#RPGaDAY2019 ~ Lost (day 22)

Sometimes we want to get lost. The noise of every day life and that all the things competing for attention can be difficult to drown out. Sometimes the cacophony in our own heads needs a volume knob and we can’t seem to find it.

The word immersion gets tossed around quite a bit. It’s difficult to talk about because you have to talk about what you’re actually immersed in. But whatever this metaphorical immersive fluid might be, when we are fully engaged in our RPG experience we can get lost very easily. We can literally lose ourselves, lose track of time, and be fully in the moment.

Bias and preference will lead us to different things, but at the end of the day it doesn’t matter if we are losing ourselves in the fiction, the characters, strategic gameplay, exploring a premise, or whatever floats our boat. All of the other things competing for our attention get blocked out and we can get ourselves lost in a place that we don’t mind being. In fact, it’s exactly where we want to be.

Who needs directions?

#RPGaDAY2019 ~ Vast (day 21)

When I was a child the world seemed vast. With my eyes wide open I looked up and saw the boundless realms before me.

I read about space, paleontology, entomology, the deep sea, tales of adventure, and stories of wonder. I looked up at the sky and allowed myself to dream. The possibilities seemed endless and there was no way I could explore them all.

But then something awful happened. I grew up.

As I grew larger my life became smaller. Responsibility and practicality required that I cast my eyes down from the heavens and focus on where I was, what I was doing. The proclivity to dream still remained but there was less and less time. Things needed my attention. The world had not become any less vast but My focus and efforts were required elsewhere. I became a productive member of society, but life was passing me by.

RPGs offer us the opportunity to return to contemplating and exploring the vastness of life. We can throw off the shackles of practicality and realism and explore whatever suits our fancy. This could be literal exploration of darkest Africa or of uncharted space, or could be going deep down the rabbit hole of the premise of android rights or a scenario where things are heating up to the boiling point and tough choices need to be made.

The trope of “saving the world” is cliché but we are also free to experience how small and insignificant we really are compared to the vastness of the universe, or of a bloody Civil War, or of the challenge of planetary colonization, or the indifference of cosmic beings who were old before our newly formed world cooled off.

Perhaps nothing is more vast than the endless possibilities of what will happen next? There are so many variables. There’s no way we can know what will emerge as the various players at the table participate. This is a realm of exploration and experience to rival charting the galaxy.

Far from being a simple escape, role-playing games allow us to momentarily take the focus off of our little corner of the world that we need to attend to, and allow us to look up like we did when we were children.

It is a truly vast world out there.

My God, it’s full of stars.

#RPGaDAY2019 ~ Noble (day 20)

I suppose I try to live a life that one could call noble. I try to do the best I can and to make a difference in my little corner of the world. That said, I don’t exactly jump on my white horse looking for damsels in distress or dragons to slay. Likewise, very often there is a cost to noble actions. Sometimes you have to weigh the potential downside because real life is filled with plenty of consequences and peril. This becomes more difficult when we have responsibilities to other people.

Role playing games offer us the opportunity to experience, witness, and participate in moments of extreme nobility. It’s my opinion that these are best when they are not contrived or engineered but emerge naturally due to the decisions the characters make in tough situations.

Some of my favorite moments in RPGs involve moments of sacrifice or heroism. Some involve characters making sacrifices to make the world a better place, a world which they will never have the opportunity to enjoy. Others involve characters taking a stand, sometimes against impossible odds, when they are ready to say enough is enough and they draw the line in the sand. Whatever the circumstances, these moments are always moving & memorable.

It is in these kind of moments that I find inspiration. Sometimes I wish that I was as brave as our characters. But sometimes, I think that each noble act that we take or witness in our games helps us to be a little braver and more noble in our own lives.

#RPGaDAY2019 ~ Scary (day 19)

I’m not a person that really enjoys fear. Some people love amusement park rides, horror movies, jump slasher films, extreme sports where your life is on the line, and all that other happy crap. I’m not one of them. I have enough experience and exposure to fear and terror in real life, I don’t need to go looking for it.

That said, there is a very enjoyable and positive type of fear in the role playing game experience. Years ago, one of my players who was new to the RPG experience happily exclaimed “this is like gambling & make-believe all at once!”

