Thursday, July 22, 2021

Dungeons & Joe

Like many of you, I started playing tabletop games at a very young age. Actually, I didn't play the tabletop games, but I played imagination games, which I just called Adventures. I would often bother other kids, either at school or on my Boy Scout camping trips, to play pretend with me. Few did, of course, but the idea was always there.

Fast forward to when I had a stepfamily. We (the children) had a short summer job of dog sitting for an elderly couple. This was before cellphones and the old couple didn't have internet- so we'd go over there and just talk. My older step brother was a very intelligent youth (still is actually- he became an engineer) and I tried to get him to play imagination games with me too. He did, but his insistence on making things more realistic or consistent within the fictional world gave me a newfound insight. It was no longer just about imagining my friends and I fighting monsters, but it was about worlds.

Finally, after I graduated high school, I was introduced to a larger group of friends. These people were acquaintances. I was always very socially awkward, but having matured and being able to finally mingle with a larger group of people was extremely exciting for me. It was then I learned about tabletop games as they are; dice rolling games with rules, splatbooks or fictional settings, and many more. I was fascinated by these and began to read pdfs of rulebooks online- and it was just about that time that I found out about Joe.

Joe's Game
Joe was a friend of a friend. I had met and hung out with him a few times but we were not friends. Strangely, I knew about him for over a year I think and yet never knew about his game. If you're one of the few people who knew about this- shame on you not telling me about this shit sooner. To add to the mystique, I didn't even learn about Joe's game from Joe, but from another friend. We'll call him Leo. Leo was not a close friend of mine but we bonded a bit based on our similar taste in media and a growing love of tabletop games- I learned Leo had a Dungeons and Dragons group he played in, but he also told me all about his adventures in Joe's world, Joe's game. They called it Dungeons & Joe.

Dungeons & Joe wasn't actually D&D. It was a sort of free-formy kind of thing. This was before I knew anything about tabletop games, so this seemed pretty reasonable as far as rules went. As it was explained to me; Joe would just roll a d20 or d6 and then, based on how good the roll was + a character's general skill or power level, that would be how good they did on the action. Certain spells or abilities may have had their own rules- I later learned Leo's character had progressed to the point where he could cast Wish up to two or three times per day, but he had to get lucky and had only a 1 in 20 chance of succeeding on his magical wish.

Now before you create in your mind a bad impression- this wasn't just some tiny little game done among like 3-4 people. Oh no. Joe had been running this game for years. Something like 5 or 6 years of a single continuous fantasy world, with something like twenty odd people having played in it. The most amazing part to me was how Joe kept it all straight in his head; the world had a specific time line. He ran the games while pacing around the room, like he was organizing his thoughts. If you made a new character, he would let you skip ahead- like say take a few years in training for you to catch up to the rest of the players in the timeline, and you'd get stats or skills to match your new training. Every person playing in this game was a unique actor; sometimes they met or even had PvP duels, though I assume these were mostly not in person. Something like the magical arena where dying meant you lost the match, but the magicians would just heal you back to normal right afterwards was probably as high stakes as these battles went, I imagine. But there was politics and inter-character drama, with different characters leading the various factions as they grew in influence.

Now let's talk about the craziest part of all- the setting.

Joe's World

Dungeons and Joe had a unique setting that I truly wish had a published, or at the VERY least a fully written down master list of all the major stuff going on. As far as I'm aware, I'm the first person to write down all this information, or at the very least, make it public. Dungeons and Joe is a modern oral tradition. Sadly, I do not have even a fraction of the full lore, and what I have learned was from talking with second hand sources (the mutual friends, like Leo) from several disjointed talks about 7 to 8 years ago- my information is spotty at best.

So to begin, Dungeons and Joe had a unqiue setting that is very reminiscent of a kitchen sink styled world. Not exclusively fantasy, but having elements of sci-fi, modern fantasy, and super hero media all rolled together. There was a very advanced set of technology mixed with magic, or magitech if you prefer, which powered the world ine one of the different setting planets or worlds. The general theme of the game seemed to focus around powerful individuals (the players) running factions and taking over cities, often with a very D&D esque anarchistic bent. I don't recall any huge governments or empires ruling over the game world, it seemed much more open and free which is a nice way to encourage players to take action in the world.

I don't know the actual cosmology or lore of Joe's world, other then I know for a fact the Gods exist, several of them, and several supernatural magical powers and/or elements seem to have either a consciousness or have a spiritual bent. I therefore have no creation myth to share.

Instead- let's talk about the world(s) themselves. Firstly, there is the Earth. It is very similar to the Earth in the real world, which I think was intentional so players could just self insert and play as themselves. Then there is Gaia. Gaia is a second planet that orbited across from the Earth, perhaps always hidden behind the sun. Gaia and Earth both have very similar human-like primary species, but humans on Gaia are called Gaians and have magic, which humans don't. However, humans can perform acts of “Will” which are similar to chi. Leo once described this to me in a very interesting way; his character, a human, had no magic but his will was so strong that if his arm was chopped off, he would have a glowing energy arm take its place, because he was high enough level at this point in the game that a major debilitating injury like that could be overcome with his natural prowess.

