Things I Like: Table-top Role Playing Games

I learned how to play Dungeons & Dragons — the basic set, the red box — in 1980. I know this because my first character sheet is dated from 1980. That means I was seven years old.

The GM was my father, and he ran a campaign for me, my friends, and my little brother. Our adversary was Basilemethos, which my dad explained was Greek for “Prince without a kingdom.” My dad read a little Greek, what he’d learned in seminary. I found the fact that the names had meaning to be dramatic and powerful.

I found everything about D&D to be dramatic and powerful. More to the point, I found gaming to be orderly. My father, and therefore the rest of us, switched over to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons fairly quickly. I read all the rule books, all the modules, that he bought. For a very, very long time — until I was around thirty years old — I could recite THAC0 charts for you, if you asked. I learned what beryl, theodolites, glaives, bill hooks, and phylacteries all were from AD&D. And it was all laid out in charts and tables. Life, and people, in charts and tables.

In high school and college I played the best AD&D game of my life. JoeShi was the DM, with Tom, Jen, Jen, me, and Scott as the more-or-less core of the players. We played on vacations, when we were all back in town from college, and we played for seventy-two hours at a stretch. I think the sleep deprivation contributed to the feverish quality of my memories of those gaming sessions. Also, likely, to my play during them.

See, I always play the same characters, the same way. No matter whatt game I’m playing — AD&D, World of Darkness, GURPS Space, steampunk, cyberpunk, superhero, it doesn’t matter — I will play the same character. Every character I play is a short, stocky, blond-or-red-haired woman who likes doing a lot of damage. Axes, shotguns, gauss rifles, two weapon attacks, bolts of fire, whatever works. She is always practical, always reluctant to lead, and always impatient to start a fight. She’s a jack of all trades, too, not super good at any one thing but a little bit good at lot. If milieu permits, she rides a motorcycle.

I play this character in no small part because there’s very little acting involved. There’s no drama, no backstory, there’s just a set of responses to action. I don’t have to emote with this character, at all. I am terrible at the role-playing parts of role-playing games.

I was less terrible in Joe’s campaign. I distinctly recall standing up from my chair in his parents’ basement, at some ghastly hour of the morning, giving speeches about honor and responsibility and how if we don’t do this, no-one will. I wasn’t the paladin in the party. That was Sir Gawaine, Knight of Ptah. But at three a.m. it wasn’t really possible to hide my inner Lancelot.

It was gaming that let me do this. The rules and forms of gaming gave me a sense of security, of knowing what was going on. I felt in control of role-playing games, whether I was a player or the GM. This sense of control was not something I felt in the rest of my life. Having control, or a sense of it, in a game, let me play more with expressing other things. Like knighthood.

The first woman I ever flirted with on purpose was an evil villain sorceress antagonist of our party, being played by Joe, my male DM.

These days I feel far more in control of my life. I don’t need to look for that control in games, or playing solitaire, or sorting my food into groups of the Right and Proper Colors and Shapes and Numbers. (Only M&Ms. And candy corn. And a few other things.) Yet I still find the rhythms of rpgs to be exceedingly comforting. I breathe in the smell of the rule books, my shoulders relax at the clatter of plastic dice. Role-playing games have always and forever meant I was with a group of people who liked me and who I liked. It has always and forever meant gentle teasing and acknowledgment of foibles without any bitter sting. Role-playing games are a place where I am known, and seen, and rarely judged negatively. This may have a lot to do with the people I choose to play with. But that doesn’t alter my perception of the games.

There are some things we learn to identify as Home. A group of friends pretending to be someone else while simultaneously being more themselves than reality allows, this is my home.

One Response

  1. Its funny, because I think we all have those games. The game that makes a difference, and sometimes its a game that changes the way you play. I used to play the strong, mysterious with a penchant for the wild places. I played Gangrel, rangers and other sorts.

    The game that made the difference for me was a DnD game where I played a cleric of technology. I found myself resisting my inner good guy as I struggled to play a neutral character. It was a good time.

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