Monday, February 15, 2016

RPG's, JC, and You and Me

Welcome, welcome. Please come inside and make yourself at home.

Hey! Not that at home! Weirdo. Now, if you'll kindly pull your hand out of my last jar of mayonnaise, we can get started.

This is part one of my short series exploring the possibility that maybe, juuuust maybe, tabletop roleplaying games aren't the insidious machinations of the Dark One after all, and that there may even be some usefulness in playing them with family and friends, just so long as no one actually conjures up real evil spirits and the like. For the intro (which you will probably need to read first) click here, here or here.

So, last time I soundly refuted silly claims that tabletop roleplaying games (the most popular being Dungeons & Dragons) are of the devil and responsible for the deaths of a handful of geeky but innocent nerds. Well, I linked an article that does that... Really, I mainly just cracked wise and poked fun at my kind, Christians. This time I want to talk about why I believe that incorporating a tabletop roleplaying game into your game nights, or creating a game night for just such a thing, might be a healthy addition to your life.

Before you continue reading, do me a favor...

Look around you.

Are there people?

If there's anyone else in the room or the outdoor area with you, be it your husband, wife, offspring (your children, not the amazing band from the 90's), a girlfriend, a boyfriend, a good friend, a bad friend (a.k.a., 'frenemy'), a random stranger, a Nobel Laureate, President Harry S. Truman, or Captain Kirk, observe what they are looking at this very moment.

If you are at home, out at a meal, or in some other social situation where humans would have been found, at one time, looking at each other and engaging in conversation, chances are they are looking at either a smart phone, tablet, television, computer, or two or more of the above. The liklihood that at least one person is looking at at least two screens goes up as the age goes down.

I think you see my point here. It's a point that many have been making lately, and it's one that deserves more attention than we, as a society, have been paying it.

As we engage more and more with the internet, television, video games, apps, and the million other things one can find just beneath the alluring blue glow of a screen, we engage less and less with the people who mean the most to us.

We are obsessed!
But we're having fun, right?
I know I am, and as for my beautiful wife... well, I'm thinking about getting her the operation to have her iPhone grafted into her hand. I hear it's rather affordable. Until it's time to upgrade...

Overall, we just aren't interacting with our loved ones like we used to.

Now, what could we do together, as a family, and/or with friends, that would engage our imaginations, inspire laughter, critical-thinking, and teamwork? What could we do while eating Jeno's Pizza Rolls or chips and salsa or linguine with clam sauce? What could we do that would get our eyes off our stupid smart phones and on each other?!

WHAT?!?!?!?!

Oh! I know! Tabletop roleplaying games.

These games are really the best recreational activity I've ever engaged in for inspiring fun within a group of friends, family, or even complete strangers. For example, I am running a game right now over the internet, via Roll20.net. There are six players plus me, the Game Master (the Game Master runs the world and all controls all the characters and creatures BESIDES the players' characters). In the month that we've been playing (one session to create characters and two actual game sessions, plus a week off), the seven of us, who don't know one another from Adam, who likely have wildly differing political and religious beliefs, have had nothing but fun. We spend probably 20% of our game time just shooting the breeze and another 15% laughing. And that's seven people who don't even know each other, or what we might have in common besides gaming, and with all the inconveniences of communicating via Skype.

Imagine how much more fun there is to be had with people you already know and like, and in person, with food, and drinks! And food!
Don't worry, little Suzy,
Mommy ordered the D&D Starter Kit

Sure, you could just bust out Monopoly again, or one of the many other popular bored games (no, I didn't misspell bored).

But listen, whatever you choose to do for a game night has to compete with Lord of the Rings and Hunger Games and Star Wars and Netflix and Hulu and World of Warcraft and Fallout 4 and Street Fighter V and every other thing that's begging for our leisure time.

Tabletop roleplaying games, unlike Monopoly, et al, allow you to take on the role of an ax-wielding dwarven warrior in a world not unlike Lord of the Rings, or a power-armor-wearing mercenary in a post-apocalyptic landscape like Fallout, or an energy-blade-swinging futuristic knight who can force push and influence minds like a Jedi.

The possibilities are endless.

Even more endless if you choose a game like Rifts by Palladium Books, which takes place in an alternate future earth that has been ravaged by magical energy, leaving enormous ley lines all over the planet, and wherever they intersect a rift can open at any time, unleashing some evil menace from a harsh world or someone from the past or future, or even a character from what we would call pop culture.

There are sci-fi weapons and armor, fantasy races and magical items and weapons, creatures and beings of evil from your worst nightmares, and pretty much anything else you can imagine, all in one game world.

A typical group of adventurers in Rifts
art courtesy of Evil Beagle Games

Other game systems allow you to take pretty much anything you want and adapt it into their rules. For instance, a system called GURPS has adapted the popular comic book universe of Hellboy into a roleplaying game, and as I understand it you can pull pretty much anything into their system. Supposedly Savage Worlds has a good system for that as well. (Update: There is now a Rifts conversion for Savage Worlds, bringing the coolness of the Rifts world into the fast and easy game system of Savage Worlds!)

Then there are the very specific game systems. Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, and Palladium Fantasy are all great choices if high fantasy is your thing, but if you want a more recognizable fantasy world there's The One Ring, which takes place in Tolkien's universe.

There are also a plethora of futuristic games as well, if your into sci-fi. Specifically, the Stars, both Wars and Trek (new game being tested), have their own RPGs, as well as Joss Whedon's Firefly. Speaking of Whedon, if the supernatural and horror is your thing, there's a Buffy the Vampire Slayer RPG, and then there's Vampire: The Masquerade and The World of Darkness, to name a few.

If superheroes are more your speed, you could try Heroes Unlimited and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (by the people who brought you Rifts), the old Marvel RPG from TSR, the DC RPG, and a bunch of others you can find on this list.

Pull yourself together, Dawson! Just play D&D.

There are a great many games to choose from, but the important thing is to pick one and get started. I know you will thank me later. There's a little bit of a learning curve, but more so for the game master (or Dungeon Master) than the players. If you, as the game master, do all the hard work to learn the rules and get the adventure put together, you can easily walk your players through the rules as you go along. And if you're not keen on writing the story, or just don't have time, most games have pre-written adventures you can drop your players into with minor study on your part. But you still need to learn the system.

In summary, for those brave enough to try something new, tabletop RPGs can be an extremely fun and rewarding experience, but even more importantly, it will foster face-to-face, in person, interaction with other humans!

Imagine you and your significant other, a couple of friends, and maybe even one or two of your kids, sitting around a table, phones in a bucket in the kitchen, eating pizza, drinking Cactus Cooler, and laughing! Imagine those people leaning towards you, on the edge of their seats, as you slowly and painstakingly describe the grisly scene taking place in the abandoned meat-packing plant they foolishly wandered into when you were clearly trying to encourage them to go get some ice cream sundaes down the street. How will they escape the mutated pig who, in an ironic PETA twist, are butchering humans?!

In the players' defense, the ice cream shop has been taken over by a mutated cow that makes you eat ice cream so fast you die of severe brain freeze, so maybe they did choose right...

Wow, this one has gotten kind of long...

I'll pick up again in part two, and in future posts I'll try and give you guys a good sampling of game descriptions. Maybe I'll even share some of what my group is going through,.. That would be better under it's own title, actually. So maybe not. But maybe so. You just never know.

Anyway, until next time, peace, love, and a third thing.
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