Wednesday, July 1, 2015

From the Archives: Gamer Geek Me--Why I Love Paper and Dice Games

Posted by: Jax Garren
Veronica sez: one from the Archives, written by Author Jax Garren for your enjoyment! Her latest 2015 release is STRIPPED WITH THE VAMPIRE.

I play RPGS--not the World of Warcraft kind, the sit-around-a-table-and-roll-dice kind. Like that one with the dragons and the dungeon-crawling, although I don't play that one very often. The basic idea behind P'n'D RPGs is that everyone agrees on a setting then one person creates a plot and the other players create characters. Together you sit around a table and tell the story, using dice rolls or some other form of chance to determine the success or failure of specific actions. Typically each character has a different specialty appropriate to the setting, like piloting, thieving, conning, doctoring, fighting, etc., and the group works together to achieve a common goal. On the geek hierarchy this apparently puts me somewhere between people who can quote Isaac Asimov and erotic furries.

I was in college when I started playing. A group of friends from the Madrigal Choir I sang with (I think I just slid further down the hierarchy) invited my bestie and I to join them for an Advanced Dungeons and Dragons campaign set in Ravenloft, a medieval vampire setting. (Yes, I know what THAC0 stands for. If you do, too--without looking it up--comment and tell me!) The GM* asked us to describe ourselves, and I asked him what the fashion of the world was like. He looked at me blankly, and I persisted, "Well, is it normal to have tattoos? Colored hair? How long? How many piercings are average? You asked me to describe myself." He turned to the rest of the table and barked out a laugh--he had, and still has, this amazingly rich bass voice. "Well, gentlemen, the ladies have joined us." And then he proceeded to give me a very serious rundown of the fashion of the place and era. I later found out he was incredibly pleased somebody bothered to ask.

Right out of college, my bestie and I put a group together--4 women and my fiance--to have a weekly dinner and game night. We were pretty pleased with ourselves because even though we let guys in, we were a female-founded group. We ladies got to set the gaming tone (storytelling over beating up monsters for treasure, with a focus on trying different settings and systems as opposed to sticking with fantasy) and the food tone (cheese plate and wine followed by real food, which everyone takes turns bringing; we placed an early ban on Doritos and Mountain Dew). I started us off running a game set in the expanded Star Wars universe. Our favorite quote was when one of our friends got frustrated and announced to the table, "Shut up! I have diplomacy!" while stabbing at the statistic on her character sheet. 

I had no idea then that thirteen years later, that group would still be meeting. There've been people who've come and gone, but we've had the same 5 member core group for ten years, three of which--my bestie, my now-DH and I--have been meeting since the very first time we gathered around that cheap, just-post-college table in our old duplex.

Things look a little different. The quality of wine and food has improved. (Our last meal was slow-roasted pork shoulder with cracklings, mashed sweet potatoes and bacon-braised collards paired with Chianti and right bank Bordeaux; we have enough foodies in the group that we have a running joke "our gaming group eats better than your supper club.") We tend to talk things out more than the roll dice and frequently pick a rulebook for a setting we make up, instead of using the book's pre-generated material (though we do that, too!) Our children have to be babysat or put to bed before we can start, and early mornings for day jobs and older bones have to be accounted for in our ending time. 
But I wouldn't give that group up for the world. For a few hours on Monday nights, I get to be somewhere else imagining something wild--flinging magic, investigating a mystery, traveling through time, beating up badguys--and I get to do it while writing stories with some of my best friends. P'n'D gaming is writing, acting, reading, improving and interacting with friends all at once, and my life is infinitely better for being a gamer.

Have you ever gamed? Do you have a favorite system? 

*GM stands for "game master" and it's the person in charge of writing and running the plot. Yes, in Dungeons and Dragons the GM is technically called a Dungeon Master--just like in White Wolf s/he is a storyteller and in Eden System's Buffyverse s/he is called a director. I just call all of them the GM. Or "the person whose glass I keep filling with wine in hopes s/he'll be nice to my character."