“You want to do what? You’re gonna have to roll for that.”

One of the great things about RPG’s is that the outcomes are not certain. Many times our characters face conflict. It doesn’t have to be combat, just a situation where there could be consequences. There’s nothing like those looks of fear and concern as we crowd around the plastic gods waiting to see what news the oracle brings us.

It’s a great thing when this is a little bit scary. Why? Because it means that we care. In some way the experience has become real to us and the consequences matter. We are in the moment, and the stakes have become important.

These moments of fear and concern don’t always have to happen around resolution mechanics or procedures. Any time that something happens in the fiction that causes us to become concerned about the outcomes or possible consequences the experience becomes enhanced. Some magical barrier gets crossed and we act as though things matter, because to us they do.

Thrilling, isn’t it?

#RPGaDAY2019 ~ Plenty (day 18)

RPGaDAY is about positivity, but I can say that perhaps there are a few things as tragic as when gamers aren’t aware or accepting of the diversity of the hobby and assume that all the other games out there are like the one they are already playing, or that they aren’t any good because they’re not like the one that they’re playing. Likewise it is equally tragic when we fall into the trap of believing that there is only one true way to play.

Perhaps the most tragic of all is when somebody leaves the hobby because they aren’t finding the experience that they want and they assume that it can’t be had here simply because they aren’t aware of all the other possibilities that are available.

We live in a golden age of plenty when it comes to RPGs. There are literally thousands of them out there with new ones being developed every day. If we sat down and played one new game a week we would never get to the end of them. The hobby has grown much bigger than our ability as individuals to experience all of it. This is not necessarily a bad thing. The world is full of a lot of people. I have no idea how many of them are tabletop gamers, but it’s safe to say that there’s something for everybody.

If you like tactical play and detailed number-crunching there is a game for you. If you want to engage in over the top thespianism, there is a game for you. If you want to engage in a collective writers room experience where are you and your friends come up with the most awesome scenarios there is a game for you. If you want an experience as the character in whatever setting in almost any situation there is a game for you. Name a theme or a premise or a genre and there is a game for you.

Likewise if you have a particular approach to play that works for you there are other people out there that want the same thing. Not only is there a game for you but there is a group for you. There aren’t just plenty of games, there are plenty of people out there that want the same experience that you want. You may have to find them on the Internet and end up playing online with people half a world away, but you will find kindred spirits out there if you take the time to look for them. There are plenty.

Just because the public side of the hobby tends to be dominated by a few games and a couple of approaches to play doesn’t mean that there aren’t many others that are alive and well. As individuals we can only be made richer by putting aside contempt prior to investigation and exploring the vast array of possibilities out there. We may find us some aren’t a good fit for us, but I believe that we come away better for the experience. How we really know unless we look at and try the cornucopia available to all of us?

It’s a good time to be a tabletop role-playing gamer. We have plenty of options.

#RPGaDAY2019 ~ One (day 17)

Part of the allure of role playing games is the limitless potential. The regular shackles and boundaries of reality are cast off and we are free to imagine and do the impossible. We are set free. But freedom comes with a price. At some point we realize that without limitations or boundaries anywhere none of it really matters.

As Harry Nilsson told us in The Point, “A point in every direction is the same as no point at all.”

Looking at this prompt for today I was inspired to think of the limitations that we place into the fiction, the procedures, & the mechanics. Far from being restrictive, these limitations can give meaning to what we are doing. They bring order to chaos.

You only have one shot at this. Do or die.

There is only one Stormbringer, not 100 identical magic swords.

There can only be one party caller.

Of the choices before you can you can only choose one. Choose wisely.

There can only be one champion. Many will enter but only one shall emerge victorious. Are you the one?

This mystery has many possible solutions, but only one is correct.

Game X has one set of rules and procedures. If you’re not following them, you’re playing it wrong.

There is only one Last of the Brunnen-G.

It doesn’t really matter if the limitations are exactly one or a handful. Just the fact that they are finite and precious is enough. The fact that the restrictions balance out the otherwise limitless possibilities makes everything stand out in stark contrast and matter more. The things that are finite matter because they are, and the things that are without boundaries stand out in contrast.

