Something you may or may not know about me: I’m a big time role playing gamer.
I’m not talking about video game RPGs like Final Fantasy or Skyrim, though those are pretty cool, too. I mean tabletop role playing, with grid maps and dice and printed out character sheets with stats like Constitution and Spirit. I’m talking the pastime of real nerds. Hardcore, unrepentant nerds whose only consolation is that there are people worse than them playing tabletop war games like Warhammer. That’s me.
My friends and I are driving to Columbus, home of Origins Game Fair. Unlike the respectable nerd conventions, such as San Diego Comic Con or DragonCon or even anime gatherings like Otakon, Origins is the exclusive domain of antisocial and often unwashed gaming hordes. You don’t get celebrities (yeah, you get Wil Wheaton and Felicia Day, but they’re one of us) or exclusive movie trailers or clean bathrooms. You get a convention center packed with tables, dice, mechanical pencils, post-it note pads and the socially shell shocked.
It’s a really awesome time.
As much as I love role playing games, I really don’t like playing them. See, in the land of RPGs you’re either a player or a…crap, I’m going to have to say it, aren’t I? Can’t I just say, “Game master,” and leave it at that? Do I have to say, “Dungeon Master”? Because then there’s this whole part where everyone giggles and wonders if it’s a bondage thing when it’s so obvious that anyone into bondage is by default cooler than someone rolling dice at a nerdfair. Fine. Dungeon Master. Happy? Can we move on? Thank you.
Geek stuff aside, the thing about role playing – the actually awesome thing about it, once you get past the dice and stats – is that it’s communal storytelling. The DM (stop! stop laughing!) comes up with a plot, adds characters, explains the settings and then lets the other players at the table choose where to go. If you’re doing it right (most gamers, sadly, do not), what happens is a vital, exciting back and forth between the DM/GM/Storyteller and the players. It’s the DM’s story, but the players’ characters have as much control as the person running. For someone who writes a lot and is used to characters taking the reins anyway, it’s an awesome vacation from having to simulate Multiple Personality Disorder to make it happen. For me, playing is fun, but running the game is like writing a novel improv-style.
Origins is a break from that for me. You don’t run anything at Origins. You pay to sit at tables and be run. For those who’d rather be in charge, this can be irksome at best. At worst, you end up being DMed by a boring prick and thinking about how much less painful time in an actual dungeon would be. The reason I go is because I can sit with the guys otherwise across the table from me and role play side by side. It’s a vacation, and it’s a chance to see how different game systems work. (Yes, different gaming systems have very different effects on the tone of games, but that’s another talk for another day.) Plus there’s a dealer’s room packed with awesome, geeky crap and an Artist’s Alley where you can see paintings and drawings and crafts by all kinds of fantastically talented folk.
I’ll be at Origins through the weekend. You’ll be hearing from me on Twitter, I promise. Expect the tweets to become hilariously desperate if I’m stuck at a table, running through a plot less engaging than the police investigations in Awake. Which will happen.