Thursday, December 2, 2010

My journey into role playing...

Last night I got to play D&D for the first time. It's something I've been wanting to do for a long time.. I'd say since high school at least. My brother used to play with one of his friends back in elementary school.. he would go over to his friend's house for a sleepover, and the friend's dad would DM for them. He came home talking about how much fun he had, but I think at the time we were still young enough that I wasn't going to ask to join, because I was too cool to ask to go play with my little brother. I'll also admit that at that point and time I was probably still wanting to be a princess a little more than an elven ranger. My high school boyfriend was really the one who exposed me to the fantasy genre as a whole. Believe it or not, I had never watched Labyrinth or The Dark Crystal until the 90s. The main thing though, was the Drizzt Do'Urden series of novels. He gave me Homeland to read, and I was hooked. The drow world with its evil matriarchal society was just fascinating, and Zaknafein and Drizzt were such compelling characters that I was hooked. I was so inspired I wrote my first short story that I actually finished, set in the Forgotten Realms universe, about a half elf ranger. For something written by a 16 yr old who was writing Mary Sue fan fiction without even knowing what that meant, I think it's actually pretty good. I based a lot of the characters off my friends and I think I did a great job of bringing them to life. Thinking about it now makes me want to clean it up a bit and release it. I was always fascinated about the idea of playing the game, but never had the opportunity.

When I was in high school, Vampire: The Masquerade was the popular thing. That's a live action role playing game, for those not in the know. I went so far as to create a character, and the plan was that I was going to be the minion of one of my more experienced friends until I got the hang of it, but for whatever reason I never actually got to play. The whole thing seemed a bit intimidating to me at the time, mostly because I was still in that phase where I could talk to people on the computer for hours but have trouble saying more than a few words in person. So I got my RPG fix through video and computer games.. I played MajorMUD as a thief and then a ranger, and I spent my solo time playing PC games like Baldur's Gate and console versions like the Final Fantasy series. I avoided games like Everquest and World of Warcraft because I knew how addicted I had gotten to MajorMUD and didn't want to fall into the same trap. Besides, a large part of the fun of playing MM was talking to your friends while scripting, and I didn't know anyone who played either of those games. Scripting, by the way, is where you would run a sort of computer program that would do level grinding for you. It was the MajorMUD version of putting a pair of pliers on your SNES controller at the Lete river in Final Fantasy VI. Yes, I totally just explained an obscure gaming technique with another obscure gaming technique. Give yourself a pat on the back if you are familiar with either and you win a no prize if you already knew about both.

From college on I always seemed to run into people who used to play D&D, but didn't anymore. They would tell stories of the awesome times they had playing, but no one wanted to DM. The idea of being a DM always seemed cool to me, but without knowing anything about how to play, also impossible. Fast forward a bit to this year, when I start hearing about 4.0. A lot of old school players were complaining about the new rules and how they were too simplified, but Wil Wheaton was also talking about how it reminded him of the old days and how it was a great way to introduce his sons and other new players. Of course, this was exactly the kind of thing to make me really interested. So last month I went ahead and ordered a red box. It contains a sort of choose your own adventure story that helps you to build a character and run through a fairly simple encounter. I built a rogue and I died. Oops. That's actually ok though, because the story is built that some altruistic person comes along and rescues you and puts you safely back in an inn all rested up.. so that you can go find other adventurers and band together to get revenge. Based on what I know now, I'm not sure I actually played that first encounter correctly.. the problem with playing solo is that there's no one around to tell you when you're doing it wrong. I also noticed that I was really tempted to cheat that way... I'm the type of person that cheats when I play solitaire because I figure there's no harm done. So I was really tempted to just say "screw what the dice says, I totally killed that goblin." Obviously the fact that I died means I didn't cheat completely.. but I think if I had been more honest with myself I would have died sooner.

Last week my friend Dayna called me and asked if I wanted to play D&D, and I immediately answered yes even though staying up that late during the week means I feel pretty crummy the day afterward. The stars had finally aligned in just the right way that I had the opportunity to play and I wasn't going to miss it. My personal preferences lead me to play rogues and rangers.. I really like the stealth aspect of fighting. The group needed tanks though, so I ended up playing a paladin. I was first going to go with a fighter, but I had to agree that an extra healer in the party could come in handy. The only bad thing about it was that it sort of screwed up my actual role playing ability, and I couldn't find the character. (I feel like Wil Wheaton discussing what he does for acting auditions.) Of course, my nervousness about trying to learn the game and keep up with everyone didn't help that either. The role playing aspect is actually what I wanted to do the most, and I'm disappointed that I wasn't able to really do that appropriately for this game. Of course, after I left, I started to realize that a paladin and a vigilante both have what I like to call "an overdeveloped sense of justice" and if I had just decided to play my character as if she was one of the two main characters in my superhero story, I probably would have been golden. But hey, I may not be as crippling shy as I used to be but I am still an introvert, so it takes me a while to warm up to people and feel comfortable really letting myself go. It looks like we'll be playing more games in the future (though probably not with the same characters) and I'm looking forward to getting to that point where I can really relax and just enjoy the fun completely.

Which isn't to say that I didn't have fun at all last night.. I really did. I got frustrated at a few points.. I'm not scared of math, but it is a lot to learn in terms of knowing what dice to use for what action, what you can do per turn, etc.. I tend to get frustrated when I don't take to things right away (see here if you want to know the psychology behind why) but that's generally when I just have to remind myself to be patient and not give up. I'm sure after a couple more games I'll be more confident. Our DM Bryan, as well as Jak and Kari were all especially good at the role playing aspects of the game so it was really fun to watch them go about it. The few chances I had to do the same were also fun, I just had a hard time deciding who exactly my character was.

The good news is we'll be playing again.. I'm not sure when we'll be starting but it looks like we'll be playing twice a month once we get going, and probably trading up DM duties back and forth (Bryan is just visiting, so he won't be able to take the reins for us). I'm really looking forward to that. I plan to stick with some established stories until I get a good grip on what is expected from these things, and then hopefully start making up my own. The idea of writing a story but also being forced to somewhat improvise on the fly is probably the most appealing aspect of DMing for me.

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