Now to geek out about another beloved hobby of mine.
I could say that I have always been, from childhood on, really into role-playing games. I was an imaginative kid, and my brothers and I loved nothing better than a good game of pretend. These games were often violent, and sometimes involved dangerous stunts, but that just made them all the more immersive. And when I say violent, I mean more in the “boys will be boys” kind of way. I did get a tooth knocked out one time, but it was going to fall out anyway.
When kids role-play, it’s just a natural, fluid thing. They can dive into a game of pretend anywhere, anytime. Any setting or physical space can be transformed into something way more interesting. I’m sure there’s plenty of theories about how and why we play this way as children. Maybe it’s because we don’t have a solid sense of self yet, or maybe we just don’t care as much about acting ridiculous in front of other people. As kids approach the early teens, this sort of behavior tends to disappear. Unless of course, you were a geek like me, and you just couldn’t stay away from those dream worlds.
My preferred form of role-playing game is the tabletop version. You’ve heard of Dungeons and Dragons, the true epitome of nerdliness. That stuff is my bread and butter, and D&D, along with many other games like it, have given me years of good stories and enjoyable times with friends. The funny thing about these games is that they’re actually very different from childhood games of pretend (I know, I had a metaphor going). If anything fits that metaphor, it’s LARPing. Tabletop RPG’s require, in my experience, a great amount of patience, a love for complex rules and systems, and some amount of improvisational talent. This is a weird combination of traits, and I think that’s part of the reason why RPG’s remain a niche hobby. In my early years, I unwittingly created many RPG’s to play with my brothers (eventually, just my younger brother). I would write them up in spiral-bound notebooks. They had maps, charts, and a lot of arbitrary rules. They were probably tedious as hell for my siblings, but as the creator I was enjoying the power trip. I called them “GOP’s,” or “Games on Paper.” I’ve since distanced myself from that acronym, for reasons.
In spite of all this, I never tried playing an actual RPG until college, which is kind of mind-boggling. I had the second edition Monstrous Manual in second grade (oh the magic!), and I even had a close friend who played D&D. This friend also had a large knife collection, and honest-to-god Desert Storm Tradings Cards, so maybe I had my reasons. But I was also in denial for a long time about how much of a geek I really was, and I don’t think I dealt with that until I left home. When I was away at school, someone on my hall had practically every third edition D&D book ever released, and was very gracious about lending them out. The dam burst, the Sleeper Awoke, and so on, I was hooked. As an actor, a writer, a world-builder, and someone fascinated with fiction, it was always meant to be.
I’m almost always the Gamemaster in any RPG that I play with friends. I spin the plot, act out the minor characters, and (less successfully) teach and interpret the rules. To this day I maintain a great love for old-fashioned, complex, traditional sorts of games. But over the years I discovered that the hobby was diverse, and changing, like everything else. In the late aughts there was a movement towards games that were light on rules, and encouraged more interesting, dynamic storytelling. The history and progress of that movement is worthy of it’s own post, but I can at least drop a few illustrious names. I became inspired by the works of Vincent Baker, Ben Robbins, Avery McDaldno, and Emily Care Boss. These talents have written accessible, elegant games that produce great stories. They are called, appropriately, Story Games. D&D, and other beasts like it are usually known as “traditional RPG’s.”
For a while, I had tried my hand at writing games of my own in the new style (and some of them I might eventually share on Castle Mordrigault, after some polishing). When I first moved to Northampton, I was lucky enough to be invited to a game designers workshop, featuring some of the people I mentioned. I worked on a game called Exodus of the Kiwa, a game about community, travel and hardship (and lobsters). I never got it to a place that I was happy with, but who knows, in this time of renewed creative energy, maybe I’ll come back to it.
Tabletop RPG’s are likely going to be a subject I return to, a lot, on this blog. My forays into freelancing have been for a tabletop gaming company, many of my creative projects relate to it in some form or another. It’s a part of who I am, and probably always will be.
Image courtesy of Benjamin Esham, Creative Commons