Tabletop roleplaying games afford players amazing opportunities. Through the characters and worlds we imagine at the gaming table, we create adventures and stories filled with heroism, villainy, danger, humor, drama, action and intrigue. Through game play we surprise ourselves through improvisation and collaboration, letting our shared stories twist and turn and carry us along. Through our characters’ actions, we affect the imaginary world and have an impact.
We invest something of ourselves into our characters. Players might portray characters who are exaggerated or ideal versions of themselves, or one aspect of themselves. Conversely, they can explore personalities, philosophies or lifestyles vastly different than their own. In a similar way, GMs create and run adventures that satisfy (sometimes intangible) goals and interests, populating the game environment with people, places and things – and monsters! – that appeal to those goals.
By that same token, the make-believe worlds we create together can have an impact on the real people playing the game, too.
My RPG character does things I would never do
During a discussion about Geek and Sundry’s Critical Role program, voice actor and player in the game Liam O’Brien described his relationship to his character Vax’ildan the half-elf rogue. He said that in playing Vax, he could have him take actions that he in real life more than likely wouldn’t. For example, would he dive off a cliff without a second’s hesitation to try and save his sister who’d fallen, knowing he would very well die right alongside her? Or boldly confront terrifying beasts and other deadly encounters? Probably not.
For O’Brien, playing an imaginary character in Dungeons & Dragons gives him a chance to explore that kind of heroism. He can put Vax in danger knowing the consequences won’t actually result in any real harm. This isn’t to say RPG players don’t form attachments to their characters or others in the gaming group. In fact over time, many players form deep connections to their characters, such that when they experience pain, loss or death it can evoke strong emotional responses.
Can the reverse also be true? It stands to reason that at least some of the energy we invest into developing our RPG characters rubs off on us in the real world. This is certainly not advocacy for placing yourself recklessly in harm’s way. But the motivating bravery that drives a character’s actions can absolutely be a positive thing. Perhaps learning through your RPG character’s bravery, you’ll be inspired to stand up the next time someone or something threatens what you think is right.
In the same way, RPG characters are often very inquisitive, forthright and outspoken in their feelings, beliefs and thoughts. These qualities can be admirable, and useful in our real lives. It rarely does any good to keep things bottled up inside. Take a cue from your RPG characters and ask questions when you don’t understand. Take the initiative in new situations. Tell that girl or boy you have a crush on how you feel about them. Say or do something about injustice.
You’ve got just as much chance as your RPG character to succeed or fail. And just like them, the more times you take chances and try, and roll those dice, the more times you’ll discover critical success.
Explore your own world
Explicitly called out in 5th edition D&D, one of the pillars of RPG play is exploration. There are limitless NPCs to interact with and monsters to fight, but just as vital is the adventurers’ drive to explore the world around them. Traveling far and wide, discovering new vistas and challenging the environment is the means through which RPG characters become immersed in their world.
The great thing about the RPG hobby is that there’s built-in opportunities for going beyond the borders of your everyday life. Tabletop RPGs are experiencing unprecedented popularity right now. Coupled with the communication and connection resources of our modern world, it is easier than ever to find people to play games with and places to play those games.
Game cafes are popping up all over, providing reliable meeting places to gather your party. These establishments often offer game accessories to borrow or buy, and many of them encourage visitors to engage with each other. These are wonderful ways to meet new people, make new friends and play more games together.
Similarly, there are countless methods of reaching out to gamers in your area and finding people to play with that way. Sometimes this can entail a bit of travel, whether that’s a car or train trip across town. Take these chances to discover new places or revisit somewhere you may not have seen in a while.
Of course, the biggest step in travel for gaming is conventions. Gaming conventions are terrific events and make the perfect vacation for gamers. Not only do they give you a reason to visit and explore a new place, but also include nonstop gaming for several days. Game conventions definitely satisfy that need to play games, both your favorites and new ones you’re sure to discover.
Smaller game conventions abound in just about every state in the U.S. throughout the entire year. I’m willing to bet that countries around the globe have plenty of their own game conventions, too. Smaller-scale cons are often more specialized towards particular games. When it comes to conventions, bigger isn’t always better and small cons have an intimate feel, often with a lot of gaming taking place with the same group of people over the length of the convention.