Sometimes rolling a one is good, sometimes it’s bad. Depends on the game.

“Just one more thing…” ~ Columbo

#RPGaDAY2019 ~ Dream (day 16)

“For I have always been a seeker, a dreamer, and a ponderer on seeking and dreaming…” ~ H.P. Lovecraft

I like dreaming. The stranger the better. Sometimes my dreams are quite vivid and quite bizarre. When I am lucky I can recall them in great detail. Just recently I’ve been able to recall my dreams again after a long period of being unable to. This makes me happy. I had missed them so.

I suppose I’ve always been a dreamer. Ever since I can remember I was always imagining something. What it was varied, but one thing remained constant. I was there. I never really imagined anything without placing myself in it. But then again, that’s not really true. Very often I imagined being somebody else. That person was there. But somehow, I was them.

Looking at this phenomenon from a different angle, once again I can say that ever since I was young, any time I read a book that I found compelling, fiction or nonfiction, I always wished that I could be part of the action. Sometimes I wished I could be there as myself, but very often I wished I could be somebody else. What would be like to be them? What was it like to be in that place and in that situation? What if I could be somebody with the power to act and try to shape events rather than a helpless observer?

Speaking of books, every book has to end. After I would put the book away or switch off the movie and think about what might happen next. It was a shame that it had to end and there was nothing I could do about it.

Possibly the most compelling part of RPGs for me is the ability to act on those dreams. Role playing games grant us not just the right to dream, but the ability to walk the dreamlands with the authority and rights of full citizens. We are free to become whomever we want, wherever we want, and participate in situations that we otherwise would not have the opportunity to experience. We are set free from the mundane & the substantial mists of dreams become hard reality. We enter that new world and everything changes…

 “We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.” ~ Arthur O’Shaunessy

#RPGaDAY2019 ~ Door (day 15)

I am the door, none shall enter the dungeon but through me.

Doors are underrated. It doesn’t matter if the door is literal or figurative, they represent powerful elements in the role playing game experience.

The characters being stuck unable to get through a door is practically a cliché. Few things can be as frustrating to players and their characters then being unable to get through a door. It doesn’t matter if that door is an actual door, or if it is a metaphor for something else they are trying to do. It can be equally as frustrating for the game master if they have convinced themselves that the characters must get through that door in order for play to proceed, or for play to proceed correctly. Doors can certainly be barriers, but unlike a wall, the locked door can represent frustration and a choice made for us. It might as well be a wall, except we know that it is a door and it mocks us. We must except our inability to open that door and turn another way.

Doors can also represent temptation. Once again that closed door is almost like a wall but not quite. It represents that tantalizing possibility and mystery. What’s on the other side? Should we open the door? Is it worth the risk? If we don’t like what is on the other side can we shut it again? Risk, reward, and the unknown all hold hands as we stare at that closed door, just beckoning us to try the handle. Many times in the RPG experience we stand before those real or metaphorical doors with a choice to make.

Sometimes once we open it we can close the door or turn back and go through it the other way before the consequences become too great. Other times it’s much more like “The Price Is Right”. We can only choose door one, two, or three. Once we have made our choice, there is no going back. Such literal or figurative doors can represent the consequences and relative permanence of the choices we make as we engage with the fiction.

Doors in whatever form they take are wonderful decision points. Not only do they present us with a choice to make, but they can present us with barriers to those choices and the impermanence or permanence of the consequences of those choices.

Perhaps the most powerful door of all is the one left unopened. Maybe we chose not to open it, or maybe we were unable to do so. In either case the mystery of what is behind it remains. We leave the door behind and go a different way. Perhaps we never think of it again, and perhaps… every so often we wonder to ourselves “what if?”

#RPGaDAY2019 ~ Guide (day 14)

“Always let your conscience be your guide”. Thus spake Jiminy cricket.

Pretty good advice, but sometimes we need a little more help.

Life can be confusing. Very often in one area or another we find ourselves wishing that we had some guidance and direction available to us. Why should the RPG hobby be any different?

