Four Roleplayers, Four Stories

Forget the Stereotypes, Here’s Some Reality

We’ve been told over and over again by popular media that those of us who play tabletop RPGs are all the same. These interviews, first published in the spring of 2014, give the lie to that glib assumption.


Audrey

My name is Audrey Schroeder, I live in St. Louis, Missouri, and at the moment I spend all my time working on short films and other projects so I can graduate from college! Besides tabletop, I enjoy anything to do with film, reading, Humans vs. Zombies, and the occasional game of volleyball.

How It All Started

My first encounter with tabletop gaming was during my junior year of high school. One of the guys I worked with had created a homebrew and asked me if I would play. We had one session and never played again. Last year, a bunch of my friends came to me saying, “We’re going to play this game called Pathfinder. It’s like Dungeons and Dragons and we think you’ll really love it.” I created a character that night and they were absolutely right. We actually just wrapped that campaign last week.

Favorite Games

Mostly I play Pathfinder. I’ve been into fantasy ever since I read The Hobbit as a kid, so the setting just draws me in. A lot of wish-fulfillment, I think. I also play Shadowrun and a sci-fi homebrew with a couple of my friends, which is just fantastic. Shadowrun always reminds me of 1980s B movies, which is a blast. I’m always up for trying new game types, though, which is how I ended up playing the Star Wars tabletop.

A Player First

Mostly I just play, but I’ve run premade modules before. I did recently start my own game in which I’m the gamemaster, but with schoolwork and conflicting schedules, we haven’t been able to play in a little while.

Explaining Tabletop RPGs

Here’s how I tell people about tabletop roleplaying games: “Think of it as though you’re writing a story with all of your friends. You create the character and then you get to the be the character. Oh, and there’s math and stuff, but don’t worry about that too much.” My favorite aspect is always the story and the roleplay. The mechanics are cool, and I definitely enjoy rolling up new characters, but a good story can carry you a long way.

Sharing the Wealth

My gaming group has expanded to include upwards of twenty people. We take turns gamemastering different one-shots and short campaigns these days. It started with seven of us in a year-plus campaign, but due to our schedules and the amount of people who have expressed interest in joining us, we tend to run shorter sessions now so that everyone gets a turn.

Tools of the Trade

I have my trusty notebook for gamemastering, and that’s how I keep myself organized. Of course Paizo’s products are a fantastic resource, including a number of dungeon generators and NPC codexes. When I’m playing, my best friend is the Pathfinder Masterwork Toolkit app, which has quick references to everything (it comes in handy if you play a lot of spellcasters, like I do). Mostly I prefer to just write things down, though.

On the Internet

I currently run Pathfinder Lady, in which I detail the shenanigans of my gaming group and also reblog resources, art, and anecdotes from other players.

Interviewed 2014-05-02


David

My name is David Schirduan, and I live in Charleston, SC. When I’m not programming, I listen to some OC Remix, drink some Pu-er Tea, and read books. If I decide to subject myself to sunlight, I’ll go kayaking or jog on the beach. I’m currently engaged to the most beautiful nerd I have ever met, and we’ve dived pretty heavily into story creation and tabletop RPGs.

How It All Started

I was invited to play D&D 4th edition my freshman year of college. I had fun, but there was a lot of bickering and arguing about rules, the GM insisted on sticking us with his Gandalf-esque GMPC, and I played a healer. It was very lackluster, and I kinda gave up on it.

About 3 years went by, I started up and ran the video game club at College of Charleston, found my skills as an organizer and a leader, and was confident that video games would forever be my drug of choice.

Then, about a year ago, a friend of mine asked if we could try playing some tabletop games. But he didn’t want to be the gamemaster. So I thought “How hard could it be?” I heard that Legend by Rule of Cool was a simple system, and I downloaded it into my brain.

After about three or four months I was completely burned out, frustrated, and sick of tabletop games. It took way too much prep, my players never did what they should, combat was slow and tedious, and my story ideas were lame.

Then I found Dungeon World. I honestly can’t remember where I first heard about it, but I know that the low-prep aspect appealed to me. I picked it up, and read the entire book in one night. The next day, I read it again. After that, everything changed. I abandoned my Legend campaign, and started a simple Dungeon World game with the same group. It was like magic! I followed all the advice and relied on my love of extemporaneous speaking to fill in the gaps. Everything went very well, our games were fun for everyone, including me, and I cut my prep down to 30 minutes a week for a four-hour game.

No one was more surprised than I. Armed with this new method of playing tabletop RPGs, I fully embraced the hobby, and have since tried and written several tabletop RPGs.

Favorite Games

I have exclusively played narrative-focused fantasy games. I blame Dungeon World for that, since the framework that so appealed to me is very genre-focused. I mostly play Dungeon World, relying heavily on the recently released Grim World expansion, and am looking forward to the Pirate World expansion coming soon. DriveThruRPG has a great selection of user-made classes and content. It’s a great time to get into Dungeon World, which is thriving and growing thanks to a great community.

