Role Playing Games

I’m going to warn you now, this is a geek centric posting. This is not about bedroom activities which may or may not take place in the bedroom. No, I’m going to reveal a little bit of my inner geek today. And by “little bit”, it should be a hefty amount and by “inner geek”, well anyone who knows me knows I’m quite a geek.

Geek used to be a derogatory term, way back when. But geek is now chic, well, almost, maybe somewhat…

I wasn’t always a geek. In elementary school, I was more of a nerd. I probably started evolving toward geek-dom on my eleventh birthday way back in 1981 when I got a boxed set of Dungeons and Dragons, although it could easily be argued that the process began almost a year earlier when we got our Atari and entered the world of video games. Actually we had Pong sometime before I was seven, but I don’t remember playing it much. It was a two player game and my brother and I rarely defined fun in similar ways. In school age demographics, he was always the jock.

I liked Dungeons and Dragons. For those who don’t know how Role Playing Games work, here’s a very quick synopsis: You sit at a table with one person running scenarios which they either read from a book or invent. The rest of the people at the table are playing the roles of characters involved in that scenario. The players decide which actions to take based on their characters’ personalities. Dice are rolled to determine how successful these actions are. That’s Role Playing Games or RPGs in short. There are several flavors and brands of RPGs and each has their own set of written rules.

Dungeons and Dragons (or D&D for short) is a fantasy setting, based heavily on the works of Tolkien. Thanks to Peter Jackson, pretty much everyone knows Tolkien’s works like The Lord of the Rings trilogy. So, in D&D a player can choose to be a Human, an Elf, a Dwarf or a Hobbit, although D&D calls them Halflings to try to be less obvious about copying Tolkien. Players also choose a class, which means profession, such as Fighter or Magic-User or Thief.

My first character was a thief. He was cool. He could open locks and pick pockets while the fighter could only hit stuff like goblins and hobgoblins and Magic-Users pretty much stand around and do nothing most of the time when they first start. Magic-Users do get better over time. And by time I mean several playing sessions. Most Role Playing Games take months or years to play, playing one night a week or so. Characters tend to evolve from week to week. While objectives in the game can be met periodically, other objectives can come up, making the game very open-ended.

I played Dungeons and Dragons through my high school years and into a few of my many years in college. I never dressed up in costume, ever. I had several characters that I played over the years. Two stand out. Pantros was a thief, but not my first thief. We’ve mentioned him before, I think. And Mirkulus was a Magic-User with a penchant for throwing fireballs and not caring if a few of his friends were in the blast radius. Okay, so the paladin Capsicum was most often the “friend” caught in the fire, but he could take the most punishment so it wasn’t a big deal…at least not to Mirkulus.

There are some limitations with D&D. The class structure is very limited and trying to expand your character is costly. As examples, Fighters cannot learn to find traps and Magic-Users cannot use swords – or at least they couldn’t in the versions I’ve played. Over the years there have been several versions. I started playing when it was just Dungeons and Dragons, and came in both a Basic Set and Expert Set. The basic set came in a blue box with a rule book, a first adventure booklet (or module as they were termed) name “The Keep on the Borderlands” and tiny chits of paper numbered in sets to represent dice with varying numbers of sides. More on dice and why later.

Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (AD&D) came out shortly thereafter and defined the game for the next ten years. Then came the Second edition, which is what I played mostly in college with Mirkulus. With each new edition, you need new books. I didn’t opt to fit the following editions books into my budget. I was keen to their ways to take my money and wasn’t going for it. I don’t know which version they are on now.

Instead I found other RPGs to play. My wife and I started playing GURPS with our friend Ryan. GURPS(G.U.R.P.S.) stands for Generic Universal Role Playing System. In GURPS there are no classes; characters can be created with any list of skills. While it tends to be better to focus on a few, it’s possible to create a guy who uses swords, throws fireballs and picks pockets, though not likely at the same time.

GURPS also is not pigeon holed into a single setting. It can be fantasy, or it could be space opera, or vampires or historical Roman, or…well, currently my Friday night GURPS game is Demons trying to survive in Hell. Yeah, I play RPGs on Friday nights. I’m such a geek. To be honest, we don’t play all night. We get together with our friends around 7:30 and start by opening beers. We talk for a while, sometimes about gaming and sometimes about the local sports team or about our families. The Friday night group is more about social than the game.

My Monday night group is more about the game, but we multi-task then too. For six of the seven of us, that means being social. For one of us, whom I won’t mention by name, it means playing video games or watching movies on his phone or laptop. During the fall, there’s always football on the TV too and that can be a little distracting, especially when the Dallas Cowboys are playing. One of our more boisterous players is a big cowboys fan. I posted a mini poster on the wall of the gaming room last week with 1-3 in the Cowboys’ colors and a star for the dash. I’m going to have to take it down this week. I’d replace it with 1-4, but that would be cruel. The team’s suckiness is enough punishment for him at this point.

