Roll for Self-Doubt

This isn’t an easy post to write but in order to jump start my writing on this blog again, I feel it’s important.  The new year has been tough for me and this blog.  No posts and, even worse, little inspiration to write them.  I’ve been struggling with something and I finally thought it would be best to just get it out in the open in hopes that exposing the blockage will remove it.

I’ve been involved in the hobby since the early 1980’s.  I’ve talked about it in past posts and have a bit more to say in the future as well.  I started the blog because I feel I have some knowledge from my experiences and wanted to share.  I followed my instincts and thought I had a good plan.

Then, I started to get more involved in Twitter and exploring what is going on with this new “roleplaying renaissance” and wow, were my eyes opened.

A lot of what I wanted to talk about is already being done and explained.  So many talented people already doing some amazing things!   Games are being live-streamed every day on Twitch, talk shows and podcasts cover the deeper elements of storytelling and roleplaying.  What an amazing time it is to be so interested in roleplaying and gaming!  We have awesome discussions and a vibrant community while public perception shift more and more towards acceptance of the hobby.  I wanted to be playing in live-streams and having these cool discussions.

Most of the wind was taken out of my sails when I started feeling that I was just the old graybeard coming late to a party I had been looking forward to most of my life.  It knocked me down and I let it cause a bit too much self-reflection and way too much self-doubt.  So much so it’s taken me a month or more to get the words for this post.   However, when I get down there is a favorite saying of mine which I go to repeatedly.  It comes from the movie Ghosts in the Darkness, “Everyone has a plan until they get hit…  The getting up is up to you.”

Then, I realized something else.   I can’t be the only one that feels this way.  There are probably a ton of other folks out there feeling a similar feeling.  “My stuff isn’t good enough/ on par with what is happening now.”  “I’m just another regular ol’ D&D player, what do I have to offer?” “I just got started but will never be that good.”  “My GM skills are really weak.”

Think of it this way, what if any of the folks we are looking up to in the industry had given in to their self-doubt?  We wouldn’t have the historic situation we have now, would we?

All kinds of voices are needed for this hobby/way of life.  Our kingdom of gaming geekery is vast and full of resources.  We’re all needed.  New players, veteran players and, yes, even us grey beards. We’re all a part of this and every productive voice adds to the whole in one way or the other.

If you’ve been down lately and if you feel like it, I’d like for you to get up too.  Do something small.  Speak up.  Write something.  Draw something.  Paint a mini.  Sketch a map.  I don’t care if it’s your first attempt or your hundredth.  Maybe you were down before but are doing better?  How about talking about it for others to have inspiration?   Whatever it is, put it out there for all to see.  Put it on Twitter or Tumblr or your blog or anywhere.  If you do, reply here, tag me on Twitter or use the hashtag #GeeksGetBackUp.  I would like to cheer you on and throw a virtual high-five because this shit isn’t easy when you’re battling yourself.

 

 

 

 

Extra Life Birthday

Just a quick announcement and then I promise we will get back to the gaming.

For my birthday this year I will be celebrating by running a 24 hour Extra Life marathon of gaming.   I was unable to make the main event on November 3rd but I decided, at the time, I would figure out a date before the end of the year.   What I’ve decided is it will be this weekend (a few days before my birthday to be exact) on Saturday/Sunday, December 8th/9th.  My start time for the 8th is scheduled for 9:00AM EST.

What is this all about?

Extra Life is a wonderful charity which allows gamers to do what they do best while supporting children’s hospitals all over the country.  This takes the form of a 24 hour fundraising gaming marathon.   It’s simple, really.  Like a dance marathon for charity or a charity race,  I play games and try not to fall asleep while you cheer me on and show your support by donating at my charity page.

I’ll be playing for my local children’s hospital, Riley Hospital for Children and my goal for this year is $500.