  1. It's so funny that you wrote this post!

    About two years ago, my roommate comes to me and says, "Hey, you used to be all into D&D, right?" An old but long familiar feeling poked out of the cluttered archives of my brain.
    "Maybe," I responded. "Sup?"
    I'd been a Dungeon Master from sixth grade till I was a sophomore in high school (where I then discovered girls). BUt yeah, I knew a thing or two about it.
    "I wanna play," he said. "I heard it's cool." Now, it had been close to twenty years since I'd held a couple of twenty-sided dice in my hand. It's a funny thing to have been so good at something so long ago. I immediately began dusting off my quest brain.
    "Well, we're gonna need some people."
    We live in Sunnyside, Queens, and have an awesome circle of friends but two of them were girls who didn't even like the LORD OF THE RINGS. How was that gonna work? But, true to his word, the next weekend we had food, mood candles, action figures (he's a licensing agent for a plethora of companies who give him free stuff all the time) a soundtrack of epic music thanks to Spotify, and a circle of curious but skeptical friends ready to do the Dungeons and Dragons thing.

    Suffice to say that was two years ago and we play every Sunday! Well, we used to play every Sunday until recently my deadlines started to loom heavier. ;) I think the girls love it more than the guys which blows me away. I love it! A cool offshoot is that because three of them are artists, they draw the scenes of the night's adventures and then post them on an lil' exclusive FB page that we have for the crew.

    Wow, this is way longer than I thought it would be but's still close to my heart. And set a foundation for me to become an author. Thanks for the post, Jax!

    1. That's awesome!! Yeah, I don't understand why it's a "boy" activity. There is nothing inherently gendered about sitting around a table storytelling. But every time my bestie and I head into Dragon's Lair (the local gaming store) we are reminded by the curious stares and bizarre attitudes of the clerks (most extra-nice and attentive but some obnoxious because we're on "their" turf or whatever).

      I love the artwork idea your group is doing! We used to keep a website with "cast" photos and episode summaries. Now my bestie keeps an Evernote folder with notes and pictures for each campaign. Helps us remember important information from week to week.

      I totally credit gaming with helping me develop my writing skills. Particularly in crafting characters. Over the past near decade and a half I've put together so many different characters with so many different skills and personalities. But character gen requires you to think about skills and weaknesses, so they can be a badass but not a badass at EVERYTHING. I learned so much from that. I think it's my favorite part of gaming!

  2. I've never played a RPG (I'm not sure where that puts me on the geek hierarchy--do I still get to be one if I like Piers Anthony & Firefly?), but this was *fascinating*, and I love that you have a female-founded group. Thanks for sharing a window into the world. I would totally be the one to show up for the mashed sweet potatoes and Chianti, and I bet I'd be hooked on the game in no time.

    1. Haha! Piers Anthony and Firefly totally qualify you. There are many ways to gain geek cred. ;)

      I think a lot of people turned off by the stereotype would be surprised by how much they enjoy gaming. Granted, it can be a totally different experience depending on your group! I have a very story and character oriented style of gaming and don't particularly enjoy power gaming or Munchkin-y plots (stories that are all, "Check for traps! Kick down the door! Fight the monster! Collect the treasure! Next door!") There's nothing wrong with these, it's just not my cuppa. :)

  3. Sounds like so much fun! Jealous of your game night:D

    1. Come to Austin; you can join us for the night... Heehee!

  4. While my husband and I were dating, we used to play in a AD&D group. I haven't played in years but my two sons play D&D with the children of a member of my writing group.
    To Hit Armor Class Zero

    1. W00t!! Prize goes to Nicole! ;) That's cool. I love that your kids play; I'm totally going to game with my kids. It's such great practice for collaboration, thinking on your feet, problem solving...I think kids can really benefit from RPGs.


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