The Way We Used To Play

When I was 10 years old, or there about, we used to go over to my buddy’s house and play RPGs – mostly Traveller but some D&D too – and hang out. We’d do this most nights of the week after school. The thing is, I don’t remember it being in any way hard to organise a game.

Sure, we were teens and we had lots of spare time. That’s not my point. When I say it wasn’t hard to organise a game I am not referring to scheduling. What I mean is that I don’t remember it being difficult, either for the players or the GM, to put together a game on short notice.

From left to right: Daniel, Alex (GM), and the hand of Brian (circa 1987)

We’d play at the drop of a hat. We’d largely decide on the night too: “Hey. let’s play Traveller!” was a simple decision. Just as easy was, “Hey, let’s play D&D!” Even years later, when we were playing Rolemaster most days of the week, I never heard the GM complain about all the prep they needed to do.

What we did was show up and imagine a situation. We’d either roll up characters and put them right into that situation, or we’d dig out the current party and drop them into it instead. But it wasn’t a hassle and nobody complained. Once we were ready, we’d just start playing.

We were unselfconscious and we were comfortable with our play. Each game session was open to whatever we fancied in the moment and we were flexible, rolling with the feelings of the group. Some games were one-shots – adventures run and done – others became longer campaigns, spread over weeks, months, and even years.

But we never found it difficult to play. We just played.

Whatever happened to that innocent, easy-going heart of simple play? When did everything become so complicated? For me, it started in my head when the group split up, I went to Uni, and I started to worry about what other people said I “should” be doing.

I think I prefer the way we used to play.

Game on!


  1. I miss those days, too. As a GM, my players would ask: “Can we play today?” And I’d say: “Yeah, gimme about 20 minutes come up with something. Or I’d ask them what they wanted to do, their goals. One I ran a session based on a random encounter chart from a module and they didn’t know any better.

    Some of those best sessions were ad hoc, unplanned.

    I would like to go back to that, too.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah, Alex and a few of the guys were into American Football. It was a very new thing to the U.K. in the 1980s though – very much another “geek territory” thing where I grew up: “Why can’t you freaks play proper sports?”

      Liked by 1 person

  2. That was my situation as well – a bunch of players would show up at my house and for prep I would have exactly the time it took to walk to the place where we’d typically play (so I wasn’t writing anything down, either).
    It worked well enough that I never deviated too much from this approach for “private” games to this day and never really understood why you would buy pre-made adventures.

    For convention games I do come prepared because they usually have rather limited time slots. That means having a couple of ready-made characters to choose from and guiding the players through a prepared story arc that more or less exactly fills the time slot if they play along (which most convention players are willing to do).

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Ah, me too.

    Expectations are so high now. People are accustomed to high quality prepared materials that are the gaming equivalent of a AAA video game or a movie blockbuster. When I ad lib these days I do it better than I ever did, but always feel I am falling short compared to the highly polished experience of someone who preps a professionally written adventure for a month, then runs it perfectly with accents and everything. Who can compete with hundreds of hours of design, writing, editing and prep? But if you don’t try, it feels lame.

    Funny thing is, I don’t need all that jazz to enjoy a game. Maybe my players don’t either, but it never occurred to me to have that conversation.

    I supposed I’m afraid people won’t want to play with me if I don’t “bring it” but then, if they are that demanding and/or shallow, would that be a bad thing? Without less demanding players maybe I could relax a bit and have more fun. (Actually I am sure the guys I play with are not that sort.)

    Food for thought, and thanks for awakening some memories. So easy to forget.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Played Traveller in the early ‘80s with nothing but the Little Black Books and a few Supplements. We didn’t buy Adventures at all…we made our own. Give me a subsector and a couple of random encounter tables with a sprinkling of patrons and we can adventure forever. Today I call this style of adventure “Everyday Adventuring” as compared to “Movie Heroics” that seem to dominate. I get it – everybody wants to be a hero and many can’t/won’t play a retired Navy officer at age 40 just trying to make ends meet. Frankly, I think it is a symptom of the dumbing down of society as too many are poorly read and too comfortable letting others do the imagination for them. That’s how we get the same drivel in pop culture over and over again, be it superhero movies or yet another reimagined Star Wars or Star Trek or name your franchise from the past 30 years done again.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Sometimes growing up really sucks…and a lot of our memories tend to pick out the best parts. But I agree with this post & the comments: when did it become almost a job to get a game together? Planning, scheduling, and all the worry?

    One of the games my friends still talk about is the Brass Rings pickup game I ran – no prep other than some ideas as the GM backed out a few hours before the scheduled game was to be run. We generated steampunkish mice characters, and after getting a job, rode the steam train, fought off the Circada Gang (big crickets, yes, driving a jalopy) and rescued the mouse from the ruins (aka abandoned lab from the forerunners). No real prep, and I added ornithopers as one of the players asked and it was a fun thing.

    Same with Lego oddly: as a child I could play for hours creating. Now, I build the model, and, well, that’s about it.

    Anyway – trying to get back to the more gonzo stuff, and maybe a bit less structure. We’ll see how much I can let go and just run with things!

    Liked by 1 person

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