This will be my 3rd year doing the event and this time, barring any tech issues, I’ll be streaming the entire, embarrassing day on Twitch.  I’ll be taking breaks for food (maybe) and, due to health reasons, taking a few hours for sleep.  However, don’t worry, any time taken will be made up to equal a full 24 hours!   I’ll be playing a mix of video games including Skyrim, Kynnseed, X-Com and whatever I can get to work for the stream.  I’m even considering doing a bit of RP on the channel as well but I’m not sure how well that will work.

If you have a second this Saturday/Sunday and want to say hello stop over at the Twitch stream anytime during the marathon.  I will also be posting on Twitter throughout the event so feel free to reply there and be sure to retweet me to get the word out.  If you’d like to help me celebrate my birthday and have a few dollars to spare, please head over to the charity page and donate what you can.

I will hopefully see you there!

My Charity Page for the marathon

Extra Life Webpage

 

5 Ways to Be A Better Roleplayer

I recently read a post on Twitter from a younger player who had just started and ran his first session as the Dungeon Master in a game of D&D.  It caused a reminiscing smile since I can still remember how it was to kick off my first game while not being sure I was doing it right.  On the other side of the screen, I can also recall sitting down at my first “real” game at GenCon and being pretty unsteady.  The Twitter post got me thinking about how many new players might be out there and feeling the same way.

This is the first post in a series for new players to the tabletop game community who might be a little unsure about this stuff called “role-playing.”  There seems to be a lot more people coming into the hobby these days and, whether it’s the interest from shows like Stranger Things or the increasing popularity of streamed live games and podcasts, there is no doubt we are seeing a surge in interest.

In order to kick this series off, I’ve put together a list of top 5 things you might want to practice as a player in any role-playing game you might be playing.

I’m not saying this is the be-all-end-all of tips or advice.  This is just my opinion on the things I have found are important items to keep in the forefront of your mind when you play.  If you’re coming here for the first time I also recommend my article about the contracts around a role-playing game table.  Many of the points below can be considered sub-clauses of that contract.

I firmly believe role-playing, whether you are game mastering or playing, is more of an art form than a skill.   If you keep these 5 things in mind you will be on your way to having a memorable time at the table with the other players.

5 Ways to Be A Better Roleplayer

1.) Be Flexible

There is an adage in improvisational acting circles,  “Never say no.”  Improvisational acting (and roleplaying) has a particular energy or flow to it.  By saying no, you run the risk of negating that energy or blocking it.   Always be willing to take what is thrown at you and then toss it back out to your fellow actors.  By doing this you stay flexible and allow yourself to interact with the story instead of trying to always shape it to your will. You are not blocking anything coming your way.  This allows you to build the story instead of negating it.   Don’t worry, your chance at imposing your will to the story will come in Tip #3.

Part of playing in a role-playing game is knowing that bad things are going to happen to your character.  See Tip #4. Let them happen. Learn to roll with them.  Say yes to them and see how it moves the story along.

This concept might be difficult at first and definitely takes practice.  Pay attention next time you play and try to notice when you can add to the story by being flexible.

2.) It’s Not About You…

You don’t have to be in every scene.  You don’t need to have a say in every situation.  Learn to sit back and let your co-players have their scenes and their moments.  Let them have their time in the spotlight.  Your time will come around.  If the GM is focusing on another character’s back story this means you need to chill for a few minutes while a few scenes get played out.

When I played a lot of sportsball my coach used to say, “Just because you’re on the bench doesn’t mean you’re out of the game.”  This meant to keep watching the game and to have an understanding of the flow of the game when you got put back into it.  Use down time to think about what you might want to do next with your character or to think about your own back story.  Even better, pay attention because it gives you a chance to learn about your fellow players and their characters in the story.  That knowledge will help form a richer tapestry with each passing game.

It’s easy for your vision to narrow and to only focus on what is going on in the game that is relevant to your character.   You’re playing a mage and you get “zeroed in” when the rival spell caster shows up with the spell book you have tried to find.  You’re playing a ranger and your favored enemy arrives on the battlefield.  You’re playing a cleric and the undead finally show up.  When those situations come up it can feel urgent to get in there and “show them what I do best!”

