A Look Back At City of Heroes & Why I Love Games
Do you know the exact moment you fell in love with D&D? I do, but this isn’t about that. This is about looking back to an inexact moment, maybe a group of moments. An experience or set of them which engendered you to playing games as a group. Not just any games, mind you, the kind of games where you work together to tell a story and overcome obstacles. Something you can look back to with fondness, knowing that without the other people you would never have had the experience you did. Without other people you could never have done what you did. So, sure, I know I fell in love with D&D because my dad showed me Dragon magazines and told me his stories when he realized Baldur’s Gate was AD&D based. But for the first 7 years I knew it existed, all those books I bought, all that time spent talking about it. Well, I barely played at all. So how did I fall in love with it really? Why am I still playing today? Let’s work backwards.
Last week we were going to play Curse of Strahd and continue heading into the mountains to the Amber Temple, but my friend (the one who hasn’t been able to edit) has been working tons of overtime and we certainly didn’t want to play without our gnomish artificer. Instead I told the group I would put something together and surprised them with a Powered By The Apocalypse game. We love the system and loved Monster of the Week and, as a result, bought two more such games at PAX East this year. One of them was Masks, because I have been dying to play a supers game for a few years now. I printed out the playbooks and prepared an adventure. I really wasn’t sure what I would do. Stop a heist? Gang war? Aliens? Superheroes and comic books provide so many options and I have been in love with those since well before any TTRPG, so I wasn’t too worried. But then it hit me, I knew exactly what I would pull from. I would revisit some fond memories and have those memories, burned into my mind for over 10 years, guide me through the whole session. More on that later.
Dungeons, Dragons, & Pathfinding
I have spent a great deal of the past 10 years DMing campaigns. My 3.5 days were pretty short lived, though I played in a couple games with those rules. 4th Edition was what really revitalized my desire to DM. It was quick to prep, the tactical concepts fit our group, and my life as a DM took far less work and worry than it had been previous. We played that for years before trying out Pathfinder. I fell in love with Pathfinder because it did everything that 4E did in terms of character creation. I had lots of classes and dozens of unique archetypes. There were monsters galore and many fit within themes and styles. All the rules could be quickly looked up online if a judgement was needed and not everyone needed EVERY book to utilize all of them. We played that for a few years but things reared their ugly heads as to why I disliked 3.5. Nevertheless we continued. Why? Because TTRPGs are so much goddamn fun. I have countless stories from those games and almost all of them are fond memories we can recount to each other and smile. At the end of the day we were getting together to form those memories, to escape jobs and classes, and to share a few hours relaxing with friends.
Some periods saw a lot of campaign turnover, but still we played. Some rough patches in the group occurred, but still we played. Despite any problems we couldn’t help but talk about, think about, plan about, and play Dungeons and Dragons in one form or another. Today we play 5th Edition and try out other games. We have hooked more people in and continue to do so. This is where I struggled to get to over the many years of playing D&D: a good group that will play almost anything just so they can play a game and be part of a story together. Why was it so challenging to get to that point? What is it about D&D and other TTRPGs that scratches that itch, because I know I’ve scratched it somewhere else before….
World of Warcraft & Lifelong Friends
During the many down periods of not playing D&D or between campaigns or sessions, there was always one game that I consistently played: World of Warcraft. Some people hate MMOs, some love them. Me, I like them a lot but there is only two things that keeps me playing them: a good story and people. I played WoW on and off for years for the story and world. I played other games on and off for the same reason. All until I found my guild. After that I constantly had a subscription to World of Warcraft. We barely did anything resembling raiding. We weren’t top tier PvPers. But our gear was the best us casuals could hope for with all our commitments. One of those commitments was getting into a group, helping each other out, and playing the game. We probably drank tequila too, but that’s beside the point. What it comes down to, is that my guild and I found in each other something you can’t just find anywhere. We found friends and adventuring companions. We would sometimes spend as much time discussing life and picking flowers as we would doing dailies and that happens at the D&D table too. That’s what the first and last 45-60 minutes is almost every time.
Looking back at the guild answers one of my questions: why is it so hard to get to the group we have now? It’s part understanding what your getting together for and part excepting what the game won’t be. It probably won’t be 5 hours of uninterrupted, in character, super story telling. There will be laughter, interruptions, forgetting rules, delays, and early endings. Campaigns might not exist for 10 years, but they definitely won’t if you force it. The best tables are those that get together to play above all else. Sure, we put our best efforts into solidifying a campaign and including anyone and everyone, but when you can focus on sitting down first regardless of which game your playing you’ll probably have more fun in the long run.
Still, the feeling elicited in a good few hours of D&D without looking at clocks or watches or phones, of just wanting to play despite the late hour and work tomorrow. I know I wanted to find that in D&D and my dad described such possibility to me. But when did I first feel that?
The Clockwork King
I was 17 when City of Heroes came out. I had played Asheron’s Call and Star Wars Galaxies before that, but by the time I got to CoH we finally had cable internet. No more dial-up and great games to play! Immediately I was in love with the game and how could you not be? I could pick from multiple primary powers and multiple secondary, mixing and matching depending on the archetype I chose. The character costume creator was out of this world and I don’t think Champions really compares, despite being newer (and still existing). City of Heroes as a game with its own superhero setting, its own villains, its own stories. There were world events and local random occurrences, holidays and special patch events. Though these are modern mainstays, and weren’t even new, it was something new to me. I adored City of Heroes as a game for a lot of reasons, most of those have nothing to do with this article, but the ability to be a unique hero in the world and working on story lines as you chose them was wonderful. While Baldur’s Gate was my first real look into a D&D world, CoH was my first look into playing a character with others in an immersive world.
Though young, shy, and new to the idea of what are now called raids or dungeons, one Saturday night I decided to take the risk at joining a public Taskforce, one of the earlier ones in the game. For the uninitiated, a Taskforce was a series of quests, dungeons, and events that culminated in what was effectively a raid boss battle to complete the story line. First of all I loved the clockwork because they were hive mind clockwork robots psychically controlled by the Clockwork King and I NEEDED to know more. That is where the Taskforce came in. Luckily for me, I found a fantastic group and I learned a lot from that group. I learned that you should ask about what you need to do, not take shit for asking when you don’t know, and that you could make any character you wanted. Our tank was only half tanky and used teleport to move. He managed it and it was glorious. It took over 4 hours and I was up very late. We killed clockwork after clockwork. Destroyed the princes and fought off the Babbage. Eventually we brought down the Clockwork King himself, a giant clockwork with a brain and two eyeballs floating in a jay atop its head which controlled the other robots. We worked together, we laughed when we died, we got smarter, and we celebrated our victory.
THAT was the experience I look on when I think about why I love playing D&D or when I think about playing an MMO. It is the one I remembered when I found my guild. It is the one I couldn’t help but look to for Masks. No, we were not friends on CoH after that. In fact I never played with any of them more than a couple times because of school. But THAT experience burned itself in my mind. I knew how I hoped games could go, how I knew they could go. It isn’t something I have consciously thought about until now, but I say it without a doubt. It is how I look back on my best D&D games. The Clockwork King is how I fell in love with playing D&D and other table top RPGs, beyond just the idea of D&D.
Oh. Did I mention I play a nearly weekly game of D&D with three of those guild mates. Every session is like that and incredible fun and we always look forward to playing. I hope you guys have groups like mine. But I am curious, you may know when you fell in love with your game of choice but do you have a moment when you fell in love with playing it? Maybe they are one in the same, let us know in the comments!