouTube has been a real eye-opener this year too.  I’ve gone from using it for watching occasional Mountain Bike or music videos to watching more YouTube RPG content than I do TV.  I’ve found amazing GM advice from the likes of DBJ, Matt Click, GM Barker and Runeslinger.  Additionally finding that people have posted whole games allowed me to see different styles of play and watch really good GMs and players at work.  I can’t remember how I found out about Acquisitions Incorporated but once I had I was hooked and ran through the whole series very quickly.  While they’re probably not the best games of D&D they were a lot of fun and gave me lots of ideas, the Robot Chicken games were also really good in the same vein.  In August when I got Hollow Earth Expedition (having heard rave reviews from Runeslinger) I found the Fandible podcasts of their HEX games gave me ideas for how to run those games but the real eye opener was probably a few months back when I stumbled upon A Fistful Of Dice’s Provokers campaign and Barker’s D&D One Shot (which also became a campaign) hosted by Gaming Beast.  Both these games featured truly brilliant GMs running games with excellent players.  The games were of the type and standard that I aspire to be able to run, it was like seeing much of what DBJ describes in his videos coming to life in front of me.

During the summer, when we were taking a break from our Monday night sessions, I bought Hollow Earth Expedition which is a marvellous game using the Ubiquity system.  The idea of playing a game where one gets to feed Nazis to dinosaurs was too good to pass up so I ran two sessions of that both of which went pretty well (again the adventure logs are available if you’re interested).  The juxtaposition of the fairly heavy rules system of Pathfinder and the very light and fast Ubiquity system was interesting, to the point where at initially I was scared about finding Pathfinder ponderous when I went back to it.  It really made me appreciate that different rules systems give you different things and while I’m not planning a Ubiquity based campaign in the near future it certainly gave me a new perspective.  I found the same thing running Hero Kids (a superb system aimed at children from four to ten years old), playing it with a group of eight year olds the light nature of the rules meant that the kids and I could all concentrate on the story without getting bogged down in rules and character sheets.

I mentioned that our Monday night group is meeting every two weeks and while I’m not looking to change this I did find that I wanted to play more.  The logistics of getting everyone round a table at a particular location makes running a weekly game a real challenge so having watched some Hangouts games I thought I’d give that a go.  Hollow Earth Expedition is always a fun game to run a one-shot in so I tried a trial game and this time, due to the virtual nature of the table, invited a friend of my son who lives around 30 miles away.  I wasn’t at my best for either of the sessions we ran but it definitely proved the concept so I suggested running a virtual campaign with this group.  I hacked the old AD&D 2nd edition setting of Al Qadim to run in Pathfinder and we started our first adventure a few weeks ago.  It’s not quite the same as meeting in person but the game went well and we’re looking forward to carrying on running the games.  The experiment has been so successful that I’m planning to run a third Pathfinder campaign with a bunch of old friends two of whom I play with on Monday nights but one of whom lives 100 miles away and one literally on the other side of the globe.

So to turn full circle, a year on where am I at and what am I looking forward to in 2015.  Well I’m soon to be running three Pathfinder campaigns (two virtual and one traditional) and I’m really enjoying all three of those, I’m genuinely excited to see where each of those story paths go.  I’ve bought Savage Worlds and am hoping that when we take a break in the Al Qadim game in a couple of months I’ll be able to run a Space 1889 game using that.  I’ve realised that while there are some great games out there which I don’t own but I also realised that I simply don’t have the time to run the games I already have therefore I’m forcing myself to not buy anything else at the moment.  I backed Southlands on Kickstarter recently and although it’ll probably be early 2016 before I get a chance to run anything in it I’m really looking forward to getting those books through next summer.

There are two things that I need to do in 2015. Firstly I need to find time to run more games for my youngest son and his friends.  My schedule is already chock full, as is his, but he loves playing and when we ran a Hero Kids game in the summer his mates loved it too.  He is excited by playing so I need to feed that and it’s a great way to spend time with him in a social setting where I’m not simply an adult overseeing the fun.  The second thing is that I need to step outside my comfort zone and play in other people’s games.  I have joined the RPG One Shot Group on Facebook and while my excuse of finding the time and getting round the issues of time zones have some merit at the core I’m just nervous about making that step.  I need to get over that and my aim is by the Autumn to be able to join in on both games at the second BrigadeCon (which I didn’t feel confident enough to do this year) and also at DragonMeet in London.  This will be a big step for me but I don’t like to feel like irrational fear is holding me back.

So a year on I’ve spent more money than I probably should have but I’ve also spent much more time laughing with mates than I otherwise would have done.  I’ve spent quality time with both of my sons and some of their friends and found a new outlet for my creativity.  Much of my 2014 outside of getting back into gaming has been rubbish but I think the gaming has probably pulled this year from one I’d rather forget into one that I’ll be celebrating for a long time.