However, be patient.  It’s not about you.  It will be better if you can take a breath and wait for your moment without interrupting someone else’s.

Which leads to…

3.) When It Is About You, Go For It

Has the spotlight come your way?  Is it finally your turn in an 8 character initiative order after you rolled a 3?  Hooray!  It’s time and, at this moment, it’s all about YOU!  Don’t hold back.  Run with the ball and make it count for all it’s worth.

Maybe you’ve waited fifteen minutes for your character to act.  Do you really just want to go with, “I try to hit the orc with my sword.”  Try to think what it would look like on the movie screen when it’s your character’s turn and play it out, describe it, even if it really only boils down to “I hit him with my sword” within the mechanics of the rules.

An example – In a current Dungeons and Dragons game,  I’m playing a rogue dwarf who does not like to get into close, physical combat.  He prefers to stay near the edges of the fight, using his perception, stealth and range weapon to help with team tactics and to pick off targets as he can.  After finding himself in the middle of a melee he had just dodged into another room to gain some space and some cover.  I sat for some time while the other players took their turns but for my character the only action was to stay put and shoot one of the enemies.  It’s the only thing that made sense.

But, when it came to my turn, I didn’t just say, “I shoot the bad guy.”  I tried to think what it might look like “on camera” and then gave a short description of how he edged around the corner  of the doorway, watching the fight as he brushed stray hair from his eyes, yelling out a warning to another player and then finally took his shot at the bad guy.

Bonus points – find a way to bring in other characters or combine your actions with other player’s character during your scene or moment.  Remember, keep the flow between everyone going.

4.) Do Bad Things to Your Character.

This one is pretty easy but I’m always surprised how many people resist it.

Be willing to have your character do things that will be bad for them and allow the game master to do bad things to them.  Of course, you could argue having a character go into a dark dungeon filled with creepy monsters matches this definition already but I am talking about something a little different.  I’m focusing on actions you KNOW are going to turn out poorly for your character but they are things your character would do.

Part of the fun of these games is playing out a situation involving an action or an attitude you might never do in real life.  Is your character a hot-headed firebrand that would slap the city guardsman for having an attitude?  Then go for it!  Is your character a bit too curious for their own good and would sneak out in the middle of the night to investigate the manor house where they are staying?  Go for it!

Of course, this should be tempered with Tip #2 above, right?  This one requires balance because not every scene at the table is about your character doing something bad to themselves.  You’ll have to learn the rhythm going at the table but the only way to do that is with practice.

5.)Respect What the Game Master is Trying To Do.

This is a bit of a repeat of the Contracts Around the Table post but I’m mentioning it because it is very important.  Always keep in mind the person who has invited you to their game has spent a lot of time creating and setting the stage you are now running around on.  It’s very possible that for every hour of game play you are enjoying they have put twice that amount into making maps, building nasty villains, placing slimy monsters and trying to plan ahead, as best they can, for you and the other players.

They are trying to tell a story for, and with, you and I feel that deserves a bit of respect.  Show them that respect by not making fun of the story, try to read what kind of story they are telling and see how you can add to it.  For many game masters this is why they do what they do.  They want to see how the characters are going to apply tip #1 above and throw it back at them.  Make sure you tell them if you are enjoying the scene, the surprises, the tension or maybe just loving the whole game.  Did you notice some subtle thing the game master slid into the scene that effected a character’s story?  Tell them you noticed.  As hard as it is to imagine, game masters are not psychic and knowing a player is enjoying their game is a super fuel for them.  It will inspire them to go even further on their next session for you.

 

Each of these tips should add to the energy at the table and help make the game become more memorable for you and everyone else.  All of these requires practice and you are not going to get it all right every time.    However, if you keep these 5 tips in mind and reflect on them both during and after the game, you are going to find yourself getting better and better at them every time you sit down.

Just remember, after the last die roll, it’s about telling a story and having fun with your friends.

