One weekend morning in the early 2000s, RuneScape.com was down. That’s right—the free-to-play fantasy MMORPG that had entranced millions of middle schoolers around the world, including me, with its charming graphics and goofy quests and people constantly shouting and scamming outside the bank in Varrock, was mysteriously offline.
I was devastated. Would it be back up in a few minutes? A few hours? This week? I didn’t know, and I couldn’t just put down my craving for some fantasy RPG action.
So I decided to create my own entire fantasy world with its own RPG instead.
The War of Mmruda has begun! The merciless Knights from continent Zesilaire have become so greedy in their quest for ultimate power that they have engrossed themselves in war with nearby continent Moridel, the homeland of the Wizards. And to the victor of the war, the continent itself!
Now as the war wages on, you have been selected to join the fight—either side of the fight. Shall you be a knight, with valor, armor, and weapons unmatched? Or are you a cunning wizard, with endless spellbooks, amulets, and even the Elements on your side? And there are many more warrior classes to come. For this is Mmruda, and its fate now lies in your hands…
The War of Mmruda is a project I hold very dear. Inspired by my frustration that I couldn’t play RuneScape one day, I went and made AN ENTIRE TABLETOP ROLE PLAYING GAME. And that was only the first of many forms that this project took over the course of years. I kept trying to make this world and its “epic” “backstory” into a thing, again and again, adding to its depth with each iteration.
Y’all, I want to be clear. At that point in my life, I’m pretty sure I was only vaguely aware that something called “Dungeons & Dragons” even existed. So I want to stress how ridiculous it is that at something like age 12, I tried to reinvent the concept from scratch.
Of course, that also meant it was an incredibly bad game. Rereading this “Complete Instruction Manual” for the first time in twenty years, I now realize what I designed was basically a board game masquerading as a TTRPG. There’s no game master (despite me listing a couple friends who contributed to the project’s development as Game Masters in the Credits); there’s no improv or storytelling; it’s just… the players come to a game with their existing characters, and they have a turn-based battle, like…
… Like Pokémon. God damn it, this is just the Pokémon battle system, but excruciatingly simplified and simultaneously convoluted. Players pick their moves at the same time, and the one with the higher Speed stat attacks first? It’s just POKÉMON.
And yet, I was still able to get a handful of people to play it with me. Kids will play any game, I guess. And in true obsessive-data-archivist fashion, I appear to have kept not just my old character sheet, but everyone’s. And a log of all the duels that ever happened. And separate from the instruction manual itself for some reason, all the pages of item stats, weapons, stats for a few dozen of the Beasts that lived on planet Mmruda… A heck of a lot of width for a system with so little depth.
But I was a literal child at the time, so I was out of my depth to begin with. Naturally, the War of Mmruda tabletop game never caught on. But at that point, I was still infatuated with the world of Mmruda itself, and I was determined to find a way to bring it to the masses.
The War of Mmruda: The Trading Card Game
That’s right. A crude attempt at a TTRPG didn’t work, so what did I try next? A trading card game. Complete with starter decks, and booster packs, and presumably, someone to play with other than myself. That last part never happened, sadly. In fact I don’t think I ever actually designed any cards for this game, despite coming up with rules for how to play.
Which is especially baffling, because this iteration of the project happened right after I designed a card game for Yabachi, my other fantasy world, and I drew hundreds of cards for that in MS Paint. (I swear, I’ll talk about Yabachi someday in this Childhood Creative Projects series.)
In case you couldn’t tell, I was really into the cool new anime named Yu-Gi-Oh! at the time.
So, the card game was a complete and utter failure, except for the fact that it allowed me to stretch my creative muscles a lot, and it continued to keep the flame of Mmruda alive in my heart. But I wasn’t done with it yet. Maybe a card game was too esoteric a format for the concept. So what did my genius mind decide to try next?
The War of Mmruda: The TI-83 Plus Graphing Calculator RPG
I’ve talked a little bit before on this blog about my days in the graphing calculator programming community. How I learned to program on it during the summer before high school, how I quickly became entrenched in graphing calculator programming forums online, how I rose up in the ranks and even became a moderator on one of the forums (okay, I haven’t mentioned that part before). In fact, for many years, if you googled my name, the top result was my review on ticalc.org of a game demo for “Pokémon Purple.”
Anyway, to make a long story short, eventually I realized this was the perfect way to revive The War of Mmruda: as a full length RPG you could play on your calculator, exploring (and eventually saving) the world of Mmruda while you were supposed to be paying attention in class.
Fun fact about that title screen: the TI-83 Plus series of calculators doesn’t actually support grayscale. But if you flick a single pixel back and forth between on and off quickly enough, it looks gray to the human eye. That title screen image is actually two images being rapidly swapped back and forth. Calculator programming was full of jank workarounds like that.
I had what I thought was a pretty cool gimmick for the game’s graphics: it was all text-based, but with two layers of text. There’s only so many alphanumeric characters available on a calculator, even if you download the special apps that let you unlock the lowercase characters. But if you overlap two of them? You get a few half-decent “sprites” that are really easy to display on the graph screen.
I put so much effort into this game’s title screen and the new game intro cutscene… And that’s all I ever finished. Five minutes of epic backstory (finally with some actual epicness and some actual backstory!) in an opening cinematic, and then you name your character, and then it just ends.
But that was kind of par for the course for well known game projects in the graphing calculator community. It was all vaporware, because we were all kids in over our heads. And in retrospect, I don’t think I would have wanted it any other way.
The War of Mmruda: The Fantasy Novel Series
And so we come to the final iteration. The scope of the story of Mmruda continually increased over the years I kept coming back to it—especially once it became a video game RPG, because then I started putting serious effort into figuring out the storyline—until eventually, I realized it should just be a book series. A five-book series.
(No images for this section, sorry. Screenshots of ancient book outline Google docs aren’t nearly as interesting as physical artifacts like the instruction manuals.)
I never made it very far with this iteration, despite it being the iteration that still stands to this day. (I mean… It’s been abandoned for years, but I never replaced it with an even more obscure version of the saga, so it still stands. Kind of.) Never wrote anything beyond the broadest of outlines for the entire saga. I figured out the cliffhangers each book would end with, and some of the details for they get to those endings, but… not nearly enough.
I have a distinct memory of telling one of my friends all about my plans for the saga on one of my last few days of high school. Maybe that’s why I abandoned it—because all throughout my college years, I was actively working on other writing projects. Newer, fresher, more exciting projects than this dinky old nonstarter that I had been dragging around for ages.
With that in mind, I’m content to leave The War of Mmruda squarely in the past. It was fun for its time, but that time has long come and gone. And gone. And gone again. It just kept going, and I kept letting it go. If there’s a lesson to be learned here, it’s something about knowing when it’s time to move on.
(But seriously though, that calculator game title screen is a work of art. I will never stop loving it for how unnecessarily cool it is.)