#RPGaDAY2019 ~ Triumph (day 24)

At first glance our ordinary lives do not appear to be full of triumph. At least not in the grand and dramatic type. We don’t blow up the death star, or save the princess, or jump the Grand Canyon. Real life can be kind of drab and boring. Not very thrilling.

Role playing games can offer us a different experience where impossible victories and dramatic derring-do are par for the course. Very often those mischievous plastic devils that we call dice are responsible for those moments of triumph. Other times those victories can come as a result of our own skill, or of immersive role-play where the characters can engage in moments of triumphant nobility.

But this blog post isn’t about that…

Back to real life. At the end of the day, in spite of all of the wonderful fiction we create, we are real human beings engaging in a hobby that takes place in the real world.

There are many obstacles to be overcome. Life gets busy. The demands on our time and on our attention are Legion. Learning a new game can seem daunting. Finding a group of fellow gamers that we really connect with can often be a challenge. Coordinating logistical matters with a group Of gamers can be like herding cats.

Sometimes we need to have uncomfortable conversations when we bump up against differences in expectations. Maybe there is a particular genre that we really just have a hard time running or playing and we keep running into the same frustrations despite our desire to do it justice. Maybe the prospect of being a new game master seems overwhelming, or perhaps it’s just being a game master of that new game where we still have trouble internalizing & mastering the system.

It could be that the prospect of learning a new setting or perhaps a time period in our actual history appears to be a Herculean task. Perhaps it’s the challenge of learning new streaming software now that YouTube has discontinued using Hangouts as a streaming option for your online game. Sometimes the list of challenges seems endless.

Every time that we persevere and overcome one of these obstacles, be they real or imagined, is a moment of triumph. We run our first game. That new game that we were nervous about turned out to be received much better than we thought. We start to find the right people. We meet that online kindred spirit in person. We become more comfortable with the new system or new genre. What once seemed impossibly hard or confusing now becomes second nature.

We need to remember to take time to celebrate these victories. After all, real life is full of triumphs. We just have to open our eyes to see them.

#RPGaDAY2019 ~ Surprise! (Day 23)

Life is full of surprises.

I like predictability just as much as the next person. Probably even more than most. However, there’s nothing like the unexpected or unanticipated to liven things up and make them more interesting.

One of the things that keeps me coming back to RPGs is not knowing just what is going to happen. This is far more than not knowing what the game master has planned for us. It’s so much more than that, and very often it has nothing to do with that at all.

Every person at the table has the ability to do the unexpected. One of my great joys as a game master is having players blindside me with things I never would’ve thought of. In fact it is just as enjoyable when I am a fellow player not in the game master’s chair. But even then I’m still only scratching the surface of what I’m talking about.

Very often I play to find out what is going to happen. This is very different than playing to create what happens. Both can yield surprising results and are equally valid ways to play. Both can involve improvisation on some level. However, there is a certain magic that happens when we play to find out.

Put a bunch of us together in a group and the whole quickly becomes greater than the sum of its parts. Just by looking at the ingredients that are going into the game session you can’t predict what will come out. You have to… play to find out.

There is a certain dynamic magic in the moment as we react to each other and to the emerging events of the fiction. No one can predict just what is going to happen and surprises can come at any moment. Very often they cascade off one another in a wonderful display.

I play for those magical moments. They are so much better than anything I could dream up as a game master or as another player.

#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.