Tuesday, December 4, 2012

"Breaker D20...You Gotcher Ears On?"

Although RPGs are ideally played in a face-to-face social setting, gamers have found other ways to meet that social aspect of gaming even during those times we can’t physically get together. Nowadays, the ease of videoconferencing via Skype and Google+ makes running and playing a long-distance RPG easy. But before videoconferencing became prevalent, we gamers were using online forums to run our games via Play-By-Post, which is still very common.

Back in 1982 when I first entered the hobby, long-distance multiplayer role-playing was a bit trickier. Even though the Internet as we know it wasn’t around, there were many gamers – myself included – who were playing RPGs via the archaic “bulletin board” services of old: Prodigy, AOL, CompuServe, and other local BBSes. Step even further into the Way-Back Machine, and gamers were playing long-distance via Play-By-Mail. (I was partial to It’s a Crime, Silverdawn, and Flying Buffalo’s Heroic Fantasy.) One guy I knew in high school had a dad who did some kind of telecommuting, and he had three incoming phone lines. He could run a conference call from his kitchen table with each member of his group calling in on a separate number. (We gamers are a creative and resilient bunch.)

My group was wrapping up a long-term campaign that summer 30 years ago. Sadly, no one had access to a car to get the group together for the weekend’s gaming session. (We were all driving junkers that were coincidentally out of commission at the same time.) So my buddy Roger called me up with a brainstorm. Mark and his brother Scott had a high-powered Citizen’s Band base station at their home. Roger and I had CB radios in our cars. Why not finish up that final epic combat over the CB? So, that Saturday at noon, we all met on Channel 12 to wrap up the game.

We had chosen Channel 12 as trucker traffic on that band was pretty sparse. (And Roger and I both lived next to the interstate, so there was usually a lot of CB chatter anyway.) To keep everything straight, our CB “handles” for the game were our character names. Scott was our DM with Mark across the table their base unit sat on. Roger sat in his (non-functioning) Camaro at his house, and I sat in my (non-functioning) Pinto at home. All of us had dice and our character sheets. And we began playing.

The session went pretty well as I recall, although I’ll bet it was confusing for passing truckers who stumbled across the conversation.

Scott: “The mind flayer has Zorrak in his grasp, and he lowers his tentacled mouth toward his head to begin feasting on paladin brains. Over.”

Roger: “Crap. I’ll try to break his grip. Over.”

Scott: “Ok, you’re unable to break free. Father Jarrod? Over.”

Me: “My Protection From Evil spell is still active, so I’ll charge in swinging my mace! Over.”

Passing Trucker: “What in God’s name are you talking about? Over.”

Mark: “We’re thwarting the powers of darkness and breaking the bonds of tyranny! Over.”

Passing Trucker: “Damn kids. Over.”

After two hours, Zorrak the Mighty, Father Jarrod, and Nimble Bruce vanquished the mind flayer menace and confused dozens of CB users in the process. We had so much fun playing “CBDND” that games played in this manner became a monthly tradition – even if we were all able to get together in person. In fact, the CB radio became a useful gaming tool whenever one of us couldn’t be there in person or if the game was underway while someone was on the road to get there.

Scott: “Ok, it’s Roger’s turn. Someone get him on the radio and ask him what he wants to do. Also, tell him to grab some Mountain Dew and Slim Jims on the way.”

Today I can sit with a laptop and role-play with folks around the world. But these computerized face-to-face games will never match the thrill of those days of CBDND.


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