I’m about to make a confession that may shock you.
I have never played a tabletop role-playing game.
I know, I know, it’s hard to believe! I put up a good front, after all, cracking “saving roll” and “initiative” jokes with my geek friends, referring to things as “chaotic neutral,” making appreciative comments about d20 earrings in the dealer room at cons…but it is all a hollow lie.
People have a hard time believing this when I tell them. After all, am I not the queen of the console RPG, both Japanese and Western? Do I not do all the sidequests on my Final Fantasy games, even the really annoying and tedious ones? Did I not, as a young lass, round up the neighbor children, dress them up, assign them roles, and lead them on various quests in a sort of baby LARP? (Favorite themes: Narnia (I was Lucy), GI Joe (I was Scarlett) and Princess Escaping From Evil Wizard (I was the Princess. Duh.))
Yes, gentle reader. I am all these things. And yet I somehow missed out on the grand progenitor of them all. How could this be?
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That said, however, eventually I grew up and learned to talk to people and became a proper geek, only to realize that I’d missed out on a key component of my education. “So what?” you might be saying. “You’ve lived without it this long!” True; but being a geek who has never played D&D is kind of like being a sports anchor who’s never seen a baseball game–you don’t get a lot of your friends’ references, you laugh stiffly at jokes you only vaguely understand. It’s awkward.
Also, I think it sounds like fun. And I have long coveted those pretty little dice. (With their OWN SPECIAL BAG. I love things that have their own special container.)
So I finally decided that it was high time I gave it a try. I did some reading, Googled around a bit and the basics seemed pretty accessible. I have a handful of friends who I could possibly talk into playing with me, even…but none of them want to run the game. No big, I thought. Maybe I could learn to do it myself. I write, after all; I’m creative; I’m good at math. How hard can it be?
So I dragged Tuffley down to the comic shop to browse around for a game to try…something–ideally something fairly easy for me to pick up and learn, maybe even something I could teach my brother and sister to play with me on our upcoming family vacation.
The gaming section of our local comic shop is tucked into a corner, behind the indie trades and opposite the porn manga. One narrow shelf is crammed floor-to-ceiling with board and card games; Blokus, Apples to Apples, Munchkin, Catan. The usual. Next to that are the RPG books. HUNDREDS of RPG books. Shelf after shelf of tall, thin, $25 volumes with incomprehensible names, all weirdly similar to each other and written in some sort of secret code. D&D alone filled several shelves, including not one but two “For Dummies” books. TWO. Apparently, in the minds of the “For Dummies” editorial board, Dungeons & Dragons is more complicated than auto repair, commercial real estate investing, AJAX programming, and existentialism…all of which only needed one title to convey their greatly-simplified infodumps to the reader. I was…not encouraged.
But I persevered, pulling random likely-sounding books off the shelves and flipping through them, hoping something would jump out at me, searching for some sort of “My First RPG” that I could pick up and learn from. Maybe such a thing exists, but if it does, I couldn’t find it at the store that night. Given time to sit down and study the books, I’m sure I’d be able to figure it out, but which books should I study? I could spend thousands of dollars here with no guarantee that I’d be finding what I wanted.
So the question then becomes this: how does an adult learn to play an RPG? Once you’re out of school and the weird kid in your algebra class ceases to be an option, it seems like every gamer you know either hasn’t played since they moved out of the dorm or is currently engaged in Part 783 of an ongoing multi-year campaign in the Fiery Hellpit of Eternal Suffering with their level fifty-kerbillion Rogue Mage-Thief, and not really in a good place for newbies right now. There’s gaming at cons, sure, but the gaming room at your average con is not exactly newbie-friendly. It gets kind of…intense in there, and by Day Two of con it starts to smell offputtingly of recirculated Cheeto dust and despair as the nonstop tournaments get to the really cutthroat rounds.
So the first mission was unsuccessful, but I was undeterred. I left the comic shop that night, with a new understanding of the scope of my quest, determined to move on to the next great information wilderness: the Internet.
Share your ideas and suggestions in the comments, true believers. I call upon your aid in this time of trial.