An RPG adventure map from when I was 14
Serendipity! While I was writing that blog post about RPG interfaces, my aunt sent me a scan of a doodle that I did when I was about 14 that she found in a box, and it just so happens to illustrate a point I wanted to make in that last post. Here it is:
That there is an adventure I made when I was GMing Heroes Unlimited (the Palladium superhero game) for my cousin Jake.
I know you can't read most of it, but the important thing is that it's essentially a very rough dungeon map. For a superhero game. This is where my brain was when I was 14.
I came to pencil-and-paper RPGs through computer RPGs, and what's the interface in computer RPGs? There's buttons for walking around, a button to talk to somebody or search a place, and there's "FIGHT MAGIC ITEM RUN" when you get in a fight. That's how you interact with the world. So of course the first game that I made up, Master Plan, was based on the exact same sort of interface. I had no idea that any other kind of interface was possible. I just had no other model to work with.
So in the mid 90s when I started getting to games like Palladium, and Planescape, and Spelljammer, and trying to run them, I kept running up against a wall because the only "interface" I knew was one that was only really appropriate for running dungeon adventures. And it became more and more obvious that adventures where you moved around searching for traps and secret doors and smacking monsters room by room were not going to produce the kind of awesome fiction that I had running through my head when I read all the cool setting material for these games. But I just didn't know what else to do.
And that's why I was making a dungeon map for a superhero game. The game didn't explain its interface. Back then, no game did. Your best bet was to learn it from a group that had already worked out a functional way of playing. But me and my cousins didn't know any other role-players in our area. We just had to try, and mostly fail, to figure it out on our own.