No Pentagrams: The Reality of Fantasy Role Playing Games and Gamers

For the last year my life has been filled with adventure, intrigue, fallen heroes, deadly missions, and challenging opponents. Armed with only paper, pen, and a 20-sided die, I have fought through a dungeon, infiltrated a battleship in the Pacific, negotiated my way past a fire breathing dragon, and sought to free slaves in a small Oceanside town.

Currently, I’m a halfling cleric who was forced to murder her husband in a bloodthirsty ritual when her son was produced under the wrong astrological sign. My son is stashed away safety and I am on the run from the clan that forced me to execute my husband.

Not bad for a full-time Proposal Development Manager, part-time freelancer, and long-distance Autism mom who takes yoga classes three nights a week.

I am not a spy, or part of a Satanic cult, or even delusional. I’m a Table Top Roleplay Gamer. Every week I sit down at Legends Comix and Games in Littleton, MA, and engage the myriad of project management, writing, teamwork, and problem-solving skills I use at the office every day in a creative atmosphere.  I am joined by 4 other players, and together, we work to achieve a common goal under the guidance of a storyteller, or Game Master.

There are those among my fellow gamers that think I’m very brave for putting that out there on a website featured on my LinkedIn profile. In researching this article, I can see why. The number of people who think role playing is dangerous, mostly because they confuse table top RPG with full-immersion video games, is, frankly, scary.

It’s also a very bad misconception. Role playing is a common practice. We do it as kids when we pretend to be our favorite comic book superheroes fighting bad guys in our backyards or families with babies making pretend meals in a plastic kitchen. Corporations use role playing to develop teamwork skills and inclusion. As an English Teacher, I would engage students in William Shakespeare by asking them to act out different parts in Julius Caesar.

Role playing is a common tool to build social, teamwork, critical, and creative thinking skills. RPGs, the best recognized of which is Dungeons and Dragons (D&D), are no different, or damaging, than any of the above scenarios.

A role playing game is a living story. Have you ever wanted to:

  • Be a donut-haired space princess and steal the plans for a planet-destroying space station? You can do that in an RPG.
  • Train as a Black Ops operative and infiltrate a group of spies on a naval warship? You can do that in an RPG.
  • Wield a magic wand while exploring a school filled with ghosts, living pictures, and hidden rooms? You can do that in an RPG.
  • Fly around rescuing reporters and protecting humanity from generals sent from your home planet? You can do that in an RPG.
  • Travel with a group of your fellow dwarves in search of a treasure fiercely protected by a fire-breathing dragon? You can do that in an RPG.

Here are some things you actually can’t do in an RPG:

  • Criticize, make fun of, or humiliate another player for any reason.
  • Wield actual weapons in a gaming store or gaming venue against other patrons or players.
  • Draw pentagrams on a basement floor and summon demons.
  • Physically attack another person or any property.
  • Steal, cheat, lie, break the rules of a store or venue, and/or be rude to your fellow players.

All of the above will get you thrown out of the game. Anything illegal will get you arrested. Drawing pentagrams on someone’s basement floor is technically considered vandalism.

Role players, or gamers, are generally accepting, easy going, and friendly. Most of them are, outside of game, very down to Earth. If you respect a gamer and/or a group, they will respect you. If you don’t respect them, they’ll quietly ask you to leave the group, or the game. Gamers are not violent. They don’t hear voices in their head. Gamers are not Satan worshipers, or wierdos, and no, RPGs do not promote violence. A tabletop game uses a manual, pencil, paper, and dice. Occasionally minifigures are used. Yes, there can be scary-looking creatures in a tabletop. Yes, there can be battles.

The extent of the bloodshed in those battles is left to a player’s imagination. You aren’t going to be able to see or hear blood of the zombie you just killed being squeezed out of its body in a tabletop, like you can in a popular video game adapted into a popular movie series starring Mila Jovovitch.

Fun Fact: You have to enter your age, and be over 18, to enter any of the Resident Evil websites…

A tabletop RPG is literally a living story guided by a leader, called a Game Master or GM. The players work together to achieve a common goal: solving a puzzle, exploring a dungeon, freeing slaves, rescuing a princess. The sky is the limit as to what a group can make happen inside the story.

The only “con” to RPGs is the amount of time they take. A typical game can run four hours. Preparation for that game can take just as many. I have a friend who ran a fantasy campaign for two years. The story was amazing. So were its actual written chapters, which he would spend eight hours every Sunday after game writing.

If you consider how long it takes to develop the sheer number of skills that role playing helps hone, the time investment is worth it. RPGs foster a wide array of critical, cognitive, and creative thinking skills. Working together as a team teaches teamwork. Running a game passively teaches project management. All RPGs require reading and research. Depending on the game, they can also directly improve mental math skills.

If you don’t believe me, think for a minute about how a story works. A GM and players have to do everything a writer needs to do to create a good story, except they do it in real time. GMs and players have to create the story, anticipate what will happen in it, quickly adjust their next move if the unexpected happens, and work with a diverse group individuals.  

I’ve managed to translate everything I’ve learned as a gamer to my real-world life. As a writer, I’ve applied many of the skills I’ve learned creating characters for myself to my professional writing and editing. Having to do the mental math required in Dungeons and Dragons has sharpened my calculation skills. That comes in handy when I’m driving to New Jersey and need to know how much gas I will need. I’ve had my teamwork, time management, and project preparation skills all tested in RPGs.

Not bad for what I once referred to as a “bunch of nerds sitting around rolling dice.”

Shame on me!

The true value of RPGs is that gaming groups are all inclusive. Gamers don’t care where you came from, what you do for a living, who your partner is, or how much money you make. If you are a decent human being, even if you are a new player who doesn’t know the rules, they will accept you. As a non-residential long-distance mother who frequently has to answer offensive questions such as “why did the judge take away your son?” (He didn’t. I volunteered. See The Mother Rogue) and “Are you allowed to speak to your son’s school? I thought only parents could do that.” (I am a parent, legally and otherwise, thank you). I can appreciate that aspect of gaming.

I can also appreciate that gaming is a relatively inexpensive hobby. All you need is a system manual and a set of dice. System manuals are available in PDF format for $25 or less. Dice are available for under $10. That’s less than it costs me to see the Pats at Waxy O’Connor’s on a Sunday afternoon.

Much as I love the Pats, and Waxy’s…

There are more than a dozen ways to get started in RP. I suggest starting with Meetup. Do a search on Role Playing Games. You’ll find more than a dozen groups in any major metropolitan area. Then find a system you like. My personal favorite is Pathfinder. A Pathfinder Society GM helped me create my first character: a formerly un-dead half-elf gunslinger. Pathfinder Society allowed me to learn the rules of the game without feeling too awkward that I was new to RP. When I mastered Society play, which I still do when my schedule permits, I joined a regular weekly game.

If you’re in Boston Metro, check out Boston Organized Play and the Boston Lodge Pathfinder Society on Warhorn. Show up to a game, grab a pre-gen, and try your hand. You can also check out Legends Comix and Games in Littleton. When I walk into a Boston Lodge game or Legends, I feel instantly welcome. Ray Diaz, the Metro Boston Venture Captain (see Paizo for more info) taught me to play my first paladin. If I allowed him to, I’m fairly certain Winston, who mans the counter at Legends and greets everyone with a smile that would end an apocalypse, would collect my paycheck every week. In Northern NJ? There’s a fabulous weekly RP Meetup group in Rutherford.

Speaking of which, I’m off to create a blue dragon companion for my halfling cleric. Game next Sunday.

Hope to see you there…

Image Created by Zerofaded: https://www.deviantart.com/zerofaded/gallery/

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