I recently had a chance to talk about the local RPG scene in an interview with CJ Leung for his YouTube channel, Don’t Stop Thinking. As I explained, Malaysian roleplayers are into a lot of RPGs: Dungeons & Dragons, Vampire: the Masquerade, Call of Cthulhu, Monsterhearts 2 and a host of other games — even live-action roleplaying! How did this come to pass?
How We Became Roleplayers
The diverse and lively Malaysian roleplaying scene didn’t suddenly spring into existence full-formed and clad in armour, like Athena from the head of Zeus. Each of us found roleplaying in different ways. Newspaper columns. Comic store shelves. Online communities. Internet videos and streaming. But most of all, because roleplaying is an inherently social hobby, we found it through one another.
I mean…who else would we play with?
Early Years: The ’80s
It wasn’t easy to get roleplaying game books in Malaysia in the 1980s, but copies of D&D and other games did make it over here during the early years. I found myself invited to play Advanced Dungeons & Dragons for the first time at a friend’s house back in the late ’80s, and right away I knew that I didn’t want the biggest sword (my human ranger took a short sword) or the best stats (although those mattered too). I just wanted to be a part of the story.
My real start as a gamemaster came from kind fortune. I received, as a Christmas present, a treasure trove of four roleplaying boxed sets: The Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set! Ghostbusters! Middle Earth Roleplaying! And Twilight:2000! I don’t think I could have had a better start. However, the first system I actually used to run a game was Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone’s Fighting Fantasy roleplaying game (1984).
In my high school years, I ran an epic three-year series of interconnected Mystara and Spelljammer campaigns for my friends using Dungeons & Dragons. During this time, pretty much all my roleplaying was done at home, or at the homes of friends.
I was excited to see that comic stores in my neighbourhood of Petaling Jaya (The Mind Shop, and later The Final Frontier) brought in a number of RPG rulebooks and supplements. These included various Dungeons & Dragons Gazetteers, the Star Wars RPG, Twilight:2000, Traveller/Megatraveller, Dungeons & Dragons, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Other Strangeness, Robotech, and Rifts. However, I spent more money on official AD&D, Dragonlance and Spelljammer comics than I did actual RPGs, My primary RPG muses were creators like Dan Mishkin, Jeff Grubb and Jan Duursema. The comic books of my youth fed me a diet of sudden changes of allegiance, twists of fate and cliffhangers to be continued next time. So the storylines in my games reflected these.
Words of Wonder: The ’90s
The Star newspaper’s Section 2 pullout underwent a major facelift starting in 1988. Section 2 editor Davin Arul made it a point to add more lifestyle and pop culture content, most notably a Wednesday Games column on tabletop board games and RPGs by Asohan Aryaduray.
Asohan’s column explored far and wide in the world of roleplaying, discussing strange and esoteric games that we had never seen in our Klang Valley comic stores: Pendragon, Shadowrun, Vampire: the Masquerade, Talislanta and more. He also devoted numerous articles to a series on world building called The Great Malaysian Campaign World. For an entire generation of readers, this newspaper column opened their eyes to a new world of imagination. If you grew up in a town outside of the Klang Valley, Asohan’s articles were the only introduction to RPGs you might get – finding information online wasn’t an option at this time.
“To all my younger generation Malaysia RPG peoples. This is my personal scrapbook of some Malaysian RPG history. Enjoy! Tun Kai Poh u shud remember, and shout out to A.Asohan the legend! Mr. Asohan its about time you got some shine for what you did for all us RPG geeks from back in the day! Enjoy younguns!”
The Wheel of Time rolled on, and Asohan’s time in Section 2 eventually came to an end. When he moved overseas to work, he donated much of his game collection to the comic shop The Final Frontier, where it was eventually stolen (along with other items) and sold on eBay by an unscrupulous employee! Funny enough, Asohan’s Fiend Folio ultimately ended up in the hands of one of his fans, RPG artist Nicholas Ong (Stars Without Number Revised).
The friendly local comic shops weren’t the only places where you could learn about roleplaying. After the collapse of the comic book speculator bubble of the 1990s, the market had contracted. By the turn of the millennium, many comic shops were starting to depend more on sales of Magic: the Gathering, Pokemon and other popular collectible card games, which offered a volume of sales unmatched by other games. Even some miniature wargaming stores got in on the card game craze.
You could (and still can) sometimes get a group together to play RPGs at some of the card game shops that popped up like mushrooms after the advent of Magic. However, whenever table space was at a premium, card gamers would be given precedence over roleplayers in these shops.
Gamer Havens: The 2000s
In the 2000s, D&D continued to be the most popular RPG in Malaysia, first with D&D 3rd Edition, then D&D 3.5, then to a lesser degree D&D 4th Edition (a personal favourite). I could find these books in a few comic shops and bookstores, but often the bookstores would neglect to restock the core rulebooks like the Player’s Handbook and the Dungeon Master’s Guide. Thanks to the arrival of the Dungeons & Dragons collectible miniature game in some game shops, it became easy for new Dungeon Masters to get plenty of props for their campaigns.
As Internet shopping became popular, more gamers learned to order their RPG books from Amazon or Noble Knight Games. During this time I also got to know a few local gamers through online communities like RPG.net. In the 2000s a number of my friends formed an informal RPG group, first called Kindred of KL (Vampire RPG reference), then simply Gamers of KL. We used Yahoo Groups, then Google Groups, then later Facebook to organise and keep in touch.
My group began to run games in public venues like Wolfs Game Shop, Comics Corner and the beloved game cafe Mage Cafe (now defunct), and we soon came into contact with more and more local roleplayers. Gamers of KL’s membership grew into the hundreds.
RPG-friendly game stores were springing up all around the Klang Valley and beyond, including Wira Games & Hobbies in Subang Jaya, Spartan Games Arena in Wangsa Maju (now defunct), and RNG Games in Penang. At the same time, Euro-style board games started to grow in the country, and as new game cafes opened, roleplayers took advantage of these new outlets to host RPGs.
There were even a couple of tabletop gaming conventions in the Klang Valley — MaGaCon 2011 and 2012 — which promoted miniature wargaming, live-action roleplaying (LARP) and open roleplaying sessions.
A League of Our Own
I didn’t think that I could be surprised by RPGs anymore, but in the late 2010s, I was proven wrong. A whole generation of young Malaysian gamers began playing Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, driven in part by weekly open games run at local shops like Comics Mart in Mid Valley Megamall. You can read more about the good work of the local Adventurer’s League in my interview with Gray Ham. Malaysians also started organising more LARP events. D&D and other RPGs started showing up regularly at tabletop gaming events and conventions (again, see my interview with Gray). Now, for the first time, we have a plurality of gamers discovering D&D by watching Actual Play videos. It’s breathtaking to behold.
Today, there are Malaysian roleplaying groups all across social media. You can find Actual Plays on Youtube; photo galleries on Instagram and Pinterest; bustling communities on Facebook for players, gamemasters and designers; and a number of active Malaysian bloggers.
Every generation has added to the rich tapestry of Malaysian roleplaying. We all came to RPGs by different ways. Now, we get to share our dreams and adventures. Together.
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