On Wednesday I went to my friendly local game store, The Wicked Goblin, and bought a copy of the Star Wars: Force & Destiny Beginner Game. It’s sold as an introduction to the tabletop roleplaying game hobby, and I’ve had the idea of using it to not just get myself back into game mastering more often, but also to have some fun with some friends and relatives (particularly some of my step-grandkids).
Of course, this means that I actually have to not just organise dates and times with siad friens and rellies, but also explain just what’s in it for them. Sure, I’m passionate about RPGs, but they’re a group activity; I need to look past my own wants and remember how a roleplaing game serves others.
So, folks, here are three things that playing in a roleplaying game gives you that you might be able to get elsewhere, but not all at once:
1. A Space to Be Silly
Remember how we used to play as kids? Adopting silly voices, pretending to be other people at the drop of a hat? Remember how fun it was?
One of the cool things about a tabletop RPG is that it gives you an opportunity to get some of that child-like fun back into your grown-up life (or keep it going if you’re still a youngster), and share it with your friends. The great attraction about creating and playing a character in a roleplaying game is that you get to be a bit larger than life; that includes your character’s personality as much as his or her adventures.
A great example comes from the web series, Critical Role, where a bunch of nerdy-ass voice actors get together every week and play Dungeons & Dragons. Travis Willingham is one of the players, and he gets to have heaps of fun as the lovable lunkhead Grog Strongjaw. Take, for example, his discovery of how a mysterious, possibly magical earthenware jug works (Travis / Grog is in the top row of players, on the right hand side, wearing the NASA shirt):
For me, who is intending to be the game master, this is a particular attraction. Friends have often called me a frustrated performer. I’ve been reviewing the “Mountaintop Rescue” adventure included within the Force and Destiny Beginner Game and the thing I find myself doing most often is imagining how I’m going to present the characters that the players will encounter distinctly from each other – see the Links section below for Critical Role dungeon master Matthew Mercer’s portrayals of the vicious dragon Rimefang, the fabulous magic store owner Gilmore of Gilmore’s Glorious Goods (and his long-suffering shop assistant, Sherry) and Victor the Black Powder Merchant to get an idea of what I mean. I’ve even been casting actors for them to help me drop into or swap between them.
2. A Space to Work Together
Another cool thing about RPGs is the game-iness of them. Each player’s character has a collection of statistics outlining their broad abilities, specific skills and capacities for exertion and withstanding violence. Few characters can do everything and none of those can do everything well. When presented with challenges, players have the best chance of success if they use their individual abilities to complement each other.
This means that roleplaying games make great team-building exercises. They give a group of people the chance to co-ordinate approaches to problems and adapt on the fly if (when) the random element provided via rolling dice means that the execution of a plan doesn’t go optimally.
3. A Space To Fuck Up
Based on the above, you’d be forgiven for thinking that playing a roleplaying game is all about making the most optimal tactical choices you can, especially if you’ve previously sampled computer RPGs, where you often can’t progress until you “beat” an opponent (usually to death).
Yet the most entertaining moments often happen when the characters make decisions that are far from tactically optimal. Going back once again to Critical Role, Liam O’Brien once discussed his decision to play his half-elf rogue Vax’ildan as impulsive, headstrong and liable to dash ahead on his own to get information without backup or even letting his team know what he’s doing. He explained that he knew the decisions were not the smartest from a survival standpoint, especially as he knew their dungeon master wasn’t going to back off when things got dangerous just so their characters could be safe, that but that the results were more likely to be dramatic and entertaining.
It can sometimes be tricky to make mistakes or rash decisions in a roleplaying game, especially when each of the players around he table can get invested in “owning” their characters; there’s the potential for upset if one player’s mistake puts another player’s character at risk. Yet one of the greatest things about the act of shared imagination and teamwork in an RPG is that it’s almost the perfect place to take risks, possibly even life-threatening ones, and learn that sometimes, not taking the risk or waiting for the perfect opportunity with perfect preparedness can be worse than acting now.
Actually, that brings to mind another critical role story: Orion Acaba, who played sorcerer Tiberius Stormwind with the group before leaving to do other things, once commented that, during a tense, very hard-fought battle that saw Tiberius brought close to death, he asked one of the other players, “Is Matt trying to kill me?!”
The other player, whom I’m pretty sure was Liam, replied, “No – Matt’s trying to let you be a hero.”
That’s it in a nutshell. A roleplaying game lets you practice being someone who rushes into danger so that they can help others get away from it. It helps us get the courage to handle the things in our lives that sometimes seem looming and impassable when in most cases it’s just our own fear that makes them seem so – and that failing to handle them is just as rewarding as succeding.
What are you doing?
How did you look beyond yourself with something you wanted to do and explain to others how it’d benefit them?
Tell me about an awesome risk you took when playing in a tabletop roleplaying game. How did it go? How did you feel afterward?
The Wicked Goblin – now at Shields Street (between Abbott and Lake Streets), Cairns
Critical Role: Dungeon master Matthew Mercer’s portrayals of: