Armagideon Time

The summer between my freshman and sophomore years at UMass Boston saw me in a better place than I’d known in, well, most of my nineteen years.

I’d switched majors from physics to English, and pulled myself back from academic probation to make it onto the Dean’s List. There was money in my pocket, thanks to my scholarship’s living expenses allowance. My punk rockerhood settled into a comfortable groove and I discovered a slew of hep places for clothes and records around the city. There were a few women who’d expressed some degree of interest in me and I’d also stumbled into a new circle of friends on campus.

And then there was my Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay campaign, which went from a small “why not” thing with a group of disgruntled AD&D players to the flagship gaming event of the campus Sci-Fi Club.

Because UMB was a commuter school, we were able to keep the run going through the summer break. Every Friday, our group would gather at the club room on the fourth floor of Wheatley Hall and game for most of the afternoon, pausing only to devour the sweet Greek pizza we ordered from one of the few places that would deliver to the campus. When we were done dungeon-crawling for the day, we’d pile onto a northbound Red Line train and hit up the shops on Newbury Street or Harvard Square for the current week’s funnybook or the previous decade’s record releases.

I bought the first of what would be too many Oi! compilations on one of these excursions. More’s the pity.

(This was also how I kept abreast of Marvel’s immediate pre-Image Era, even though my pull list was down to Legion of Super-Heroes, Justice League America, and Zot at the time. A guy in the group we dubbed “Father Flynn” would buy a huge stack of X-books and Spider-Man titles and hand them off to me to read and return “whenever.” I wasn’t given a choice in the matter.)

After Woburn High’s school year ended, I invited Lil Bro and my pal Damian to join the campaign. Part of me wanted to show off my (debatable) new-found campus big shot status to my parochial peers, and it was an easy way to fill out the party roster with some familiar faces. They took on the roles of a squire (Lil Bro) and servant (Damian) who ditched their knightly lord in favor of freelance work, and quickly integrated themselves into the group.

Lil Bro had an easier time fitting in with my college pals. He got teased a little over his extreme discretion when it came to combat, but took it in stride and was quick to gloat that his was the only character who didn’t sport some form of permanently debilitating injury.

Damian had a tougher time adjusting to the group, and some of that was deliberate on my part. We’d been friends for almost half a decade. I’d changed quite a bit — by both happenstance and design — during that time, but Damian was still the same media-damaged fanboy I knew from junior high. Whatever “cool” bit of entertainment flotsam he was into at the moment would manifest, with zero nods toward originality, in his current RPG character.

I really didn’t want him pulling that shit in front of my college pals, so I…fudged…things a little to ensure it didn’t happen. When it came time to roll up a character for the run, I lied and told him that everyone had to use the random career tables instead of picking from the list. I also may have tinkered with the dice roll so that he wound up as a humble servant instead of a bounty hunter or vehicle for his affected bad-assitude.

Broadly speaking, it was a good call on my part. The restraints encouraged Damian to take a considered approach to his character’s development, which each step from servant to hunter to targeteer feeling logical and earned. There was no derailing Damian’s ingrained behaviors, but he was better off in having worked toward it instead of assuming it out of the gate.

The only problem was the other players nicknamed his character “Sniggles” during his first session with the group, and it stuck — along with “I say, Sniggles, fetch me my slippers” taunts — no matter how many tough sounding compound nouns he tried to re-brand his avatar with.

Although the campaign occupied a huge part of my psychic space that summer, I didn’t buy much in the way of new supplements for it. To be honest, there really wasn’t much to buy. The system had already surrendered whatever meager space it had occupied in White Dwarf, with Games Workshop opting to spotlight more current (and profitable) offerings in its house propaganda organ. The small amount of official support the game did get came in the form of expensive paperback supplements released under the Flame Publications imprint.

The first and most significant of these for my campaign was Warhammer Companion, which did see moderate use during the summer of 1991. The book was a grab-bag of forgettable pre-made adventures spaced out between supplemental rules covering additional character classes, expanded rule mechanics, magical and mundane gear, and new spells. I had the article covering expanded medical treatment for severely wounded characters bookmarked for quick reference, but the rest of the stuff was incidental or outright irrelevant for our group.

Its biggest impact was to goad me into pulling out all my old AD&D sourcebooks and mining them for anything worth carrying over into WFRP. I spent an absurd amount of time adapting various non-combat spells to add more utility to the system’s rudimentary and combat-focused magic system, despite the fact that spellcasting barely figured into our party’s adventures around the gaming table. I also attempted to carry over selected magic items from Dungeon Master’s Guide and Unearthed Arcana before realizing that it was far simpler to just add a skill modifier to an existing object — such as a scalpel or a jeweler’s loupe — before giving it a fancy name and tossing it in some loot pile.

My handwritten notes for the above are collected in a three ring binder somewhere in my grandma’s attic, where they serve as a testament to the ungodly amount of free time I used to have back then.

Related posts:

  1. Role-Playing with the Changes: Braving the elements
  2. Role-Playing with the Changes: Forging an empire
  3. Role-Playing with the Changes: In full bloom

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