It all started on a rainy Saturday morning. I was spending the weekend visiting my cousin Lance. We were supposed to ride four-wheelers, but the bone-chilling downpour dashed those plans. So, we did what most adolescent males did in 1988. We turned on that 8-bit wonder, the Nintendo Entertainment System. After some Ninja Gaiden and Contra, we slid in Final Fantasy. The music entranced me, the graphics befuddled me, the gameplay bonded to me. The game touched me mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. It was a whirlwind weekend romance that I would never experience again. A few years later, I received a Super Nintendo for Christmas, and by Easter had finally saved enough money to purchase Final Fantasy II. I ate, slept, and breathed that game; until Final Fantasy III came out.
Those games, and others like them (oh ChronoTrigger, how I miss thee), engaged me unlike any other. Undoubtedly, it is the level of story-telling which goes into those games which makes them the best. And as great as they were (and still are), and as much as I loved them (and still do), I always felt like something was missing – as though the experience could be so much more personal and interactive in a way that would really allow me to be a part of the game, and not just an almost passive observer. I didn’t know it at the time, but video game RPG’s had become my gateway drug to a deeper addiction.
I went to college, and left my SNES behind, promising to visit it (and my parents) on the weekends. And there I met Matt – the “force” behind this website. We shared interests in theology, martial arts, annoying our more studious and overachieving classmates. While hanging out with Matt, I discovered his collection of Rifts and other Palladium books. Matt said he’d gladly run a game. So we gathered a few more friends, and dove in. Despite the enormous flaws of that system, I was hooked. I finally found what I had been looking for.
What I Love About Role-Playing Games
Here is what I had been missing from those console- and computer-based RPG’s. By going back to the genre’s beginning, I found a part of my future.
First and foremost, I love Character Creation. (Which probably explains why I stuck with playing RPG’s even though Rifts was my introduction to this world of games.) For me, three hours is no where near long enough to create a character. It takes days, maybe weeks, to create a character that is worth playing.
Please understand, when I say “Character Creation,” I don’t just mean the act of rolling up stats and filling-in the blanks on a character sheet; rather, I’m talking about the entire process of considering what type of character to play, conceiving his (or her) background story, and most importantly formulating that character’s personality.
I take a very philosophical and psychological approach to this process. Most often I have the character’s personality at least sketched out (if not fully detailed) before I begin considerations of Race, Class, Skills, Abilities, etc. With game systems that are new to me I usually have a seed of an idea for the character’s personality and allow that to develop as I work through the mechanical aspects of character creation. And sometimes, I like to work the mechanics first – either by finding interesting Race/Class combinations, or using a random determination for each step – and then try and find or create a personality that best matches what I have built mechanically. It doesn’t matter what order you do these things, so long as you take your time so that you do it well.
My approach is to take it in small doses, to work on it a little bit at a time, then to take a break and do something else, while those ideas “simmer” in the back of my mind. When I come back later, things tend to flow easier. New ideas pop up, questions are answered, and new questions are asked about the character’s personality, and the “simmering” starts over again.
This is the closest I will probably ever get to writing a novel, but I find a lot in common with my approach to Character Creation to that of a novelist. It is the depth of a character which makes him/her memorable and enjoyable far more than their powers or abilities.
Another thing that I love about Role-Playing Games is the ability to create my own worlds. Video games give you a world, and characters (with limited creation choices if any). Pen-and-Paper RPG’s give you much more freedom. Granted, most games come with their own setting: Palladium has Rifts; D&D has Greyhawk, the Forgotten Realms, Eberron and more. But even in those games with a pre-made setting, there are usually “unexplored areas on the map,” places that are not detailed that allow one’s imagination to run free. Sometimes you can even create entire kingdoms, continents, planets, or dimensions, and get really wild.
I love geography and geology. I find the concept of continental drift fascinating. I wonder if any RPG has taken into account tectonic movement over the eons when they draw the maps of their worlds.
I love politics and history. I love exploring why nation’s borders are drawn where they are. I love reading about the treaties – kept and broken – between nations; the internal politics and foreign relations of my own country, and how that affects others around the world.
Personally, I prefer to take an existing setting, but twist it in some way. It saves me from doing all the work of World Building, but it creates interest and tension for players who may be familiar with the setting. D&D did it themselves with the Fourth Edition of the Forgotten Realms. By advancing the timeline 100 years and introducing the effects of the Spellplague, they keep a world that is familiar, but one that is new and unknown at the same time.
I also love the strategy involved in Role-Playing Games. It’s the best of those favorite board games like Chess, Checkers, and Risk combined with amazing feats of heroic daring-do. And I also especially love how RPG’s reward creative, out-of-the-box thinking. Like the Rogue who doesn’t merely disable a trap, but alters and resets it to be used against the baddies. Or recently a fellow player in a D&D4e game used a candle to plug a kobold peep-hole. Combat tactics, puzzle solving, mystery solving, political intrigue, plot development – it’s all great!
Recently I have developed a love for the mechanics of different game systems. Before I saw them as a “necessary evil” to keep things balanced. Now I find them intriguing. I always liked rolling dice – there’s just something special about the element of random chance in determining success or failure (even though I roll failures more often than not). But I hope to soon start a systematic comparison of different game mechanics.
Also, I love the social aspect to Role-Playing Games. As an introvert (as I suspect the vast majority of gamers are), I greatly enjoy how RPG’s bring people together. At a “normal” social gathering I find it difficult to generate or maintain a conversation. But around a table, an RPG provides an amazing vehicle for social interaction. Combine that with my love of telling stories, and reading/hearing other people’s stories, and what you get is this incredible collective group-story. I love it when other players step back and allow another player to take the spotlight, contributing to that character’s development. Those little acts become mutual – every player starts to look for those times when not just their character can shine, but also when they can help another character to shine as well. Suddenly it’s not about “my game,” or “my character;” rather, it’s about the group experience, this thing we are all doing together.
So yea, I LOVE Role-Playing Games. I love playing in them. I love being a DM. I love reading RPG books that I’ll never even play. I love dice, maps, monsters, plots, characters and more. It’s all so much fun. So call me a nerd; call me a geek. I’ll proudly wear those labels. Because I’ll shout it from the rooftops, in the public square, put it on a billboard, make a commercial and buy airtime during the Super Bowl: I LOVE ROLE-PLAYING GAMES!!!
So stay tuned faithful readers and parusers of the internet, for there is more to come. Up next are some of the game-systems I love.
- Roleplaying Etiquette for the Players (gamer-goggles.com)