“– And Then I Grew Up”: Role Playing and Storytelling

I first learned about role-playing games in Junior High, when I attempted to play “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” with a friend.  The attempt didn’t stick, but in High School, a group of my friends gathered at the library on a regular basis, and later at my friend’s home, to play “Star Wars”.  I dabbled with “Advanced Dungeons and Dragons” and “GURTS” for a little bit, just long enough to convince myself that AD&D is the Work of the Devil — as is any other D20 game system.

So I have a bit of experience with role playing — and then I grew up.

This is not to disparage people who continue with role-playing well into their adulthood, mind you.  In my case, my friends were scattered to different colleges across the State (and, to some extent, across the country).  Homework and campus activities certainly took priority, as did working full-time to provide for myself and my family.  Oh, and with Sales Season ramping up, or the Sales Team over-promising things, I might have found myself working overtime to help make sure the computer system will be ready.  And let’s not forget raising children!  Those children aren’t going to be sufficiently feral without their Daddy’s influence!

And it isn’t just role playing that has fallen by the wayside.  “Childish” pursuits such as advanced mathematics, esoteric and powerful computer languages, video games (both playing and designing), music, and even fiction reading have all suffered the same fate.

So it is with great regret that I “grew up”, and am no longer involved with role playing.  Particularly since it’s been so valuable for extending my imagination, in ways that no other game format can never provide:

I learned how to evaluate settings, and consider what is possible, and just what would happen if my character were to try to yank the rug out from under that guy holding my friends hostage…and I learned to evaluate whether my character would have the strength to do that, or even whether it would be consistent with my character’s thought processes.  A flexible rule structure with a touch of probability meant that I — or rather, my character — could try anything, and anything could happen as a result.  And sometimes the most spectacular successes were the result of improbable failures.

Role playing allowed me and my friends to explore the consequences of technology currently non-existent, or to model magic systems, in plausible ways.  My own characters explored lightsaber battering rams on space freighters, and adding firepower to unstable droids, with corresponding … interesting … results.  In Star Wars 2nd Edition (the one before Star Wars went to the Dark Side, and embraced a D20 game system), the Force was modeled with three aspects, Control, Sense and Alter, combined to produce different Force effects.  When my friends decided to adapt Star Wars to the Wheel of Time universe, they readily adapted the system, weaving the five elements of Fire, Water, Air, Earth and Spirit for similar effects.  I once even tried to shoehorn Spyro the Dragon into an AD&D setting, but that didn’t turn out so well.

While I was in High School, I had a certain fascination with abnormal psychology, and in particular, multiple personality disorder and schizophrenia.  Role playing allowed me to experiment with how multiple personality disorder or schizophrenia would affect a character.  I never really felt like I got the mechanics on either correct, though — for the former, I needed a good balance between events and probability to cause a switch in personalities, to keep everyone on their toes, and for the latter, I don’t think I fully appreciated how to handle “Force hallucinations” for a character that could subconsciously use the Force — but these explorations helped me to refine my understanding of these issues, and to try to find ways to portray them as accurately as I could at the time.

Role playing has helped me to explore all sorts of ideas that I otherwise would not have done, and to do so with friends as well, and to learn characterization, settings, and other things that should be worked into a good story.  When my friends have gathered together, we have tried to do a little bit of role playing, but putting a game together takes a lot of work, and it takes a while to get through a game as well, so these attempts have fizzled out.  I take solace, however, in the fact that my children and their cousins have taken it upon themselves to try to create their own role playing games, using dice on hand, and making up rules as they go along…so there’s hope for the rising generation.  Apparently, my attempts to instill feral behavior are paying off!

And perhaps I should try to squeeze in at least a little bit of time in the Game Room this year…