On the other side of the coin, big conventions are incredibly fun! Every tabletop gamer owes it to themselves to attend Gen Con at least once in their lives. Personally, I consider it a sacred duty, but I won’t put the weight of that responsibility on you.
In 2017, Nerdarchist Dave and I will be attending Gen Con Aug. 17-20 and Origins June 14-18 to represent Nerdarchy. It will be his first Gen Con experience and the second for me. If you’ll be there, keep an eye out for us and say hello! Also, as of the time of this writing we have no hotel accommodations so if you want a couple of Nerdarchists sleeping on your floor, hit me up in the comments or online.
Exploring the wide world opens you up to new experiences, cultures and people that you can bring back to the table and add vibrancy to your game worlds.
Take a chance on something new and different
Players are always trying new things with their RPG characters. Enacting outrageous plans, attempting crazy stunts and testing new methods are just the tip of the iceberg for the sorts of actions we regularly thrust our characters into during game play.
As players and GMs we can take inspiration from our games to be daring in the way we play games, too. One of the biggest steps RPG players can take is sharing home games online. As Nerdarchy friend and fellow writer Scott Garibay would say, “if you’re rolling dice you should be rolling the camera.” Fans of Nerdarchy are already familiar with the large volume of live play games offered on the YouTube channel. Many, many sessions of Nerdarchy games including D&D, Mutants & Masterminds, Gamma World and more from a variety of GMs are all available for viewing. On top of recorded sessions, there are currently two live streamed weekly games: the 5E D&D Scarlet Sisterhood of Steel and Sorcery, and the Open Legend Aether Skies campaign.
For every Critical Role or Acquisitions Incorporated production, there’s thousands upon thousands of home games with equal amounts of variety in playstyles, player and GM types. The common thread that binds all of them together, professional and amateur alike, is the atmosphere of fun and collaboration around their tables.
My younger gamer self would never have imagined that RPGs as spectator events would ever be a thing. Yet here I am today as an audience member, fan and reviewer of these programs. More recently I’ve become a participant, having played in a one-shot Saturday Morning Tabletop RPG and the aforementioned Aether Skies games, both through Nerdarchy.
Taking the next step, I recently got a Logitech C920 webcam (through Nerdarchy’s Amazon link, ‘natch) with the intention of recording or streaming my own home game. If I’m honest, I’m a little nervous about the prospect. My group is currently playing a very off-the-wall 5E D&D campaign incorporating elements of the Spelljammer setting. There’s a lot of unusual stuff that goes on and I run pretty fast and loose with the rules. There is one rule that we cleave to at all times though – if everyone is having fun then we’re succeeding. Hopefully that will translate into an enjoyable viewing experience.
Along those same lines of trepidation about putting myself out there online, one of the things I enjoy at the gaming table is incorporating different voices, accents and inflections for characters. I don’t always do it, and even in private with friends there’s that leap of faith whether it will be cool or embarrassing. But I enjoy trying, and in Nerdarchy’s Aether Skies game I attempt to add a Russian-esque accent to the dwarven character I play in that game.
If you’re interested in testing out different accents, try talking out loud in your car while driving. That’s how I get my practice. There’s also tons of websites and YouTube videos to help with different accents. One of them is IDEA, or International Dialects of English Archive. It contains over 1,000 recordings from 120 countries around the world.
The most important thing about expanding your gaming horizons is to commit to the task. Like trying accents or streaming your game, it might seem intimidating at first. But as an RPG player I’ve found that once the game gets going, all the other noise fades away as the game comes more to life.
Trying different techniques at the table is the same way. For older gamers who started in the hobby before the days of the internet, we learned and refined through experience and interaction with a small group of friends and fellow gamers. But now, with the explosion of RPG content available, you can incorporate tons of tips, tricks and techniques into your games from observing what other GMs and players too.
Playing RPGs is only as complicated as you make it, and GMing is definitely not as hard as it might seem. In the same way your campaigns begin in frontier villages or galactic fringes, start small. In time, try adding new and different aspects to your gaming and you’ll discover that you can be just as daring and adventuresome as the RPG characters you’re playing.
And above all else, stay nerdy!