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Why We Talk about Games

Some firsts are memorable. Others, less so. My first time was in 1979, and memorable. Over Winter Break from elementary school, my best friend Joe invited me over to his house for sledding and games. Joe’s older brother and his friends laughed and hooted in the basement, but they were in high school and didn’t want us mingling with them. They were playing some game that was apparently too old for Joe and me.

And then the unimaginable happened. The older, “mature” high school kids needed more players for their game, so they told us we were going to play with them. As we descended into the furnished basement, with its hand-crafted bar, wood stove, and pool table, I was not aware that the game being played was Dungeons & Dragons, or that it was the first time these guys were playing AD&D instead of the Basic set. But the atmosphere held an air of mystery I could practically taste.

The details of that game are hazy and, honestly, irrelevant. I remember I played a thief. I remember the DM was running White Plume Mountain, which had just been published. But most importantly, I remember that the guys were so taken with the new version of D&D that one of them trashed the Basic boxed set in favor of the new hardcover AD&D books. I inherited that Basic set, and when I got home from Joe’s house, I read everything cover to cover: the rules, of course, but also the included adventure, called B1 In Search of the Unknown.

I vowed, from that point forward, to run and play this game with my friends. If you are reading this post, you probably don’t need an explanation why. The game just sang to me. It had stories. It had rules for telling stories. It was a game, and yet it was more. Like many others who the game spoke to, I spent hour after hour after hour just building worlds and adventures and stories in my head, and on paper.

Later, when I was in high school, a teacher gave us an assignment that included making a list of goals: tasks and milestones we wanted to achieve in our lives. I still have that list, buried somewhere in a stack of old books and papers. I don’t even remember what most of the lower ranking items on that list were, but the top four are burned into my memory:

  • Publish a D&D adventure in Dungeon magazine.
  • Publish a D&D article in Dragon magazine.
  • Publish an off-the-shelf adventure for D&D.
  • Work on a hardcover rule book for D&D.

The chances of my achieving any of those goals when I made this list were incredibly slim. Back then, TSR was not accessible to freelancers—and especially not to a naïve kid from a town of 2000 people in the middle of nowhere. An unbelievable amount of talent and luck had to coincide to get anything published in Dragon or Dungeon magazines. Getting a full adventure published? Yeah, right.

As I sit here now, more than 30 years later, I am still in some ways just as befuddled as I was then. Despite having achieved those four goals and more in the RPG industry, I am often still that 10-year-old kid, reading about and playing an incredible game, wanting to do more. Wanting to help GMs and players tell more of the stories that I know D&D (and a plethora of other RPGs) can help tell.

This, my first blog post in what I hope will be many for Encoded Designs, sums up what I hope to be able to share with readers. Whether you are 10 years old, telling your first stories, or if you are 100 and recounting stories of times past, I want you to know you are not alone. Whether your goals are to have your stories and games published, to get better in designing the things you do publish, or if you just want to run or play a better game in your best friend’s basement, let’s talk.

Before sitting on a panel at a local convention, talking about working as a freelancer in the RPG industry, I quickly calculated that I have written, editing, developed, or playtested more than 2 million words of RPG material. I’ve probably seen another million words if you count writing and editing fantasy and science fiction stories and novels. I like to think that I have learned some lessons in that time. But learning lessons and being able to communicate those lesson, to myself and to others, is a whole different matter. But that’s why we talk about games. To share, and to see what we’ve learned by playing them.

If you have any questions for me, comments on what I write, or thoughts on future posts, please drop me a line.

Shawn Merwin

Shawn Merwin

Shawn's professional design and editing work in the roleplaying game industry has spanned 20 years and over 4 million words of content. His Dungeons & Dragons work has ranged from 3rd to 5th edition, showing up in sourcebooks, adventures, articles, and Organized Play administration. He has been a driving force in several Organized Play programs, and has written material for Wizards of the Coast (Dungeon Delve, Assault on Nightwyrm Fortress, Halls of Undermountain), Pelgrane Press (Dracula Dossier), Modiphius Entertainment (Star Trek Adventures), Baldman Games (as Content Manager), Kobold Press (Creature Codex, Book of Lairs), and countless others. Find his adventures here: https://www.dmsguild.com/browse.php?keywords=Shawn+Merwin&affiliate_id=465726

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Comments
  • Avatar
    Chuck 'AgileGameMaster' Benscoter26 February 2015
    Reply

    Thank you.

    • Shawn Merwin
      Shawn Merwin27 February 2015
      Reply

      Hey Chuck, thanks for taking the time to check out the blog!

    • Shawn Merwin
      Shawn Merwin27 February 2015
      Reply

      Thanks for taking the time to read the blog, Chuck!

  • Avatar
    Alphastream04 March 2015
    Reply

    I’m glad you are writing these wonderful pieces, Shawn. Thanks! More, please!

  • Avatar
    Imaginaryfriend05 March 2015
    Reply

    Darn, another must read for the list. When will I ever get any work done 🙂

  • Avatar
    Joe Mills13 March 2015
    Reply

    Nice article, Shawn. Keep them coming!

    • Shawn Merwin
      Shawn Merwin17 March 2015
      Reply

      You bet, Joe. And I will let Milo open the door.

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