Sometimes we can get by on our own power. In 1981 when I picked up the Moldvay Basic set for what would become known as B/X D&D, I read the manual. It wasn’t very difficult. I was able to figure it out by myself. Not that I was able to figure out every little nuance of how to run and play a game, but I figured out how it worked. Fast forward to today, very often I can pick up an RPG text and figure it out. Keep in mind I have to read the text. The entire text. Very often I have to re-read it. After all, it is a manual. The books that we have can give us a great deal of guidance if we take the time to read them.

Assuming we’ve done that, sometimes we can still be left scratching our heads. There might be some procedure that we’re just not quite sure about. Some part of the book that is perhaps written in a confusing manner. Maybe the information isn’t organized the way we might, so things are difficult to locate. Perhaps we’re not sure why we’re supposed to do something in a certain manner or in a different way than we are used to. Or maybe we’re just not sure how to run or play in a certain type of game. Maybe we are running into difficulty in some area and we’re looking for a technique to solve our problem.

Fortunately for us we don’t have to go it alone. Especially in the modern era of the Internet, There is a wealth of information available for us. Yes, of course not all of it is going to be right. We have to seek guidance with some discernment. Have the people we are looking to actually read the game? Have they actually played the game? Have they actually done what they are advising us to do? Can they tell us what the experience was like? Can they give examples of how they made mistakes and corrected them? ~ In short, have they been there and have they found their way to the other side?

After all, isn’t that what a guide is? Somebody who has been that way before and can show us how to navigate it?

The remarkable thing about this Hobby is that I have found that many of those that I have sought guidance from have been willing to share not only their experience, but time at the table together. We have become friends.

Last but not least, don’t forget, once you have been led through the area that was giving you trouble, YOU have been there and found your way to the other side. You can pay it forward and guide the next person seeking for an answer. You have experience.

#RPGaDAY2019 ~ Mystery (day 13)

Role playing games are full of mystery. But this blog post isn’t about that.

I didn’t watch it very often but every time I found it on television I enjoyed it. In fact, once the idea to use this as a topic came to me, I looked it up on YouTube and listened to one of the episodes on my way back from an event this evening. I laughed quite a bit. Probably too much.

Mystery Science Theatre 3000 is a ridiculous show where the viewer finds themselves watching a B movie of some sort from the vantage point of being in a movie theater behind the silhouettes of a man and two Bizarre looking puppets. As the movie goes on they engage in incessant banter, commenting on the movie. As most of these movies are just plain awful, you can imagine the kind of comments they make.

What the heck is this have to do with role playing games? How does this reflect the positive intention of RPGaDAY? Has Ivan gone mad? I’m glad you asked.

Very often we end up having several different experiences simultaneously while at the table. We can be engaged with the fiction. We might be seeing things from the perspective of the character, maybe even having an experience as the character. We might be engaged in strategic concerns, or we might be very engaged in trying to create compelling and dramatic moments. We might be having an emotional reaction to what is going on in the fiction, or things may be very tense or charged for the characters.

At the same time, we are having an experience as players, as friends sitting around the table watching this all take place. And sometimes, quite out of character, we comment to each other about it. Now of course this can go overboard and it is a sad cliché about gamers who can ruin the experience by engaging in ceaseless chatter and commentary, never taking the game seriously. ~ However, it has been my experience that a group of mature individuals can remain quite immersed while engaging in occasional commentary . We can laugh at what is happening in the fiction or at the unfortunate rolls of the dice. We can express disbelief at the events of the fiction. We can congratulate each other for doing something particularly awesome, or even say “I can’t believe you just did that … what were you thinking?”. Sometimes this commentary or levity is a way to break the tension when things get particularly tense or dire in the game.

It has been my experience that this is a powerful method of bonding as a group. In particular, I have found this to be very useful in play by post or play by email games where we use a separate out of character thread or chat to comment about the game, keeping our in character and out of character conversation separate. Very often the commentary we make isn’t that much different than mystery science theater. But as long as it is all in fun, and as long as it is done judiciously & in moderation it can be a very enjoyable part of the RPG experience. It can be… Fun.

Role playing games might not all be about fun but we can have a little fun, right?