Thursday, September 5, 2013

Knights of old

So, way back at the turn of the century, in the summer 2000, a D&D club at a community college in southwestern Washington wanted to go to Dragonflight, the Seattle area gaming convention, but their club advisor was unable to make to trip. Since the outing would have to be cancelled if there were no faculty/staff advisor to go along, the student activities director scoured the campus for a volunteer, and eventually made the campus security director an honorary, temporary student club advisor.

That's how I attended Dragonflight and got my first real exposure to the gaming community. The story of that trip has several details of note, but the one I am reminded of now is how I was present for the birth of what eventually evolved into the HeroClix phenomenon.

As I wandered around the convention, my charges nowhere to be found -- they were all involved in nonstop tabletop RPG sessions beginning literally within minutes of our arrival -- my attention was drawn by a fellow who was hawking figurines that had little dials on the bottom. I chatted with him a while, and he explained how you could use the dial to keep track of the condition of the character represented by the figure as you played the game. Gathering together my then-limited understanding of tabletop gaming, I ventured "So it's like D&D, except instead of keeping track on a character sheet, you keep track with the dial itself?"

"Exactly!" he said.

In fact, it was close to the wording they used on the first box set to explain this new invention:

But I get ahead of myself: I didn't get a box set at that time; I did get a free promotional figure, which was one of the first combat dial system miniatures ever produced. I gave it to a pal who was a big Warhammer player back that then. I wonder if  he still has it; he could probably make a dime or two on eBay.

I also got a promotional comic book from the guy:

It was an odd, small size, with decent printing and Rob-Liefield-esque art and the bare bones of a story that gave a background to the MageKnight game world. That world included the usual RPG human and elven and orcish types, with sorcerers and a clerics and such, but with a new element. While magic was a core concept, this time in three schools...

... the plot hook was that the invention of gunpowder had upset the balance of power and given non-magic-users a chance to wrest control from the various mages. It was a neat twist on old tropes, and appealed very much to me, since I was never much of a Tolkien purist or (later) a D&D traditionalist anyway. And it sure looked cool to see a troll and a human drawing down on an Atlantean magic robot with a  crossbow and musket.

I never did follow up with actually playing MageKnight or any of the superhero-based HeroClix games that followed it. I did pick up one of the dungeon-crawl sets at a thrift store years later, and it seemed the gunpowder element had  fallen out out the storyline, at least for that series. I later found an original "Rebellion" set at a hobby shop that had apparently not rotated any stock in about twenty years; that allowed me to replace the comic book (which I think I gave to the Warhammer guy) but I just repurposed the figures for D&D.

No matter what, though, I can say I was there at the start. That and $3.26 will get me a grande latte in Seattle.

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