Sep. 26th, 2014

beccatoria: (atris vs nihilus)
Okay, so, I rarely talk about this here, but I regularly play tabletop RPGs. Loads of different stuff over the years - White Wolf, D&D, Mutants & Masterminds, Homebrew Wackiness. The point is, pretty much every Sunday, me and my husband and a few of our friends spend the day gaming. (For the uninitiated, I'm basically talking about Dungeons & Dragons - that game where you sit around with paper and dice pretending to be Elves and Barbarians, fighting Orcs and selling treasure.)

There have been times when our games have been irregular. While we were in Korea, we didn't game at all, and while K was very sick we went for months between games sometimes. But for the majority of my adult life, this has been a weekly ritual. And two of us (K & Addy) I've known since I was 18. I'm 31 right now.

The reason I don't talk about it much isn't lack of enthusiasm. I mean, like everything else, it waxes and wanes, but you don't devote most of your Sunday to a thing you don't enjoy. It's because the best metaphor I've heard for RPG games is that it's like sex: you can't do it with anyone in the room who isn't participating because you start thinking about how dumb you look. Add into that the fact that we're talking about stories and characters and situations that none of you have knowledge of or investment in, and me squeeing about the latest plot twist in my decade-long RPG game becomes a rather one-sided interaction. And if you did think it was cool, what then? It's not like when you indulgently listen to a friend rant about their favourite TV show for six hours, where there is at least the possibility that you'll find it intriguing enough to go off and watch it.

Our stories are largely unrecorded, except in memory. We speak to each other about them. We are a fandom of four. But there is something magical in it: a television show written, scripted, acted, purely by us, for us. When we are disappointed or upset with it, we can talk and change things. The themes and storylines we care about get developed. The characters we care about get the narrative attention. When thing go badly, it sucks monkey fuck, but when things go well it as artistically valid and creatively collaborative as anything I've ever seen.

I need to stop, at this point, and explain something:

We do not play Dungeons & Dragons "properly". We do not, generally ever, go down into cave systems and try to solve logic puzzles, try to outmaneuver little models on square grids, and note down the exact experience point value of everything we killed. We do not play RPG games as board games with some extra descriptive flourishes. I do not mean that as an indictment of board games, I just mean... What we do is on a much further point along that spectrum. If you have played White Wolf game systems, our approach fits much better into that model.

We tell stories.

More accurately, K tells stories. I feel self-conscious, seeing as I'm married to the dude, (and seeing as the fawning GM's girlfriend is one of tabletop's most staple misogynistic stereotypes), praising him so unequivocally. But seriously. For a long time I aspired to be a writer, or at least more of a writer than I am now. I can do words. I know from brutal, personal experience, that plots are fucking hard. Not for him though. Or at least, you'd never know it.

He tells these incredible, intricate, complicated, beautiful stories. He makes these huge worlds for us to explore and takes into account the characters we've created. He spends hours doing preparation each week. Like thematically, he writes us arcs, without telling us, for us to experience and react to and maybe resolve differently than he expected. He's not rigid about it; when we surprise him, he is elated. When the dice throw us for a loop and let us succeed or fail unexpectedly, he works out how this will add a new, interesting wrinkle to the fabric of the story. He once sat on a plot twist for ten years.

I feel guilty, sometimes, that he doesn't write stories for everyone to read - that his preferred artistic medium is so unshareable. But he says it's honestly what he prefers; his favourite hobby. So I guess I should just feel lucky instead.

The reason I'm writing this right now is that we just finished a game - The Monk's Tale. We started it over a decade ago. We didn't play it solidly for that time. In fact, there was more than one hiatus of several years. But we always came back to it in the end. It became unkillable. It became reflective of who we were. During that time, friends turned out to be terrible people, friends who were wonderful people left us for terrible reasons, we made new friends, we changed, we had crises of faith, we were angry, we got better.

It sounds lame to say it, but it helped us through some weird times. The places the story didn't quite fit together anymore or where people were acting out of character just...became like scar tissue. Like a textural reflection of the time and place and people we were with when that part of the story was being told. Like testimony.

A story we told each other over the course of 12 years and all the moods we were in when we told it.

My character's name was Skai. When I started playing her I knew two things: she was a necromancer and a social worker. She was sensible. She was friendly. She was not dramatic. By the end she was a batshit glorious half-Succubus ex-Prophet who apprenticed herself to a disgraced Paladin and swore she only upended her society's entire social and religious structure as a by-product of her quest to kill the Nine Horsemen of the Apocalypse with a bow she stole from the Fairy King. It was a quest to kill her brother, or at least, the monster he would become if she didn't change the future. A future that might have arisen from her decision to make herself half-a-devil, which she did to protect herself from him before she knew he was her future-brother, corrupted by a future-devilish-her.

She brought a pantheon of powers to its knees in a fit of pure rage. She helped convince a machine to become a god. She became terrible at human interaction. Lonely, maybe. Uncertain she still was able to love anything honestly (except her daughter).

She collected lovers like sea-shells - though it was her soul that was hollow; that promised oceans and delivered echoes. People died for her (how terribly, romantically dramatic) and worse (unromantic, undramatic, unfixable - tragedies in all their banal cruelty). In the end she was left with a deposed cartographer prince and her lost friend's betrayed fiancee: the boy she couldn't couldn't control and the girl she wouldn't. A man who drew maps and a woman who guarded gates, and I suppose you'd need both to find and keep her heart.

That's where I left her.

I have played this character my entire adult life.

And now I'm done. I think that's a milestone worth marking. Even if it makes me shift a little awkwardly in public.

It's okay, though. None of us felt it was right to end it all, so we're going to start a game about the Next Generation. On both a meta and non-meta level, we know we can't possibly top a 10 year game of Good vs Evil for the fate of the Planes of Existence. So we decided it was obvious. What would the children of famous heroes do? Knowing they can never escape the shadow of their parents' heroism?


That's right. We're all playing Bards. All of us. It's going to be amazing. And completely different.

The game is dead. Long live the game.

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