That’s a clunky phrase, isn’t it? “Tabletop role-playing games.” Even abbreviated, TTRPG is just a mess. Many people are familiar with the term RPG, but that’s exactly why it’s difficult to use in this situation. I’m not referring to Skyrim, Final Fantasy, or World of Warcraft. If you have any passing familiarity with Dungeons & Dragons, that's what I am referring to.
It’s a group of people playing a cooperative game where they take on the role of different characters. One player acts as a game master, setting the story up and adjudicating actions. Sometimes it’s played around a physical table, sometimes digitally, but it is a game about human interaction, rather than with a computer’s programming. D&D is still the name brand in this genre— its Xerox or Kleenex— but there are many other games like this as well.
I’ve started Important Fun because for the past 25 years I have always loved playing these sorts of games. I think the time is right for many people who have never played before to give it a try. If you need some convincing, or are just curious about my perspective, these are some of the reasons why I love doing this.
It’s A Creative Outlet
Some people play the guitar, some write poetry, others sew. It seems that everyone has an innate desire to engage in acts of creativity for fun. At this point in my life, D&D has supplanted more traditional activities for me.
The past few years I have consistently been running at least two concurrent games. When not actively working on my plans, I'll think about future storyline options for the groups and tweak their next adventures. I’ll also be jotting down notes for ideas that I can’t squeeze in yet, but may come in handy later. If I’m lucky, one of my friends will run a game for a while and I’ll get a chance to play from the other side of the screen. I love character creation.
For me, this unusual form of writing is more enjoyable than traditional prose. There’s a lot less pressure than trying to produce a perfect, immutable document that you hope will be seen by millions of people. When I write an adventure for a gaming group, the actual text is only seen by myself, so it can range from polished to quick reminders, depending on my mood. It’s a bittersweet joy to write something designed to be used only once.
It Builds Social Connections
As I’ve grown older, my group of friends has gotten smaller, but deeper. Role-playing games brought many of us together originally, and it remains a way for us to consistently get together.
I got married earlier this year in a small celebration with only a few members of our families and our close friends. I invited my former roommate, someone I’ve known since the second grade, but hadn’t seen much in the past five years. We had a chance to catch up and exchange the usual pleasantries about getting together in the future, but I decided to actually make that happen.
So being myself, I texted him a couple weeks later and asked if he and his wife wanted to start a game of D&D. We’ve played nine sessions since the wedding and I hope the game continues for quite some time.
The Danger of Defeat and the Thrill of Victory
This hobby has its roots in historical wargaming. For all I love to gush about “collaborative narrative” and performative social connections, it is a game. It is a game, at its core, about violent combat. There’s always the risk that your favorite character will die and be written out of the story.
And that is fun! Even abstracted to the imagination or miniatures on a game map, combat should be exciting. The risk of shared failure make victory thrilling. I’ve experienced so many moments when everyone is on the edge of their seats awaiting a roll of the dice.
Tabletop role-playing games are altogether different from any other entertainment medium. D&D has directly influenced countless video games, but none have been able to recreate the in-person social factor and no computer can match a living person’s ability to respond to the creative input of the players.
The tension and excitement of these games comes from a push and pull between three sources: the game master, the players, and the dice. There is a back and forth dialogue between everyone at the table, but the neutral arbitration of the dice brings in all kinds of unexpected twists. At times, the game master is like a shaman— casting the bones to divine the fate of the world.
Speaking of fate, events in real life have come together in a way that has led to me starting this blog and making an attempt out of focusing on my love of games full time. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my thoughts on role-playing games, I hope you’ll come back for more, and I hope I will be able to give you more.