It was February 1996. I was in the rather awkward position of having been invited to my friend Lani’s birthday night out, and meeting her at my good friend Eli’s house, who was her very recent ex. By about a week.
Eli shared his house with a guy called Camo. Both were (are) colossal geeks. Oh, they tried to hide it – Camo was a professional dancer and Eli was a Jujitsu champ and anti-establishment punk – but more than a five minute conversation with them and you knew they were nerds.
At the time I was friends with Eli for the punk rock and camaraderie. I didn’t really know about RPGs.
All that changed on that fateful night. A night that Eli’s brother Angus describes as ‘the birth of a monster’.
It was snowing when I arrived at Eli’s house. A good deep thick settling of snow that wasn’t going anywhere fast. It was pretty much a certainty that I wouldn’t be catching the bus home to my village in the sticks that night. I was snowed in in Leeds.
Awesome! A night out and a solid gold reason not to go home. Something every teenager dreams of.
The snow kept falling though, and soon we got the call from Lani saying that everyone was staying in.
Ok. What to do?
Eli and Camo fellback to their default position.
“So, what are we playing?”
“I could run a Cyberpunk cops game…” Said Camo. “Nook, you playing?”
I said yes. I didn’t really have a choice. Play, sit and watch or take my chances in the blizzard. I’m sure this is how the KGB converted Western spies into double agents.
As mentioned, the game was Cyberpunk – a dark high tech future game dominated by mega corporations and street gangs.
We started creating our characters. Somehow I generated skill and ability scores and worked out the basic numbers. I had, and still have, no idea what they meant or did. It was a strange and arcane experience, reminiscent of the time I bunked a whole term of maths GCSE lessons then had no idea what was going on for the rest of the year.
Once we’d statted up our characters it was time to start buying stuff. And, my god, was there stuff to buy. Camo and Eli started to eagerly devour three separate books of equipment, picking out guns, armour, sunglasses, cyber-appendages, portable computers, tattoos, gadgets… I floundered and was given the advice “it’s not so much about utility, it’s about cool shit.”
I bought my cop some portable electronic bongos, to positive head nods “I think he’s getting it”
I most definitely was not.
Play started. We patrolled the mean streets of Night City. No crime was apparent, so I started playing my bongos. Turns out I was shit at it. I felt cheated.
Next I decided that my cop needed to drain his lizard. I hadn’t grasped the agency I had to affect the story, so fell back on the mundane.
The Camo responded by making the bar I chose to take a leak a mob run speakeasy. Some stuff happened. My cop was ejected from the establishment.
I still didn’t really know what I should be doing. I kind of stood there.
Camo took another tack, and radioed in a mission for us – protect a corporate limo as it traveled through the city.
Less sandbox, more mission based. Ok, I can get behind that.
We followed the limo on our cool cop bikes, keeping our eyes on the road ahead for any danger or ambush.
We didn’t look up, though, which I now understand to be a cardinal error.
A rain of explosive fire fell on the street ahead and behind us, penning the limo into a tight spot.
From the rooftop above the world’s least subtle sniper loaded a bullet in his chamber and took aim.
Another thing I now understand is that in a ranged fight, tactics, cover and concealment are key elements that help ensure success or, at the very least survival.
Eli’s cop took cover behind the armoured limo and opened fire. The sniper was unfairly hidden, with a 12″ concrete parapet as cover. Eli missed.
So I climbed on top of the limo, to get a better shot, and started aiming with my standard police issue pistol.
The good news is that I hit. My shot went through the concrete, through the snipers armour, and did him 1 point of damage. I was elated. A few more shots like that, and he’d be down.
Then he blew my arm off.
What The Fuck?! My character’s actual arm! I was assured that he’d survive, and could get a cyborg replacement that would be better than the original and would only erode my sanity and morality slightly.
I remember my mind racing afterwards as I thought about everything you could do with this Roleplay thing. I thought about superheroes, gods, knights, sci-fi, everything I’d been interested in so far in my life could be filtered through this new medium.
Throwing away all pretense, here’s some dice packaged up like the drug they are…