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“What happened to you, man? You used to be beautiful.”
Dark circles under bleary eyes, a permanent scowl, a shortening fuse, and no time for anything… it was time to get out. I remember why I chose to stop roleplaying for a while. Between raising a young family and laying the foundation of my career, there wasn’t a lot of leisure time, and I was spending most of it at a table with a bunch of guys when I would have preferred to be alone. I quit in stages, cutting down to every other week, then choosing to finish off the game I was involved in and call it after that. It was a tough decision to make because I love the hobby, but it was time to go. Between my introverted nature and the adulting required of me, I needed a break.
Last week, though, I had the chance to visit my friends while they played a new game. I had never used the system before: Rifts, using the Savage Worlds system. I found myself seeing the hobby with the same eyes I had when I was just beginning. Here is what I saw:
1) The Rules Are Confusing And Stupid
Coming into the game as I did with a minimum of background knowledge about the system, watching the game unfold was a mystifying mess of jargon, rules references, and the occasional descriptive moment. My game preferences over the years have gradually drifted from more simulationist games to rules light, and it was cool to have this opinion confirmed. This isn’t to knock Savage Worlds by any stretch; the first game I ever watched was Kevin Siembieda’s Rifts, with its beautiful symmetry,. Given the complexity of the rules, it’s a miracle I ever picked up the dice. Savage Worlds is comparatively simple, but I still found myself mostly clueless about how to fire a weapon. That such a simple action requires some means of gauging success is a basic tenet of all roleplaying games. The reality is, though, that for someone unfamiliar with a particular system, a sheet with esoteric symbols and the ritual of polyhedral throwing can be a barrier to immersion.
2) Roleplaying Is A Huge Commitment
To get a good sense of continuity, you probably want to play five to six hours in a two week period. Our group usually played on Sunday afternoons. Those hours with the guys were sometimes more back-to-back minutes than I saw my kids. Needless to say, this was one of the big reasons that I wanted to back out; not only did I need some down time to decompress on my own, but it was hard to justify my commitment to the game. The flip side of this was also on display during my visit. Two of the players couldn’t be there for the afternoon session. I can hardly blame them, and really, in the end I had fun filling in as their character while I visited. When players don’t show up though, the game loses depth and the narrative becomes two dimensional. One of the great strengths of this group is the faithful commitment to Sunday afternoons. I have to admit, it was nice to be able to roll a couple dice, then leave halfway through.
3) More Time Is Spent Goofing Around Than Roleplaying
This is obvious to anyone who’s seen the 8-bit reenactment of Dungeons and Dragons. As a visitor, it made no difference to me. In fact, I could’ve caused a few of the rabbit trails. I remember this driving me bonkers as a player, though. Not only are we setting aside hours of time to play this game, but we’re going to spend an hour debating whether the Rebel Alliance spent money to get nice fighter ships or built their fleet from salvage… ARGH! The best game I ever played, in terms of continuous engagement at the table, was one which was recorded for a podcast. It was interesting to see how everyone was on their best behaviour in front of the microphone. Even then there was a lot of space devoted to Star Trek and Firefly references.
4) It’s Super Fun To Do Cool Stuff
In the end, I had a lot of fun. I filled in for one of the absent players who was playing a Burster, kind of like a fire-controlling superhero. The character had a bunch of at-will abilities to control fire, which means I was able to do some cool things that solved problems while adding to the narrative and without a need to consult the rules. I spared needless damage to my team, prevented a forest fire, and lit the way up the side of a treacherous, rocky hill to rescue prisoners kidnapped from a nearby village. All in one session. It was great to be the hero, great to have unique abilities, and great to permanently affect the game world. This was roleplaying bliss, and it makes all the rules-ing worth it.
5) The People Make The Experience
Ultimately, that’s what it’s about. Even though I don’t play often anymore, I’m still close with the guys. My wife and I just had dinner to celebrate one dude’s anniversary. That very afternoon, I brought a lasagna for another guy, because he and his wife are expecting a baby any day now. At other times, I’ve helped guys move, had them over for dinner, and burned stuff while drinking beer in the backyard. I remember some wisdom somebody once passed on to me: “I don’t roleplay with anyone I wouldn’t want to spend the afternoon with anyways.” That is definitely true about this roleplaying group. It makes all the rabbit trails worth it.
So, all that is to say, while I don’t expect I’ll be able to join them for another game anytime soon, I do look forward to getting back into the hobby when time permits. After all: if you’re going to play the lavender elven priestess of Gan’uul, it’s always better to do it with friends!
Landrew is a full-time educator, part-time art enthusiast. He applies his background in literature and fine arts to his favourite hobby (roleplaying games) because the market for a background in the Fine Arts is very limited. He writes this blog on company time under a pseudonym. Long live the Corporation!
Picture Reference: http://www.quickmeme.com/meme/3uj8ol
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.