 

 

How It Started

The late 70’s were big for me. I had my brain explode twice before 1980.  I had grown up with Star Trek episodes, Godzilla movies, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Daniel Boone and a little known science fiction show called Space 1999. During the summer of 1977 I had my eleven year old brain blown by watching Star Wars on the big screen and spent most every weekend afterwards figuring out ways to see it again and again and again and again.

At the end of the 1979 I went to visit a friend I had not seen in a while.  When we lived next to each other we had spent idyllic summer days in the yard behind his house chasing frogs and damning up the nearby creek. We played war with little green plastic men. We played cowboys and indians. We played daring knights and fought off monsters.  My parents had moved from the city and now lived two hours away in a much smaller town.  I’d not seen him for a long time and was excited to hang out with him again.

It was a Christmas-time visit during the holiday break.  The weather was cold and somewhat nasty so we played inside and caught up with each other.  For Christmas, his parents had given him some sort of weird new game he was excited about but which I had never seen. The box for the game was very colorful and featured a wizard and a knight confronting a dragon sitting on a mound of gold. It was called “Dungeons and Dragons.”

Sitting on the floor together, my friend tried to explain the game to me and wanted to know if I wanted to make a “Character.”  He showed me a handful of very oddly shaped plastic dice.

“It’ll make more sense if we just play,” he said.

I didn’t understand but I agreed. He took me through the steps to make a wizard and we began to play. I entered into a creepy old dungeon and fought two rats and, later, some goblins. I fired off a magic missile for the first time. I found a treasure chest with some coins and a magic wand. Once I realized it was a game of make-believe I got excited.

My brain exploded for the second time.

Then my parents were coming to get me and it was time to go. He hurried me out of the dungeon, wrapping up my first adventure. I asked him where he found the game as I rushed to get my coat and shoes on. I needed to find a copy!  I needed to know more, to play more!  What about my wizard? What would happen next?

“I’ll use him as a character in the game I play with my older brother. When you come back you can play him again.”

My parents were pulling into the driveway.

“Where can I find this game? Where did you get it?”

“I don’t know where my parents got it. I really wanted it and told everyone about it.”

“But, where did they FIND IT?”

My parents were coming to the door. There were greetings and hellos. I would have to leave very soon.

“I don’t know but…” and my friend suddenly ran back into his room. He came back carrying a Dungeons and Dragons box set still in its shrink wrap . “Look, I asked for this so much I actually got two copies. We were going to take this one back but here… I want you to have it.”

I couldn’t believe it. “Really? Are you sure?”

My parents were calling me and it was time to go. It was the holidays. Family to visit. Meals to eat.

He smiled and pressed it into my hands, “Yes. This way when you come back to play again you’ll know what you’re doing.”  He laughed.

I thanked him profusely and left with my parents back out into the cold December air. He waved to me. I waved to him. “Look what he gave me, Mom! It’s really cool. It’s a new kind of game!” As we drove away, I had the box open and was looking over the items inside, flipping through the book.

It was the last time I would see my friend.

Time passed.  We didn’t make the two hour trip as often.  People change.  Kids don’t really have firm control of their destiny, let alone long drives.  Things shift.  Life takes you on different turns and then, before you know it, you have lost touch with someone.   That was before the internet and easy communication.

I went home and poured over the book.  I made a dungeon.  I made several characters. It was the holiday break and at the first opportunity I had a friend or two over and we started to play.  We played very badly but we played.  I discovered that a local hobby store in my small Indiana town carried some modules and books.  Over the next few years, I moved on to Advanced Dungeons and Dragons and became a poster child for the Stranger Things cast.  I ran a game.  My buddy ran a game.  Then another buddy was running a game.   We talked about the game during lunch breaks at school.

You know how it goes, right?

And that’s how it all started.  From a simple, generous gift came a lifetime of creativity, stories, drawings, maps, friends, adventure, laughter and fun.  A simple act of generosity followed by infinite ripples of effect after effect flowing outward over the decades.

That’s how I want it to continue.

It’s the most important part.  It’s the bottom line behind this entire project and all that I have planned here.

It’s a gift.

I hope you like it.