Rogue Element #71: Role Players, Holla
By Avril Brown
Last weekend I attended my very first role play gaming event. Until this moment, to me role players were like leopards, which I have seen and even touched though the bars of the Big Cat House at Lincoln Park Zoo, but I have never had the privilege of witnessing their lethal grace and beauty in the untamed wilds. Likewise with role players, I was familiar with their existence and have seen and rubbed elbows with them in other venues such as Comic Cons, but I had never seen a role player in his/her element; namely, in the midst of an actual game.
Honestly, despite being a self-professed nerd for quite some time now, I knew precious little about role playing games and I didn’t even fully understand how the game was carried out. Therefore, when the opportunity arose to bear witness to a game in progress, I eagerly jumped at the chance. My boyfriend Jesse (yes, I have a boyfriend; those who know me please do not die of shock. If you feel faint, take deep breaths and count backwards from ten) is the mediator of this particular group of gamers and sent me a document detailing the characters involved, the countries and governments rooted on this fantasy world, and the specs of what the general plot line was for this game. Armed with this newfound font of information, I was nevertheless still confused as hell as to how the game would be played.
Despite Jesse’s best efforts to explain it to me in small, monosyllabic words, the pieces still were not completely coalescing until we arrived at his house and the gamers began to play. Each had their own set of dice, a gaming sheet and one hell of an imagination, the fires of which were fed with pizza, beer and creative grey matter. This particular game was created from a GURPS gaming set (Generic Universal RolePlaying System) where there are elves, dwarves, humans and an array of beasties. The residents of this world travel and trade in airships, kept aloft with ensorcelled float stones and, depending on the ship, armed with cannons and pirates. Staying alive is a priority in this game, a goal not always achieved, as is acquiring wealth, physical strength and skills.
The characters in this crew are an eclectic bunch and include a saucy bar wench, a mage with fire magic, an arrogant captain, a socially awkward engineer and a hired thug. When creating a character, a player can utilize the character points given to them to ‘purchase’ specialties for their individual fantasy fellow, but there are only so many points to go around. The saucy bar wench, for example, has the looks of Marilyn Monroe, the fists of Mike Tyson and the liver of an Irish sailor, but she is one crappy shot. The mage is a big gun when it comes to his fire magic and has quite a few roasted corpses under his belt, but one good punch from a physically endowed character could be quite dangerous to his health. A lot of what does or does not happen to a character, however, is dependent on the luck of the roll. The dice determine whether you will reach the stars, fail on a colossal level, or fall somewhere in between.
Any literate individual growing up in the eighties and nineties should remember the ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ books. I used to adore those stories. What a unique concept! You read a story for a few pages and then the book gives you the choice of where you want the character to go. Should you try and sneak past the angry pirates’ intent on stealing the gold you have discovered, or will you keep quiet and hide behind a barrel, waiting for them to pass? Choose your own adventure, flip to the page number indicated and discover whether your choice leads to more adventures or an untimely end. This role playing game was like one of those exciting books, only the decisions are largely a collaborative effort, and the success level of the choices and characters lie in the hands of the dice, and the mediator.
As Jesse explained to me, there are some people who head up these games and make every effort to kill off characters and create a very difficult gaming experience, but not my man. He wants his fellow gamers to have a good time, and from my perspective, fun was definitely had. The tangible camaraderie and infectious joy the gamers experienced playing this game and in each other’s company is worthy of a green eye. Sure they snark and get snippy at each other, especially as the night wore on and the pizza ran out, but in the end they are friends; brothers and sisters in arms. They are players, hear them roar.
I learned a great deal about what it means to be a gamer nerd, such as weapons efficiency:
“Which one kills better?”
“It’s hot flying shit being shot out of a cannon; it will kill the unholy shit out of any flesh being within its range.”
Nerdy calculations, such as how fast does a cannon ball travel?:
“9.8 meters per second, bitch.”
The joy, and usefulness, of a trip down memory lane:
“Remember what happened last time.”
“I killed a dwarf.”
“I dislocated my arm and broke four ribs.”
The importance of staying educated:
“I am giving a pirate-fighting class. Rule number one: don’t die. Rule number two: kill the other people. Rule number three…Darren, take it away.”
Not to mention the frequently unasked inquiry of what does a gamer nerd consider too nerdy?:
“This is not good; we are so nerdy we know whose dice is whose.” – Jesse
In my humble opinion, these people are just plain cool hand Luke. They have the balls do what they want to do, play whatever nerdy game they want to play, roll the dice and see what comes of it. They have the cojones to PLAY. If you were ever a child at some point in your life, then you have played a fantasy game and had one hell of a good time pretending you were Tarzan while climbing that tree, or a brave explorer gathering samples in an alien world while frolicking around the frozen tundra that is a backyard in a Chicago winter. We all dove into fantasy at some point or another, so what makes us think we have to give it all up when we’re “grown”?
Now that I understand more about the mechanics of the role playing world, I wonder why gamers are considered the ultimate nerd. No matter what social, political, racial and etc. circle you peer into, you will find discrimination. I have met gays and lesbians who turned their same-gender-loving-noses up at me for being bisexual simply because they did not believe someone can straddle the fence. Role players are viewed as top tier tools to the complete non-nerd, and extremists by many in the comic loving community…but why? When these people play the game, they can essentially become their character, as if they were reading an interactive, evolving script they are helping to write. Hollywood stars make millions doing exactly what role players do in their spare time to their own great enjoyment and zero monetary payment. The stigma, however, is there. Jesse even seemed reluctant when I expressed interest in attending the game, quick to warn me I may be bored given my ignorance of the gaming world and asking me not to judge his written game plan as it was a rough draft and something he does not normally show to non-game nerds (I attempted to assuage his fears by reminding him that she who pays hundreds of dollars to have Rogue and Gambit tattooed on her flesh shall not throw stones in a nerdy house).
Whoever said nerds are anti-social and agoraphobic never met role players. It was like they were talking in code and I was the only one who didn’t have a translation manual. They could slip in and out of character as easily as donning a pair of panties. At one point two players left the table to discuss sensitive topics the rest of the crew could not overhear, whispering conspiratorially in the background and leaving the remaining players to caucus structural details of the all-important airship and loading of precious cargo. The grand master often rolled his dice behind the cover of a sketch pad, the numbers on the face of the red plastic cubes too hot for the table to handle. There were sound effects, hand gestures and dramatic statements; nerdy interactive theater at its finest. Jibs, jabs and jokes were flying constantly throughout the evening until the game was forced to come to a halt as Jesse did not anticipate all of the characters surviving to this point and needed time to come up with the next section of story. The players reluctantly parted ways with assurances to meet again soon for the next round of dorky debauchery.
“Anything You Want” are the enlarged words written on the back of the GURPS book, and I can think of no better way to sum up the point and pleasure found in role playing games. Will I eventually join the community of gamers? Perhaps, perhaps not, but I will always appreciate and respect role players for their immeasurable level of imaginative intelligence. Roll the dice, my nerdy brothers and sisters, and keep the fantasy alive.