Tell people you’re into roleplaying, and they either assume you mean something sexy (which is fine, YKINMKBYKIOK, but not what I mean). Or that you mean those lame work training exercises where one of you has to pretend to be a disgruntled customer (also not what I mean).
Very occasionally, someone will have heard of Dungeons and Dragons, but even then, in most cases, they are still imagining teenage boys rolling weird dice, and crunching incomprehensible numbers, allowing them to beat an orc to a pulp. Whereas that is technically correct, it’s not really my experience of roleplaying…
I’d always counted myself a bit of a geek, and I liked fantasy and sci-fi books, TV shows and movies, but I didn’t actually try roleplaying until I was 18. I’d got a summer job at a bookshop, and the guy running the sci-fi section ordered in the books for Dungeons and Dragons third edition, and was trying to get a group of people together to play on a regular basis. I’d just started seeing a guy who I knew had played these games as a kid, so I shyly asked if I could come along, and bring the boyfriend with me. I didn’t expect to like it, to be honest, dwarves and elves weren’t really my thing, I just thought it might impress my date.
In the end, I didn’t play Dungeons and Dragons very long. A customer of the shop that had come along wanted players for a game called Mage: The Ascension — a story about modern wizards warping reality in a world much like our own (think The Dresden Files, or even the Matrix). One session in and I was hooked.
I made up a character that reminded me of a colourful neighbour in my student digs, and I spent most of the next week thinking about this person I’d invented. I thought about her parents, her family, her faith, her loves, her life, and then set her loose in a world where she, and a ragtag band of friends (my boyfriend and the other players characters), were trying to save reality from incomprehensible horror. Yes, we did roll dice, but we were collaborating on this fantastic story of humanity, and horror, and magic, and consequences. There were dozens of laughs, and even a couple of tears, before the story was told, and then I couldn’t wait for the next one to begin.
There are advantages to my odd hobby…
It’s been 16 years, and I’m still playing roleplaying games. I’ve ran my own games, telling my stories, and played in dozens of other people’s stories. I’ve been aliens, gods, pirates, vampires, warriors, priests, poets, fairies, and yes, elves and dwarves. I’ve made dozens of friends, some lifelong. I married the date from that first night, and that customer was my best man. We’re still playing games together.
A commitment to meet once a month, or once a fortnight, or once a week for a game means I stay in touch with some of my best friends, and what’s happening in their lives, better than I could do on Facebook or Twitter alone. Setting aside actual-face-time for friends seems to be something that people struggle with, and I’m grateful to our shared games for facilitating that.
I’ve met some really interesting people I never would have met otherwise, and I’ve roleplayed with models and medical doctors, army officers and and university academics, prize winning novelists and plumbers. Plenty of people come into the hobby as from being sci-fi and fantasy fans, sure. But others get the bug through cosplay, amateur dramatics, live roleplaying (which is a whole different animal), or other subcultures like steampunk.
If you think tabletop gaming might sound like your thing, how do you find out more?
Most gaming groups that actively want new players will have an online presence. Try searching “tabletop roleplaying” or “RPG” in your local town. University and colleges often have their own clubs that are open to members and non-members. If you’re concerned about safety, pick one that meets in a public space, like a bar, meeting rooms on campus, or a shop. Message them first and ask them what they play – some groups are more traditional than others and may have a narrower list of games they choose from. Don’t worry if you’ve not played before and are unsure how it will work, or you only played in a dim and distant teenage past, most groups that are recruiting will be happy to teach newbies the ropes, and older players will tend to have acquired plenty of spare weird dice and books, so you shouldn’t need to spend any money before you get started. If going into the situation blind is too nerve racking, you can watch real plays on YouTube like this one from Garblag Games (and Wil Wheaton is probably a good place to start), and most groups are fine with a newbie watching rather than playing their first couple of times.
I’d never try to claim I’m not a geek, I’d go so far as to describe myself as a nerd on many topics, but I do get irritated when people suggest my hobby makes me antisocial or somehow withdrawn, when in fact it’s fantastically social and imaginative. What did they do last night? Boxset binge and Candy crush? I got my friends around a table, and we dreamed and imagined together. We talked about life and death and love and loss and loyalty, about what it means to be human and what it might be like to be something more.
OK, and occasionally we do roll dice and beat up an orc.