Note: Originally this Top 10 list was going to be one post. However, during the course of writing this I noticed that I was really excited to talk about all these memories and I might have gone on a bit to long for one article. This article has been split into two now, one with memories 10-6, the other with 5-1. You can find the next article in this batch by clicking the link at the bottom of this post!
While finalizing my favorite RPGs list for 2019, I’ve been looking at some of my favorite moments in playing the games on my list to better understand what I like. This has led me to reflect on my entire gaming past and some of the awesome memories that stand out from it.
I started compiling a list of “awesome memories” when I started to realize that some of the top memories I have of playing RPGs probably wouldn’t be considered “awesome” to any player. It’s not the “winning” of the game which is remembered, but rather these emotional responses that have been shared and turned into inside jokes. Reflecting on these, I hope to learn a little bit more about myself and what it really is that I want out of this hobby.
If you listen to the podcast you may already be familiar with some of these stories I’m about to tell, so I’ll apologize for the repetition. I hope to expound a little bit more than what you may already know and try and talk about what it is that makes me remember them so vividly.
So, without further ado, here are my top 10 RPG memories.
#10 The AcadeCon Compliments
This one is a little egotistical…
For four years, I’ve attended The RPG Academy’s convention AcadeCon. It was my first foray into convention gaming or, for that matter, gaming outside of my friends group. It was at my first AcadeCon that my wife and I met a weirdo named Curtis, which spawned a wild run of events. While that’s a great memory and all, what really stands out to me are two, unrelated strangers giving me compliments a year on from the games I ran for them and letting me know that, because of the games I ran, they also started running those games.
This was crazy. The first came after running The One Ring during the previous year for, what turns out to be, two fairly popular RPG personalities. When I found myself in a game with them the following year, they let me know that it was the game they played at AcadeCon which spawned them to purchase The One Ring and also start a campaign in it.
Not to be outdone, the GM of that very same game then remembered that I was the one who had run a Lovecraftian hacked version of All Outta Bubblegum I called All Outta Sanity. He let me know that he had run the Lovecraftian hack multiple times at his FLGS and it’s gone over great every time. And that’s pretty damn cool.
#9 Age of Rebellion Oxygen Timer
Early on when my wife and brother were just starting to get into gaming, I ran them through an episodic Star Wars: Age of Rebellion campaign. Every game night was only a couple hours long and each story was different. This night, the party has come across a derelict Star Destroyer and were tasked with infiltrating and deactivating the distress signal inside of it. The Star Destroyer was blown to bits and had no life support, so the the party would have to use space suits to accomplish the task.
Somewhere in there, it was decided that they were going to have a limited source of oxygen of only one hour. One real-life-out-of-game hour. We looked at the clock and said go.
This real life time drove what felt like a lot of pressure as the party edge closer and closer to time’s up. Eventually, some of the party ran out of air supply and had to hold their breath to make it back to safety. It felt super cool. Instead of abstracting time out or extra rules in the game, where the pressure could get lost, the real life time pressure meant they couldn’t just stand there and talk outside the game to form up a plan. Plans weren’t perfect, which made the game play perfect.
#8 The Death of Aleric Rose
Remember your first RPG character you ever created or played? Well, for me, that was Aleric Rose. When I was first invited by my close friend to try out this whole D&D thing, I was super excited! I had played RPGs up to that point only as video games such as RuneScape, and having the ability to play one where I got to make character that could be whatever I wanted was exciting to me.
After looking through the D&D third edition Player’s Handbook, I had settled on a half-elf ranger. I had never heard of the concept of a “half-elf” before, and as a kid I would pretend to be a weird, medieval pioneer/hermit/shrine keeper/whatever and I thought the Ranger fit that. And four hours of character creation learning later, Aleric Rose was made.
So now I’m super excited. I’m about to play this weird fantasy that I had as a kid, and hopefully it’ll be cool and people like it. And it was! At least, until we got into a fight with some fire beetles about an hour before I was supposed to be picked up. So we’re fighting, then a beetle rolls a natural 20 to crit me. Being third edition D&D, the beetle now needs to confirm its crit. Nat 20 again. Ok, no big deal. Taking a crit is part of the game. Then my DM (who was Brian of the podcast) proceeds to inform me that there is this super niche rule. If he rolls three natural 20s in a row, it is instant death for the character. Rolls. 20. What are the odds (1 in 8000, actually).
So there it was. Aleric Rose, and my fantasy, was dead. I don’t remember much after, whether I was angry, sad, or what, but whatever happened, it didn’t keep me away from the RPG hobby, and I came back the next time to give it another shot. Because, surely, it couldn’t happen again.
#7 Food Magic D&D 5E
How do you take the generic fantasy setting of Dungeons and Dragons and make it feel less generic? You give it to my brother, Evan. I don’t remember the exact circumstances that brought this game to be, but my Brother Evan wanted to run a D&D game for myself and Brian. We told him to go for it, and I’ll never forget how he took D&D and made it feel like no other D&D game I had played before.
Evan starts and immediately we’re tasked with locating magical cheese, infiltrating a chateau housing divination wine, getting nearly beaten to death by an ettercap, helping a necromancer and his skeleton assistant Pickles, chasing after a undead rock band, and more. This was nothing like any of the D&D games anyone has played before (and if you say you have, you’re lying). This was new and whimsical.
Sometimes we can get into a mindset of what a RPG has to be. Somewhere along the way of your gaming career you learned how to play a game and, whether a published adventure, podcast, or convention game, it influenced what that game is supposed to be. Gaming with new people and experiencing different play styles can show you that the greatest part of a role playing game is that YOU are in control of everything that happens around the table.
#6 Giant Crabs Eat the Party
Sometimes you do something that your gaming group will never let you live down. Sometimes, this changes who you are to the core. This is what happened when I ran infamous D&D 5e encounter.
The party had just gone through a Vietnamese inspired sea cliff dungeon where they fought off harpies, a wyvern, and some undead. They make their way out, but not before one last encounter. The set piece was they had to cross some tide pools to get out when they are attacked by, what are now the two most frightening words to my Tuesday night game group, giant crabs.
Now, if you knew the D&D 5e monster manual back and forth you would know that there already exists a giant crab stat block. But this CR 1/8th monster wasn’t nearly imposing enough for a party of seasoned gamers and didn’t feel big enough to be the crabs I wanted to field. I wanted BIG crabs. 8 feet tall, 12 feet wide, big, scary bastards. So instead of using that statblock or creating a new one I went looking for another monster I could reskin to be my big forces of clawed death. So I find a statblock that I like, the giant scorpion. It’s got claws, I’ll reskin its stinger attack to be a “bubble beam”, and being CR 3 means that if they only fight two of them it’ll still be a challenge.
So the stage is set. The PC’s enter. The giant crabs enter. Total crab domination. It was a massacre. I KO the entire party, killing half of the characters. The other two passed their death saves and come to their senses alone. But the damage was done, and some of the players weren’t happy.
Giant crabs have become synonymous with death. Their presence inspires fear and no place is safe. Walking on the beach? Giant crabs. Run to the mountains? Giant snow crabs. Find a shack in the woods? Giant hermit crabs. Invited to a ball at the royal court? Giant king crabs.
I’ve become associated with giant crabs to the point where it started to infiltrate my real life. I have a poster hanging up of a crab with a Guinness, a stuffed crab souvenir, and my Warhammer 40,000 T’au army is painted “crab colors”. It’s almost ridiculous.
Was the original giant crab combat a dick GM move? Maybe. Would I do it over again if I had the chance? 100%.
Stop by next week for the conclusion of Alex’s Top 10 RPG memories!