Every few months, we’ll change the game we play and change the person running it. The guy I’ve been playing with the longest is the same guy whose paladin my Mirkulus used to catch with his fireballs. We got to relive that moment last year in a new game with similar characters. This time we were both dwarves in a RoleMaster game. RoleMaster is yet another set of rules. We’ve also dabbled with the old school World Of Darkness rules. They changed editions too and we’ve still got our old books, so we opted to not go current. With RoleMaster, there is not an option to go current. Okay, there is, but they want $100 for each of the three books we’d have to buy…um, no thanks.

In my head, I have a meter that rates a person’s geek factor based on what they play. Oh,no! I’m being judgmental. Dungeons and Dragons is mere gateway geek-dom. This is just a notch above Pokémon cards these days. Most people playing D&D these days learned it from their parents. I know; I too am astonished that geeks managed to breed.

I’ve attended a couple gaming conventions – the local ones. They make me feel out of place. I sit there and realize that I’m surrounded by geeks. I don’t feel geeky enough to be there. That and the sheer number of people is not comfortable to me. Crowds don’t bother me. Crowds of strangers who require conversation do. I don’t really speak fluent geek. I can pidgin speak my way through a bit of it, but eventually I get lost and have to fall back on talking about Firefly and it’s untimely demise.

I worry for my sons, who are there, that they’ll be perceived as geeks. But honestly, who’s going to see them? It will only increase their status among people who share their hobbies and with those that don’t, well they never have to know. On the scale of things I reveal to people as I’m getting to know them, I’ll talk about sex long before I’m familiar enough with someone to discuss Role Playing Games.

I don’t really mind being a RPG geek or that people know I am. That’s not to say I advertise my hobbies. At work I don’t talk about my RPGs or make any indication that I even know what they are. The only non-work related items at my work desk are photos of my kids.

Postscript to this Blog Entry:

I promised to talk about dice and why. It didn’t really fit in the flow of the above text so here it is.

Dice supply a random element to gaming. The die we are all most familiar with has six sides, so each number has a 16.6% chance to come up. Gamers like smaller iterations in their probability, so other polyhedrons offer more numbers and therefore smaller iterations in their statistical chances. Some easy numbers to work with are 10 sided dice with 10% iterations and 20 sided dice with 5% iterations. (In D&D a fighter gets a 1 in 20 (or 5%) better chance to hit something with each level of experience.(Yes I know I just introduced a new concept with no explanation.)

Using multiple dice can make for more complex statistics in determining success and creates a bell curve. The more dice used, the steeper (leaning more towards average) the curve is. Three six sided dice, for example, provide fewer iterations than a twenty sided die but the statistical iterations are not evenly spaced. This may approximate a real life learning curve closer than the straight line improvement offered by a 20 sided die. And some games try to be at least a little realistic.

Another p.s. to this Blog Entry:
What I play: This section may not make sense to people who don’t play these games. That’s why its an appendix and not part of the base text.

GURPS – Friday night is always GURPS (4th Ed). About every 4-6 months we start a new game in a different genre. I run the games and my wife, and my friends Jason and Christy play with us. Sometimes Erin or Holly will join us, but not often. My oldest son plays about half the time. I don’t usually prepare for these sessions and just wing it on the story line. This is more about being social than developing our characters.

Monday nights we take turns running things for each game. I run the GURPS game – which had been a Cyber-Future-Time Travel game. Those characters are retired, though and the next time I run something on Mondays it will either be my Demon setting or a Wild West with Magic type setting.

RoleMaster(1st Ed) – Nick runs a ShadowWorld campaign in RoleMaster and in that game I play a mute paladin. Rob runs a RoleMaster game that we all play dwarves – mine is a mage.

Rob also runs a Champions(4th Ed) game – which is what we are currently playing. I play a were-panther.

Savage Worlds: Necessary Evil. Eric runs this game where we’re all super villains stuck with the job of saving the world. I play a vampire character. Eric also tried for 1 session to run a Star Wars GURPS game where I played a gun-droid that looked like a silver ball – the character was named D15c0.

Worlds of Darkness. Currently on a break on playing Rage against Russia with Nick running it. We’ve got both vampires and werewolves in the group and I am playing a Toreador (An artsy-fartsy vampire) who spends the first part of each fight sipping wine and watching the werewolves in the group get beat up a little. We are playing Revised V:TM and WTA rules.

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