Geek confession time

Rachel’s post has spurred me to a confession. I am not just a fantasy geek; I’m a game geek. I play tabletop RPGs (D&D, Deadlands, GURPS (a little), Call of Cthulhu, homebrew settings, etc.). Not so much these days, because free time is the first thing to go down the drain when I’m balancing work life and writing life.  But given the opportunity to sit down with friends for an evening and pretend to be an elf (preferably one that’s kind of a twit) or a bug-eyed monster or the like, I’ll happily break out the d20s.  

Unfortunately, I’m not the cool kind of gamer, who can carry a game with panache while single-handedly rescuing hordes of screaming minor nobility.  Nor am I the mighty-brained kind, who knows every system in exhaustive detail and who can explain the thematic differences between 3rd and 4th edition.  No, I’m a lousy gamer — I have to look up rules, curse at my dice, get my spell list out of order and fudged, and ruin a tense scene by incessantly referring to the Evil Cult Member as “Chuckles.”  And I’m the kind of gamer who will, given a chance, share stories that begin along the lines of “No shit, there we were…”  

But even though I’m not so skilled a gamer, I have a load of fun in the right setting with the right people.  And I suspect my early interest in RPGs — all theoretical, as I didn’t really get around to actually playing anything till late in high school — feeds some of my foundational notions of fantasy and narrative.  Hell, some of my early character studies included stats and alignments, because that was how I thought it was done.

However, there’s one big difference between how I approach a story and how I approach a game: I rarely run games. If I do, they’re of the supremely silly kind — we’re talking Toon or even non-guided games like the Shab-al-Hiri Roach (which is technically horror, but the way we play it it rapidly devolves into the silly brand of horror — Militant Knitters Guild versus the Disaffected Poets’ Society, giant insectobots crashing the Gamma Gamma Gamma sorority ball, discovering that the Chair of the Faculty Senate Committee has a blast radius, etc.). In terms of gaming, I’m much more comfortable with a character sheet than a DM’s screen.

Some of this is sheer laziness on my part — I spend so much time on my own stories that being led through someone else’s story is a welcome diversion. And some of it stems from me being a control freak; if I’ve got a story to tell, I want to tell it my way, and not leave it to chance or the whim of whoever’s rolling well that evening! But a lot of it is just because I prefer cordoning off that part of my imagination. I can let myself run around in someone else’s fictional universe without worrying that I’m taking away some vital part of my own work.  It’s like using a different part of the brain, leaving the rest free to recover a bit.  In fact, given the chance, I can come up with backstory and side bits for characters that will never appear in the game again — and it doesn’t take away mental energy from my writing work.

Of course, there’s a big difference between gaming anecdotes and readable fiction, and as anyone who’s read fantasy slush can tell you, one does not necessarily translate well to the other.  (I hope I’ve kept most of my work from falling into the “party’s first adventure!” pattern.)  But I’ll always have a soft spot for evenings spent rolling dice and swearing at them, and I’ll always enjoy the “okay, so this is what happens” informal nature of a gaming story.  And while I know there’s an overlap between gamers and readers, I’d like to see more of where they comes together.  (Hell, how many gamers were able to see plot twists coming because they knew the genre?)

So. Tell me about your character!  And cookies (or free XP) for the first person who can tell me what THAC0 stands for without googling.

7 Responses to “Geek confession time”

  1. May 13, 2009 at 10:22 pm

    … to hit armor class zero …

    (thanks to my gamer boyfriend for that one!)

    Thanks to him, I’ve gotten into tabletop gaming… been an online RPer for years, but I even just GMed for the first time (cobbled together an Avatar: the Last Airbender game using GURPS and some other stuff).

  2. 2 mlronald
    May 14, 2009 at 5:21 am

    And the cookie gets claimed by the very first comment!

    How’d the Avatar game go? From what I know of the show, it sounds like it could be a fantastic setting.

  3. May 14, 2009 at 7:09 am

    THACO: The sound made when a high level member of the Militant Knitters Guild whacks a Disaffected Poet over the head with a size 19 aluminum needle.

    Just thought that I’d throw that out there.

  4. May 14, 2009 at 1:24 pm

    It’s interesting – in tabletop gaming I’ve almost always played a healer, but in online gaming I’m almost always DPS.

    I’m not sure why it worked out that way, though I suspect that it’s just a lot more fun to see a ball of death screaming toward a monster on the screen, and I can’t help but want to heal my party members when I hear how much damage they’re taking.

    Cathy – excellent definition. 🙂

  5. 5 rachelaaron
    May 14, 2009 at 4:26 pm

    Woo! I’m glad I’m not the only super nerd around! Great post!!

    We’re playing Exalted right now, being run by my good friend (and sometimes Magic District reader) Matt. I have to say Exalted is one of the most unique and fun fantasy RPGs I’ve ever encountered (full disclosure: I only got into gaming in college, and my experience is always as a player in games my husband is also in.). This is the first game whose books I actually really love to read. The world is just so imaginative!

    Our games also turn into silly messes, but serious things can happen even in silly games. Probably some of the best, most intense storytelling moments I’ve ever seen have happened in games, and it’s so amazing when they do. Then again, I am blessed to be a casual gamer among people who are very good at this. All of the fun, none of the work! (I still can’t remember how to properly roll my damage from game to game :P)

  6. 6 mlronald
    May 15, 2009 at 5:45 am

    Cathy, that’s a fantastic description. I imagine there’s a fair amount of “boinnggggg” involved as well, depending on where the needles get lodged.

    taerin, same here — I’m not really sure why. I like playing the support roles, but there’s a lot of catharsis in just smashing the crap out of something. (Also, clerics can be totally badass at high levels. Flame Strike! Flame Strike!)

    And rachel, yeah, calculating damage and similar stuff is where I slow down battle. In the big long-running game, we had one player who had a whole table to work it out…of course, she was rolling up to FIVE attacks at once, and the usual damage worked out to “a ridiculous amount.” Enemies turned into chunky salsa left and right…

    I was part of a group scheduled to play an Exalted mini-campaign, but it disintegrated for a couple of reasons. Pity; it looked like a fun system. And the serious moments in silly games can be the best parts of it — in our case this was usually the result of an evil, evil DM.

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