I love hard sci-fi, and grew up on Star Trek, but I haven’t found the right system or setting to bring that into my tabletop gaming. Numenera by Monte Cook is as close as I get to sci-fi right now, and I’ve only got about four or five Numenera games under my belt.

I’m also eagerly awaiting the supposed upcoming Paranoia 6th Edition Kickstarter — fingers crossed.

It’s Good Being the Gamemaster

I am the only GM among my group of friends. Two or three of them are great GMs, but they just prefer to play. I don’t play very often, but when I do, I often find myself a little bit bored. I’m used to playing everyone, instead of one character.

Explaining Tabletop RPGs

Strangely enough, I play more with new players than I do with experienced ones. Some of my friends say that my Charisma score is 18++, since I can talk almost anyone into trying tabletop roleplaying games.

A tabletop game combines all the best parts of board games, theater, teamwork, creative problem-solving, strategy games, and gambling. All we really do is hang out with friends and tell stories together. Tabletop RPGs are much more interactive and social than video games, since you aren’t limited by what is programmed into the game. The rules exist to set boundaries and limits, just like a play is limited by the script. These limits actually lead to better games and encourage creativity. That’s why tabletop games are so popular: Creativity within limits.

Making Time for Gaming

Recently my schedule has been nuts, but usually I have one consistent weekly game that is part of an ongoing campaign (what we call a Season Game), and randomly scheduled Bonus Episodes that give me the chance to experiment or try strange things, new systems, or mechanical tweaks. Some players prefer the Bonus Episodes, while others only play in the Season Games.

I get four or five bonus episodes a month, and three or four Season games a month. And, again, I’m really the only GM in my group of about 20 people. Eventually some of them will break and take the gamemastering plunge for themselves. Until then, I am never short on players.

Tools of the Trade

I use Google+ as our community hub, and it works very well for that, since players can post sketches, ideas, start discussions, and so on. I might use Google Docs to keep track of my notes, but I don’t use very many tools. All my tabletop PDFs and books are stored on Dropbox for easy access anywhere.

I’m working on trying Roll20 and setting up a semi-regular online game for some of my out of town friends, I just haven’t gotten around to it. Meeting in person is so much easier and more fun in my opinion.

Net Presence

My website has recently been covering a lot of my tabletop thoughts and ideas. I alternate between programming, writing, speaking, and tabletop stuff. I never expected it to be so popular, and my only complaint is that for all the views I get, I have zero comments. If you like my site, drop me a line or start a discussion. That means more to me than pageviews or reblogs.

Final Thoughts

Tabletop gaming is more than just a fun hobby or enjoyable pastime. It’s a way for me to connect with others in a small, intimate setting. Our culture is obsessed with Facebook likes, hook-up culture, packed bars with loud music, twitter followers, and YouTube views. There are very few areas in my life where I can cut off all of that stuff and connect with people that I care about. I’ve been using video games in the past, but tabletop games are so much more pure, forcing me into a small group of people for a long period of time (especially in our hectic busy world).

As a Christian, I know that I am called to love my neighbors. And tabletop games have become one of the best ways for me to show love to others. There is nothing cooler than finding someone who feels lost, lonely, or disconnected, and handing them a character sheet saying “welcome to the group.” That’s the power of tabletop RPGs. The players and the GM almost become a family. A really dysfunctional family at times, but a family nonetheless. That is why I love tabletop games so much, that is why I write all my stuff on the Internet, and GM as much as I can. I like adding members to my family.

Interviewed 2014-05-01


Hisham

My name is Khairul Hisham and I live in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I spend most of my day drawing art commissions (mostly for the indie game industry, sometimes ebook covers), marketing my illustration work online and making sure my son has his lunch and finishes his homework after school.

How It All Started

It has been almost exactly a quarter century since I received and started running West End Games’ Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game. I’ve always been a Star Wars fan and roleplaying games were brought to my attention by the gaming column of a local newspaper. It introduced me to a gaming multiverse limited only by your imagination. Here are some then and now pictures.

The Games We Play

I play any game whenever I can with the group, though I don’t have the time available to play all the games they play. I love the range of games we play. We cover everything from science fiction to contemporary fantasy. We give any game we can get our hands on a try, and if we can muster up a regular player pool for that game it turns into a full-blown campaign.

The GM Has Become the Player

I used to GM all the time back in school, but with my current group I play more than I gamemaster.

Describing Tabletop RPGs

It’s fun. It’s like reading a book or watching a TV show, but you’re in the story as a character. Also, you get to hang out with (and make new) friends. It also exercises your creativity and language skills.

Many Players, Many Games

My gaming circle consists of a network of dozens of players, but there are perhaps six or seven players whom I regularly game with personally. The games I’m involved with at the moment are Eclipse Phase, Night’s Black Agents and Star Wars: Edge of the Empire. I play with them every Sunday whenever I can free myself from family obligations. The group also plays Trail of Cthulhu, 13th Age, Vampire: The Masquerade, Dungeons and Dragons, and a host of other stuff without me, sometimes on weeknights.

