Player, You Just Don’t Know

The following post was sent to me by my wife, LWStoryteller, after she read my most recent post here, and I thought it deserved posting.  Her story of how she got involved in our hobby is a great one, and I think a lesson or two maybe pulled out of it.

“The first time I played anything D&D related, it was a board game my cousin had invested in and was eager to play.  My brother and I were visiting the summer I turned 12, and we had barely said our hellos before being accosted and dragged into my cousin’s room for an “adventure”, as he put it.  Up to that point the only games I had played were Life, Monopoly, and Scrabble (requiring cold objectivity), or arcade video games (requiring the agile wrists and quick fingers of a well-trained musician). But, my cousin said, this was going to be like a treasure hunt full of magic and make believe.  Unfortunately, my gaming mind seemed hard wired for cold calculation only.  I may have looked like a sweet innocent girl, but I finished the game quickly with a massive fireball that left my cousin and brother in shock in the wake of my destruction.  I win, I thought.  Too easy.

Obviously, I didn’t get it.

Fast forward to my late teens.  I was working in a toy store and living with my best friend and a man-boy who could give Peter Pan a run for his money.  Man-boy and his friends, by then, had been deeply immersed in the universe of RPGs for close to a decade.  As the Wendy to Man-boy’s Peter, I felt obliged at least to try D&D again to see if I could figure out what all the fuss was about.  I explained the brief exposure I had to my cousin’s board game and how I trounced the other players in record time.  My proud and haughty tale was met with shaking heads and face palms from Man-boy’s friends.

“No! That’s not role-playing,” one said.

“This is more like … teamwork, but with swords and spells,” said another.

“Join us!” Man-boy dramatically urged as the others giggled and smirked.  The part of me that had read that D&D was like some sort of Satan-worship was becoming a little incredulous.

Before beginning a true “adventure”, Man-boy explained, I should to take some time to create my character. I was then handed a set of strange-looking dice.  He brought out several books and opened them to pages on everything from elven to dwarven races to scales of intellect and strength to gear and weapons to random rolls on hair and eye color. I found myself sitting for hours engrossed in making character after character and writing out back stories for each one.  Imagining each character like a child of my own creation living a life in another dimension (instead of an empty top hat or plastic car full of pink and blue pegs) had pried open my mind and heart to the idea of roll-playing. I found myself wanting to test out this character to see if her wit and wisdom could overcome those who were stronger or outnumbered her.  I wanted to try another character, whose agility rivaled that of my brother’s comic book heroes, in one-on-one rounds against bad guys.  I wanted to imagine what it would be like to be stronger in body and in mind than I saw myself in real life.  I had not even started a game, and I was hooked by the potential that role-playing had to offer me.

With all the starry-eyed hope of a newly awakened player, though, my visions of trouncing evil at every turn began to waiver as dice role after dice roll left me humbled in the dust.  I grew to realize that RPG characters, like ourselves, must evolve before developing the acclaimed status we often so desire. Like many board games, the gods of fate may deliver blows or bounty in the casting of the die. But unlike video games, your character will not come back to life.  If you are too reckless with her or hold back a roll when her strength is necessary for your band of players to survive, you may find yourself silently mourning and unable to pick up with a newly cast character until next time because, you realize, you cared about that person on paper that you just lost.  You cared about all the things you were able to do as that character. You cared about the shared adventures and stories retold over the years. You cared about pushing out of the mold of self-imposed traits. It wasn’t just the fate of the dice roll that made you care. Nor was it your ability to pick up and role-play just any character like an evening at an improv class. You created a life that you shared with friends.  You became invested in a wider scope of possibility while bravely facing that what is possible is not always what is preferable. And you’d spend years at it.

So, players of other games, beware.  If you come to the tabletop RPGs, don’t expect to walk away unscathed or unaffected at all. Come with your imagination revving.  And remember — these games are not only about winning or the level you reach or knowing the set of moves that will beat the big bad guy at the end of a level every time.  Tabletop RPGs are really adventures.  And these adventures for the TRULY courageous of heart.”

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