Wrapping up 2020’s RPG a Day.
Day 22: Rare. I have a few rare gems among my books. The Book of Ebon Bindings, Delta Green: Countdown, both volumes of Realms of Chaos. Those are all nice and all. But I also have a bunch of games that are rarely talked about. Castle Falkenstein, The Whispering Vault, Tribe 8, noir, and more. A lifetime of possibilities. The biggest problem with rare games though is finding players (as always) and having books to go around the table.
Day 23: Edge. Something that always bothered me when playing video games is that there is a programmed-in edge. There is a point on a level where you can’t go further. Some games use smoke and mirrors to trick you, making it look like a world exists beyond that edge, but you can never reach it. Even the most open-world games still have some kind of edge, be it physical or intellectual. You can only ever go as far as the programmers programmed. In a tabletop RPG, there needs be no edge. You are limited only by your imaginations, only by your collective willingness to push past the edges.
Day 24: Humor. Full disclosure, humor is not my strong suit. I enjoy a sensible chuckle as much as the next fellow. But when it comes to running games, I have a hard time wrestling with absurdity. Also, I tend to run games for people who are much smarter than I am and likely much funnier. Now, when it comes to witty banter and fart jokes tossed around the table, it’s another story. My investigation and exploration of Dungeon Crawl Classics is helping me to face many of my fears and embrace absurdity. I’m trying to be more ‘off the cuff’ and not over-plan, something I’ve had a problem with for a long time. I’m also hoping its weird, random, bugnuts style will help me pull the proverbial stick out of my bum and run a slightly more humorous game.
Day 25: Lever. Getting all spiritual again. Tabletop RPGs, talking about them with friends, actually playing them, having a million ideas about stories and characters and worlds…like my writing, it’s a lever that moves me out of dark places, pushes me to engage with people and the world around me. If left to my own devices, I’d spend my days alone on the couch, watching old Science Fiction movies or whatever’s on TCM. Tabletop RPGs are a hobby, bordering on a passion, that actually requires (mostly) I break out of my shell and talk to other human beings. Thanks to the global pandemic going on around us as I write this, I’ve tried my hand at running games for some folks online. It’s been OK and a welcome outlet. Yet, there’s really no substitute for sitting around a table, sharing food and making stories. Plus, handouts are a heck of a lot easier in person.
Day 26: Strange. You know I like it strange. Give me a wacked out idea, a really out there twist on an old favorite, or a serious head-scratcher and I’m there. I think of things like Whispering Vault, a game where you play superhero versions of Cliver Barker’s Cenobites pulling a Quantum Leap while battling Lovecraftian nasties. Or there’s SLA Industries, where you take on the role of aliens, cyborgs, alien cyborgs, traveling across a grim, Warhammer 40K style universe trying to become C.O.P.S.esque reality TV celebrities while on ultra-violent missions…You know. That old story. So many options to choose from. If you didn’t want to, you’d never have to fall back on Tolkien-style Fantasy again. When I’m a player, I’m usually most interested in playing the super weird stuff. In Earthdawn, I played a T’skrang, but always wanted to try playing an Obsidiman. I was working on a necromancer who was a genuinely good guy for Ars Magica.
Day 27: Flavor. This day honestly stumped me. I guess I’ll follow my friend Robert’s lead and mention the genre I favor, though not necessarily the one I dabble in as much as I’d like. I’m a Science Fiction buff from way back. I love galaxy hopping, planet exploring, and laser blasting. Even when it’s essentially Fantasy like Star Wars, I prefer space ships to horses, aliens to dragons, and psychic powers to magic. Not that I won’t take the other.
Day 30: Portal. It’s probably an obvious observation, but RPGs are a fantastic portal into other worlds, into other minds, into other times. Something desperately needed in the world today is empathy and what better way to learn than to imagine yourself in the shoes of another? Sure, a lot of time you’re just sitting around a table making up fun stuff about heroic battles and crazy mysteries. Yet, sometimes, you’re really getting into some deep issues about human nature. It can be something special.
Day 31: Experience. More than 30 years of experience with tabletop RPGs and I still feel like a beginner, still feel like I have so much to learn. The more I do learn, the more I realize I don’t know.
Day 28: Close. I always feel like I’m close to something. For the last few years, I’ve had dozens of plates spinning, but I’ve only rarely been able to get anything to happen. It’s been baby steps getting me back into the hobby, but I think it’s time to move past that and get serious. Too long being close, without the cigar. Time to step up to the place and mix some metaphors.
Day 29: Ride. Every single session I run is a crazy ride. From the excitement of an idea springing up to the research and planning in the week(s) leading up. And then there’s the nervousness that descends into full-on anxiety, fear, and impostor syndrome that then threatens to devour me in the twelve or so hours before the session starts. Then the nervous fear that I’m screwing everything up and everyone hates me for the few hours I’m running the game. That’s followed by the sure knowledge that everyone definitely hates me in the hours after. And then the next morning, the ideas start blooming again and the excitement begins to build once more.