Okay, so maybe claiming to know the basics is an overstatement. Though I’ve crept past the game room at Marcon with tepid curiosity I’ve never actually went in. Aside from a brief encounter with a fan based RPG of Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake novels in 2003 I have no experience with RPGs whatsoever.
So when my high school friend and her new husband invited me to join them for an afternoon of RPGing (hmm is that even a word?) I had to say yes. If the hubby could convince my friend to play and actually enjoy herself, then there might actually be something too this. After all how hard could it be?
Famous last words, she says with an overconfident strut.
So here’s the run down. The game was Gamma World, a post-apocalyptic Science Fiction RPG. I love post-apocalyptic dystopian societies, so this didn’t feel like a huge stretch outside my comfort zone. I arrived a little after 12:30. At 2:00 I was still fine-tuning my character. I had no idea how much work went into building your character and coming from a writer, that seems an odd revelation. In hindsight I wish I could have spent more time figuring my character out. I never even came up with a name!
The other participants arrived, packing loads of sugar and caffeine. Despite the sheer awesomeness of my character I began to get nervous that I might say or do something stupid. I still didn’t know the point of the game. Were we fighting each other or a common enemy? How did we know when it was over? Is it ever over?
The game started out slow. I sat back, trying to get a better feel for what was supposed to happen. I spent more time trying to identify the dice and practicing my simple addition than actually being strategic about my moves. It was much more entertaining when I called out my roll and let the guys figure out what the numbers meant. (Yes, I’m okay with setting the feminist movement back a few years with that statement). But eventually I did start to get the hang of it and actually enjoyed myself.
We completed two encounters and no one managed to get killed. Given two folks died during their last gathering, I considered this a huge success. Though I wish I could have gotten more accomplished. I wanted to get a better sense of the story. What was our purpose and what would we discover when we succeeded? I suppose I’ll have to return for another adventure, if I want to figure that out.
So what’s the verdict? I’m not quite sure. I may need to give it a whirl another time or two before I can actually feel confident in my assessment. I didn’t outright hate it. It was better than having a root canal, or listening to an entire opera in French. That is a good sign. But I also did not leave thinking I’ve found the next best thing since deep-fried Twinkies. To be fair I don’t like Twinkies either. Fried pickles maybe, but sweet stuff shouldn’t be fried.
The one lesson I learned is that inspiration can come from anywhere. The thing I loved most about my RPG experience was the randomness and consistency that the dice provide. You have a set of rules to determine the outcome and the rest is left to chance, not opinion, not majority vote, just sheer luck of the roll. It’s the same reason that I enjoy games like the Sims so much. My job as the player is to react to the set of circumstances presented to me. I get to create a character, build a life, and then work desperately to keep them alive despite the chaos around them. There’s nothing better than looking up on the screen to find your Sim has electrocuted herself tying to repair a TV or your character fell asleep in the pool and drowned. I like reacting to situations or circumstances outside of my control. In fact, if EA would take the Sims World with all its functionality and build a post apocalyptic setting for me to play in, I’d have a blast.
Now, as I finish editing one novel, I realize that perhaps there is a way I can add more randomness to my novels. One friend actually built a novel using tarot card readings. Another person has used a character generator to choose names or auxiliary characters. As much as I love playing God, I worry that sometimes my work can feel too manipulated. I love that breath of randomness that fate provides. I’ll play around with it and let you know what I discover. But if anyone has any advice on keeping random acts of fate in your stories, please share!