After a 20 year break, I’ve gotten back to role playing games. I hadn’t realized how important these games were to me until I started playing again. I started gaming back in the early 80’s when you didn’t have to differentiate between tabletop and video games because, well, I grew up in the Stone Age. I can remember getting suspicious looks as my friends and I mapped out the tiny town we grew up in so that we could use it for a session involving a Soviet invasion of the town and my mother in a helicopter with a rocket launcher. It was pretty awesome.
Once I got to college, gaming became my life. I was fortunate to get involved with a group of friends who gamed almost constantly. We literally gamed 4 nights out of 7. When other people were staggering back into the dorms at 2 am drunk from the bars, my roommate and I were coming back from late night play sessions. We played every genre, from the ubiquitous D&D to superhero, sci-fi and horror games. We tried everything. I even got us connected with a major game designer as playtesters, so our names are in the fronts of 4 GURPS (Generic Universal Roleplaying System) supplements. When I moved to Philadelphia for grad school, my first stop was the gaming and comic store, and my new friends came from the university gaming club.
Then I started having children.
The group I was in stopped calling us with game session invites. And I wasn’t able to find anyone else to play with. So the games went on the shelf, the character sheets tucked away in their folders in a memory chest, and I became a former gamer.
Until this past spring.
It started innocently enough with a podcast and a couple of teenagers in my dining room. Crow, my youngest, got introduced to a podcast called The Adventure Zone by their significant other, and began insisting on listening to it in the car whenever we drove anywhere. For those who aren’t familiar and who haven’t been subjected to my endless TAZ tweets, The Adventure Zone is a live play podcast of three brothers and their dad playing D&D for the lolz. I wasn’t all that interested to begin with. Honestly, I live in a culture of the supremacy of the white male nerd and the label of the fake geek girl, so I didn’t really need to listen to 4 more dudes playing out teenage fantasies. But as I started hearing more and more bits and pieces and trying to stitch the story together, I got intrigued enough to go back to listen to the whole thing from the beginning. And it was so much more than I’d ever expected a live play podcast could be. Yeah, the first few story arcs were kind of ridiculous, but in an almost gentle, self-deprecating way. And then it took a turn, and started becoming complex, layered story telling, until eventually, even before the absolutely ground-shaking finale, I was in tears almost every episode, not from laughter but from much deeper emotions of sorrow, loss, joy and love. It changed for me the idea of what a podcast could be.
In the midst of listening to this, though, came the teenagers. Crow started hanging out with a couple of their friends in the dining room, trying to play D&D from the basic set one of them had gotten. Which was fine, except I was sitting in my chair working and listening to them getting the rules WRONG even though I had no idea how the new rules system worked. It became kind of like listening to little kids trying to play Monopoly without a grownup helping them learn the rules. Finally I offered to run a session or two for them so they could get a handle on the rules. The next thing I knew, I was running a monthly game for 6 teenagers and Nikki (because I needed adult support, dammit!) That games been going for 6 months now, and we’re down to 5 players, but we’re having a good time and even I’m starting to get more comfortable as the Gamemaster, a role I’ve never particularly excelled at.
But GMing isn’t the same as playing, and I wanted to PLAY. So I started exploring a website called Roll20, which lets people play online, something that wasn’t easily available back in the early days of my parenting. I found a group of older gamers, where everyone is over 35 (we had a couple of younger folks, but they decided they weren’t a good fit and left us), and one weekly game has evolved into the Friday night game, a rotating Sunday game, and a lot of text based role playing the rest of the week. It’s a good group, and I’m happy to have found them.
I also found another podcast, though. This one is called Friends at the Table, and it continues to open my eyes to how gaming has evolved in the last 30 years, and again expands the possibilities of podcasting for me. Griffin, the GM from The Adventure Zone, recommended it, so when the TAZ story ended (they have since gone on to experiment in other genres and systems), I decided to check this out as well. FatT uses multiple different systems, sometimes all at the same time, to play several different genres of game. The unifying feature of all of them, though is that everyone works cooperatively to tell the story of whatever game they are playing. It’s not the GM against the players. Instead it’s almost a call and response style of play that reminds me so much of how Nikki and I used to write together that I can almost taste it. This is so different from the type of gaming I know, but so much more interesting and engaging to me now. I’m trying to get my online group to try some of this, but only a couple of them are interested. Which won’t stop me from finding a way!
This weekend, I’m taking the real world gaming group to Pax Unplugged, a new gaming convention focusing strictly on board and roleplaying games. We’re all planning to get dice and maybe some miniatures for the monthly game, but I’m also going to be on the lookout for some of these new style of games, as well as ways to learn more about them and to make connections with other gamers, especially women, in the area.
And in the back of my head, there is the thought that I could do a podcast, too. When I was younger, I loved radio theater and always thought that would be something I would enjoy doing. This is a way I had never considered of doing that. The Adventure Zone and Friends at the table are some of the best radio theater I’ve ever listened to. I’d love to give that a try myself. If I can learn sound editing!