When you spend almost — sigh — twelve years maintaining a site with a strong autobiographical slant, it’s inevitable that certain stories will receive multiple tellings over time. It’s the type of thing that would normally give me angst over the likelihood of auto-plagiarizing, but each new go-round with these old anecdotes offers a fresh opportunities for the (often harsh) introspection that comes with the weight of years.
With that in mind, it’s time to once again discuss the autumn of 1991.
Buoyed by the popularity of my Warhammer Fantasy Role Play campaign, I decided to run for the presidency of the campus Sci-Fi Club. Pure ego played a part in my decision to run, but my primary motivation was to sweep the organization clean of the “um, actually” old guard leadership who savored the power of the office and condescended to the rank and file members. My plan was heartily endorsed by my Warhammer pal Southie Dave, who ran for club treasurer on a similar “fuck those guys” platform.
We won handily, at which point we adopted a hands-off approach to actually leading. I didn’t want the gig for the dubious — and, quite frankly, pathetic — power it bestowed. My goal was to keep more problematic persons from occupying that throne by parking my own lazy ass upon it. The result was a clique-riddled form of anarchy.
It worked pretty well, all told, though I soon got it into my head to use that bully pulpit towards more constructive purposes. Thus my “get out of the musty clubroom for a bit” initiative was born. Using the members of my WFRP campaign as a core cadre, I proposed having regular outings for club members to socialize outside UMB’s brutalist rodent maze. The first proposed event was a group viewing of a “sick and twisted” animation festival being held at the Somerville Theater, which was met with a good deal of enthusiasm.
Before I get to that, though, some additional backstory is required.
Geek politics weren’t the only thing on my mind at the beginning of my sophomore year. An air of romantic desperation was also hung about be in a reeking cloud. In a new and frightening turn of events, I was faced with multiple prospects on that front. There was a girl from Iowa in my art class that seemed interested in my clumsy attempts at flirting. There was a freshman friend of a club member who looked like Ione Skye and was into sculpting. And then there was Maura, who I’d had a couple of halting phone conversations with over the summer and who brought me back a Bubblegum Crisis t-shirt from AnimeCon ’91.
In hindsight, Maura was The One, but things didn’t seem so clear to me at the time. I have a ferocious case of impostor’s syndrome when it comes to noticing romantic interest. I’m sure some low-grade self-esteem issues figure into it, but there’s also my unwillingness to assume intentions in that realm. I’d rather ignore those signals than misinterpret them and complicate things in an unpleasant way.
Maura, as I’ve since learned, is just as guarded about these things. She thought she was sending out pretty clear signals. (She named her pet rabbit after me, for fuck sake.) I couldn’t accept that such a badass older woman could possibly be interested in my suburban tryhard self.
The upshot of all this is that I asked the freshman sculpture girl out on the afternoon before the animation festival. And for my sins, I had to sit between her and slowly-realizing-what-happened Maura during the event. No Eighties teen flick ever prepared me for that level of discomfort.
The new relationship put a quick end to my group socialization initiative, despite rest of the crew trying to carry on without me. While they were all out being disappointed by Highlander 2: The Quickening, I was picnicking on the Esplanade with my new ladyfriend before catching a laser show at the Hayden Planetarium.
My WFRP campaign was another casualty of my raging hormones. We kept in going up through the first weeks of the new semester but it had already hit a ceiling in terms of returns. The core members of the group had effectively maxxed out their characters and loot potential, so I decided to end things with a bang in the form of a raging dragon guarding a tower full of treasure. It was the stuff of which total party wipes are made, yet somehow Lil Bro (who stayed part of the group after summer ended) managed to pull of a critical damage streak which laid the dreaded wyrm low. As far as final adventures go, it was pretty darn epic and made for a satisfying stopping point.
The end of the run left a small void between my final Friday class and my ladyfriend showing up for our date. Since the rest of the WFRP group also had a fresh opening in their schedules, I tried to fill it with an informal campaign based on the starship combat rules from Mekton Empire.
I picked up a copy of the sourcebook from the Complete Strategist after getting the semester’s “book allowance” advance against my scholarship money. Besides providing a galactic-themed campaign setting for Mekton II‘s anime-based RPG system, it also introduced new rules for psionics, alien races, and starship combat and construction. That last item was of the most interest to me, as Star Blazers was my introduction to Japanese animation and its epic battles between capital starships dug its hooks deep into my youthful imagination.
The rules were short and simple, and the club was well stocked with hex maps and models leftover from previous members’ Star Fleet Battles campaigns, so we decided to give it a test run with each player fielding a single capital vessel in a free-for-all engagement. It only took ten minutes of play for us to figure out how unbalanced the mechanics actually were.
While I opted for a classic Yamato/Argo type ship and the other players did riffs on Star Wars/Star Trek vessels, the group’s token math major was quick to exploit a loophole and create a battlecruiser with a mass of micro-lasers that functioned as an armor-stripping cosmic sandblaster. He managed to cripple or destroy every other ship on the map until the last few survivors ganged up on him and disabled his engines. I finished him — and the session — by ramming him with the riddled hulk of my once-proud flagship.
It was a fun time, despite (or because of) that meta wrinkle, and we informally workshopped possible revisions to improve the experience. Nothing ever came out of it, however. It worked as a one off but lacked the novel “hook” that the Warhammer campaign had.
It also didn’t help that I spent the last half hour of the session sweating through my Agnostic Front t-shirt as my date stood over my shoulder and sighed loudly.