Also; Gaia and the Earth somehow crossed over. This seems to be where the important shit in the setting “starts” as far as my knowledge goes, in terms of the different magic/technology crossing over. I'm unsure if this event happened in the ancient past or if it's relatively modern, but it's important as it allows the powers to cross over in a sense. There was also apparently a third planet called “Terra” but let's not get into that right now.

This setting featured a lot of magictech. I recall it being called something akin to Ether. Ether was essentially a mist-like substances that filled the canals and ravines that separated the landmasses of Gaia and/or Earth, which acted like natural barriers. Even then I could see this being a good set up for a campaign, as this meant infinite explorations to players who wanted to explore a new zone. Anyway, Ether was collected and refined into glass orbs called Ether Orbs. These orbs were used like battery packs to power all kinds of magictech machines, like hover bikes and magical 'force' guns.

I specifically remember the guns bit because my character (who I got to play for exactly two sessions- my life's biggest disappointment) had a gun. I was going for a sort of cyber cowboy thing. But Joe was adamant that my character only had six 'real' bullets. Real bullets were apparently either banned, destroyed, or just incredibly rare in this new world. Real bullets were incredibly overpowered, and did “realistic” amounts of damage to people, where as the vast majority of guns and projectile weapons used “force” shots, which were similar to powerful kinetic blasts or points. I really ended up liking this compromise later on, it keeps guns feeling closer to melee weapons in this type of setting.

Sadly, my journey with Dungeons & Joe ended here. I didn't get to play in that game any more, and the friend group this once consisted of slowly faded away and drifted apart. There's no good way to end this blogpost, so instead, let me list the cool shit I remember that didn't fit in with the above.

Cool Stuff

  • Color based magic system. Each "color" of magic had a different specific use. I remember Red being able to like project on surfaces and do something with that surface, and Purple appeared as smoke that could make things bigger or smaller. (This detail was especially cool because another player mentioned a group of assassins that used purple magic to kill people; mostly by making things in their room really big and crushing them to death with them). Of course, there were master mages of color magic who could learn white magic (all colors at once) or learn how to manipulate the color black (which meant they could cancel out other color magic).
  • Magic Item "Letters" owned by Leo at some point in the game. Set of 26 magic letters that granted magic effects to items based on whatever words were spelled out on them, but you only got one of each letter. Leo told me he used him to spell out "TIME" and "WARP" on his twin swords, letting him hit enemies and change time, warp them around, or hitting someone with both at once to send them through a timewarp.
  • Leo's character had a father named "The Green Grenade" who was a semi-famous superhero in the setting. Guess he fought like Batman with different grenade-themed gadgets on his utility belt.
  • The magic used by the Gaians (or through the Ether creation industry- don't remember which) creates a form of negative magical pollution. Most mages can only used the fresh magic energy and create pollution, but another player who I spoke to about the game had a unique character whose whole thing was he was the only one to ever be able to use the pollution as a magical power source, making him a bit of the big name in the setting.
  • At one point, Leo's character became big and important enough to own/rule over or otherwise run a city. I believe the city was quarantined as a vampire plague had spread through it- with Leo's character also getting turned into a vampire. I don't think this was a permanent vampirism though. Because everyone in the city became a vampire I think it was probably just a thirst for blood sort of thing as opposed to actual vampires with actual vampire weaknesses, but I do remember something about shields/domes over the city to stop people from leaving during the quarantine so maybe sunlight was a problem too?
  • Leo told me his character had gotten so powerful that he was seriously considering "starting over"- there was apparently a special fountain or pool owned by the Elves that could rebirth or regenerate someone, starting over from scratch as a mechanic for starting over. I don't remember if it made the individual more powerful afterwards, a sort of Disgaea-esque infinite recursion treadmill, or if it was more like a Doctor Who regeneration.
  • The advanced cities of Earth(?) had flying hovercars and technology, but these were powered by Ether orbs, glowing glass balls filled with magical mist. My character, short lived as he was, used these specifically as ammunition to recharge his force gun.
  • Beastfolk existed in this world; apparently some of them were like Viera in FF XIV, humans with animal traits, but some were more like full furries. More interesting; some of these also started their life cycle looking like actual puppies or baby animals, before growing into a more humanoid shape as they became adults.

I learned about everything here like 10 years ago too, so my memory is spotted. This is as best as my recollection can account. I don't know these people anymore. All I know is that Dungeons & Joe was as strong and inspiration for me as fantasy media was for many others; and I wanted to share the imagination within it. This blogpost was a bit personal, perhaps a bit more then I wanted it to be, so this one is just for me.

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