Getting Back Into the Game, or Why I Should Have My Power Limited in Every RPG

I’m not what you would call a hardcore gamer. I mean I haven’t touched a console since probably the late 90s when all my siblings moved out and my brothers took their consoles with them. I was never very good at games when I played. For instance, I would gather the maximum 99 men in Yoshi’s Island but wouldn’t go to the last board to fight Bowser. I couldn’t get past the 10th or 13th board in the first Star Wars game from Super Nintendo, so I stopped playing. Ironically, I was pretty good at a race car game – ironic because I can’t drive in real life.

So for years, I had no experience with games outside computer games like Freecell and Spider Solitaire. The new graphics on games, particularly open world games, damn near make me dizzy, so I have no plans to get into console or PC gaming in the near future. I tried Minesweeper once or twice but I still don’t understand the objective of the game. And my attempts to teach myself chess have been less than… well we won’t talk about that.

I’ve only recently within the past few years heard about things like role-playing games and tabletop games. (I’ve heard about Dungeons and Dragons for years but wouldn’t have known to classify it as such.) I wasn’t sure what they were all about and quite honestly felt a little embarrassed and foolish being a newbie in my 30s.

However, I’m slowly getting into RPGs. I did two separate sessions of different games a couple of months ago with two different groups and got a feel for how RPGs are supposed to play out. One game was Quinn Murphy’s Community Radio, which is a very fun Welcome to Night Vale inspired storytelling, character-building game. Now I’m in the middle of a game called Sorcerer. My game master blogs at Deeper in the Game and so far we’ve had two sessions. Admittedly, I’m still quite fuzzy on things and wish I were better at the process, but I’m learning not only how to play the game but also about how to tell a story, which is part of the attraction to RPGs for me.

For instance, this version of Sorcerer takes place in dystopian Oakland where gangs are prevalent and corruption abounds… kinda like today. Anyway, I decided my character would be a librarian who controlled a portal through a select collection of books in the library. As per the game, a magic item controls the portal and my magic power comes with a cost. My character is also a part of a coven and I decided we got along for the sake of the coven but not everything is hunky dory with everyone. (Second session I found out my character distrusts a member of the coven because she seems to be making a power play.)

There are also logical issues worked out in the first stage. I decided that people in the neighborhood all know about the portal but because my character keeps money in the neighborhood from less than legal dealings, no one turns her in. She’s not blind to the gang activity and she profits from it, but she’s not completely selfish. I like this idea of her being morally gray because I wish I saw more Black women anti-heroes in fiction. I guess I have ambiguity about whether she’s a good person who does bad things or a bad person who does good things.

The game also involves stamina, will and lore, which is actually where I’m most fuzzy. However, when giving value to each of them, I decided to give myself more lore because I figured my magic was the strongest thing about me. My character is also a manipulator and while I wish I was personally better at this, I only made her will (manipulation) a bit more valuable than her stamina (clean living).

My magic item, an old-fashioned date stamp, craves knowledge and I decided to feed her, Betty, the stories I get from children from my “literacy program.” The overall dilemma is good too. I decided to go with the library closing as the obstacle. While it could have been a problem based in magic, I liked the real-world implications of the library closing and how it fit with the overall scenario of the game.

Session two gave me an unexpected kickstart. I found out I am absolutely horrible at trying to explain death to a child and hope this is a situation in which I will never find myself in real life. Seriously, any kid looking to me to find out why people die needs a lot more help than I can give. Anyway, I had to find a name for my librarian character. I chose Kendall since it’s a name that runs in my family. (It’s my great-grandparents surname and the first name of one of my nieces who’s been on my mind lately because she’s expecting. Oh and the little girl who I had to explain death to is named Maddy, the nickname of one of my great nieces.) Even though Kendall doesn’t want to see the library close, her real objective is to keep the books that contain the portals.

After failing to comfort little Maddy about the death of her brother, I had to take my adversary to task to keep my library from shutting down. My powers of manipulation aren’t enough to convince the city board that the library shouldn’t close, so I have to go to my coven to find a way to mobilize my adversary.

This where I found out something about myself. Whenever I find I have such a dilemma, I automatically go into kill mode. It’s not “should I kill this person,” it’s “where do I hide the body so it’s never discovered.” However, in attempting to get out of that mindset, I tried to think of way to really fuck up my enemy without shanking him. Seriously, I was about to find child porn to set him up with and have that Dateline dude come get him.

Anyway, back to the game. In talking over the problem with my coven, we come up with a plan to slip him a truth serum. However, that shady ass member of my coven will only do it for a price. I have to talk this over with my magic item. I am a manipulator, so I figure I can work this to my advantage. That means I use another member of my coven in a way I don’t like, but for me the end justifies the means.

Still, the shady things I do end up taking away from my humanity. Really, I used a kid to slip the truth serum to my adversary. For some reason, dice rolls hate me in this game. I guess the dice know any power I have should be severely limited. Anyway, I’m still not all too clear on how dice rolls work, but I think I’m starting to understand in relation to my descriptors.

In any case, I’m getting so much out of learning to play RPGs. One thing I wanted to learn was storytelling and I’m getting a damn good lesson so far. Furthermore, I loved the character building process and I’m seeing how to get them into interesting situations and letting them play out in practical ways. I have a bad habit of focusing on one character to the detriment of other characters needed to keep the story evolving, so I’m seeing how they all interact with each other and their individual motivations within the overall scenario.

So at the very least, I’m hopefully learning those little nuances that can make my writing stronger and those processes in problem solving that come in handy in real life. At the very least I’m having fun, getting over fears of losing and making an ass of myself.