When I had more time and fewer children, I used to play a lot of RPGs. Table-top kind, pen and paper, Old School RPGs, I’m talking about. Like so many, I started with the Brown Box when I was too young to have a handle on it, switched up to the Basic Set, and then berated, harassed, and otherwise begged my parents to acquire for me the AD&D hardcovers, the First Edition. They bought them for me, too, then tried to hide them from me to use as a birthday present. I found where they’d hidden them and would sneak them out to read and play, then return them. My surprise when I unwrapped them was decidedly unconvincing, I’m sure.

By the time I reached high school, I’d fallen in with a group of Marvel Zombies, and not unsurprisingly, all of them were gamers, too. They introduced me to Traveller, RuneQuest, Call of Cthulhu… the list goes on and on. Already a fan of espionage, I discovered Top Secret all on my own.

(I could have totally link-spammed the hell out of that above paragraph, for the record. You got off lucky.)

There’s a tangental discussion to be had – another post perhaps – where I’ll wax philosophical about the connection between writing and playing RPGs, but that’s for later. What’s for now is the RPG I discovered one day shortly after college, when I wandered into one of the few games stores in my home town.

This one:

And I bought it on the spot because, simply, I thought it was cool.

Much like Rick, I didn’t have a word for the appeal, I couldn’t Name the Power, and I certainly wouldn’t have thought of “steampunk” as a descriptor, despite my familiarity and love for cyberpunk, at the time. But that cover told me everything I wanted to know, told me that this was a world where I could take a lifelong love for The Great Detective, for H.G. Wells, for Jules Verne, for Poe, and smash them together in something that would be a hell of a lot of fun to play.

If memory serves, I think Jen and I played the game…twice. Maybe less. I’ve no idea why. I’ve no idea if I found the rules incomprehensible or if life got in the way or what, but all I know is, I can’t find the book any more, and I can’t remember the rules system to save my life.

Doesn’t matter. What matters is this. What I love about RPGs is that it’s about telling a story. And that was the appeal of the game, that was the promise of the cover. The stories that could be told within. The stories that could be told and shared. Digging around for reference as I wrote this, I came upon a site that mentioned the game and “Aether” in the same sentence. Up until that moment, I’d been 100% certain that my decision to use “Ineffable Aether” had stemmed from reading Brian Greene discussing the fabric of the cosmos, the term once used to describe that which space is made up of (because Aether sounds cooler to me than “we don’t know” and “dark matter” has been used to death lately). Now I have to wonder if it wasn’t slumbering in my backbrain, if it didn’t offer itself up in association with “steampunk.” If it hadn’t been waiting the whole time.

I read a small piece by Bruce Sterling about the nature of Steampunk just the other day. It’s excerpted from a larger piece, you can read here. But the immediate relevance is as follows:

We are a technological society. When we trifle, in our sly, Gothic, grave-robbing fashion, with archaic and eclipsed technologies, we are secretly preparing ourselves for the death of our own tech. Steampunk is popular now because people are unconsciously realizing that the way that we live has already died. We are sleepwalking. We are ruled by rapacious, dogmatic, heavily-armed fossil-moguls who rob us and force us to live like corpses. Steampunk is a pretty way of coping with this truth.

There’s something to this, without question; at least, there is to me. It’s the analysis of one of the finest literary minds of our time, in my opinion, so I’m inclined to give it fair due. He could be right. He probably is right.

Doesn’t matter.

I loved Holmes so much as a child, I remember the delight I had in discovering that other authors had taken up the gauntlet, had written stories. I remember, vividly, lying on a bunk during summer camp, and tearing through Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Holmes, by the amazing Loren D. Estleman, followed by a chaser of Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula. Writing this now, I think I may have tried to write one myself, and I think I couldn’t have been more than 13 at the time, and no, you can’t read it, and I wouldn’t let you read it even if I could find it which I don’t think I can so don’t ask.

Some things you love intuitively; some things call to you young. This had me from the get-go. This had me from the start.

Still does.

Hold fast!