Anything goes with the group. We have ongoing campaigns and one-shots depending on which GMs and players are available.

I also gamemaster for my son from time to time. So far we’ve played Microlite20, BareBones Fantasy, Call of Cthulhu, Robotech RPG and Star Wars: Edge of the Empire. Sometimes the guys from the regular group also run Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space — my son and I both play in that game. I’ve found that tabletop RPGs can be a great learning tool for him, technically and socially.

Tools of the Trade

I use my blog to write actual play reports for my games, though it’s time I started using Obsidian Portal. Pencils and paper are my favorite tools for running in-person sessions.

There are also tools I use for specific games. For Night’s Black Agents, a smartphone is very useful as we can look up places and view photos and maps on the Internet, which makes for a more authentic feel. The other day I smashed the Bucharest City Council building with a construction crane. Almost immediately we had a photo of the building during play.

Online Presence

I do have a personal blog that includes my tabletop RPG activities, which features categories for all the campaigns I’m involved in even as a player.

I also post quite a bit about tabletop RPGs (and general nerdery) on G+, Twitter and Facebook. All the my non-gamers Facebook friends have learned to tune out my ultra-nerdy gaming posts, I suppose. But seriously, there are a lot of gamers in my friends list, so my posts don’t go to waste.

About the Art

I draw stuff, which helps with tabletop roleplaying games. For one thing, I’m able to draw characters and scenes for the games I play. I’ve also been commissioned to do art for game companies, like Wicked North Games, DWD Studios, Heroic Journey Publishing, Imperfekt Gammes, and others. Much of my work can be viewed here.


Zlatan and Sami in Night’s Black Agents

Interviewed 2014-05-01


Michael

Hello! My name is Michael Harrel. I am originally from the U.S., but I currently live in Baños, Ecuador. Most days find me teaching English as a second language.

How It All Started

I’ve been playing RPGs for about 20 years now, since I was 13 years old. I’d heard of Dungeons and Dragons years earlier, at my grandmother’s church, where it was heavily derided as Satanic. But they showed a photo of the cover of the AD&D 1e Players Handbook, and I distinctly remember thinking, “Wow! That looks cool!” Growing up, my brothers and I always liked playing wargames and strategy games, and later on we got into Battletech (after playing the Mechwarrior 2 computer game, I believe), and then from there it was a short jump over to the Mechwarrior tabletop RPG. I guess my parents decided that one, at least, didn’t look too Satanic.

Favorite Games

I play a lot of small press or “indie” RPGs with a focus on simple rules and creative collaboration. Vincent Baker, the designer of Dogs in the Vineyard and Apocalypse World, is definitely a favorite. Avery McDaldno (of Monsterhearts fame) and John Harper (of Lady Blackbird, Agon, and World of Dungeons) are two others that spring readily to mind. I like these sorts of games because I’ve always been more interested in the narrative creation side of the games than mastering a complex rules system. And I like the way that some small press games experiment with the division of authority — e.g., who gets to make up what, and when. Getting away from the typical ‘90s model of GM-as-author and the players-as-audience was a lifesaver for me.

A Veteran Gamemaster

Generally I have been the GM, up until my most recent in-person gaming group a couple years ago. All through high school, college, and beyond I was always the GM. I think my friends didn’t want to have to do all the work that came with running the sorts of games we were playing in the way we were playing them back then.

Explaining Roleplaying Games and Story Games

Roleplaying games and story games are structured collaborative storytelling. And those three elements are also what make RPGs unique and why I love them so much. They provide such a very different creative experience than writing a story by oneself, or even writing a story as a group. Because of the rule structure, the act of creation is made dramatic and unpredictable. Because of the collaboration, we’re free to build on top of each other’s ideas to make the narrative better than any of us could alone; and we all experience the story from slightly different angles, making it more than simply the sum of its parts. Plus, I’m just in love with fictional narrative and story in any form.

A Gaming Circle

I have two friends, Hannah and Bekka, who have played in virtually every campaign I’ve run in the past ten years. Beyond them, like many groups, the size of my circle is always changing. The Internet and video chat have been a huge help in allowing me to stay in touch with gaming friends who live far away; and increasing the pool of people I can call on to play with.

Tools of the Trade

We use Google Hangouts and Google Drive. There are a number of gaming-related add-ons for Hangouts, including virtual dice. I also have large collections of dice and graph paper notebooks for analog games. Having a tablet or ebook reader with PDFs is handy for carrying around large rules collections, though as of yet you can’t beat flipping through actual pages.

Net Presence

I run a blog on Tumblr called Infinite Machine. It’s mostly a collection of speculative fiction-related images and posts, and the subject of RPGs comes up pretty regularly. I also use it to organize online games (including newbie friendly games!) from time to time.

Interviewed 2014-05-01

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