You’re Gonna Screw Up

2 minute read

Really, you will. No matter what you do, when you play a tabletop roleplaying game, you’ll misinterpret the rules. You’ll create a character that just doesn’t mesh with the rest of the PCs. You’ll make the wrong choice. You’ll introduce something as a gamemaster that will make your players look at you like you’re out of your mind.

Even the best surfers wipe out.

And that’s not just OK, it’s expected.

Don’t believe me? Let me tell you a little story to illustrate my point. Several years ago I was about to give up on tabletop roleplaying. The gaming group I’d been part of for many years had folded. I didn’t have anyone to game with, and I figured I’d reached the end of the line.

I decided that before I put my game books in cold storage and start learning how to paint by numbers, I should give it one more shot. Amazingly by way of Meetup I found a small local group that was looking to fill an empty slot in a Call of Cthulhu campaign.

At this point it my life I’d been playing tabletop RPGs, with a few interruptions, for over 25 years. I’d played a wide variety of games with several different groups. I’d run lengthy campaigns and mastered complex rules. Still, I was a bit nervous about what amounted to a blind date with three people who were complete strangers.

As I rolled up my character I kept getting really crappy attribute rolls. None of them exceeded 9. It was ridiculous. Matt, the GM, was kind enough to let me roll attributes again. The bad luck continued. I couldn’t believe it. Until I checked the dice I was using.

Sure enough, I was using six-sided d3 dice I’d picked up somewhere along the line for some unknown reason. It had two 1s, two 2s, and two 3s. I laughed and explained this to everyone at the table. It was pretty funny, and they all busted up with laughter.

Then I rolled up my character and we started playing. Immediately I could tell I was going to gel with this group. We had a fun evening, interspersed with lighthearted jokes about my d3 mistake. I came back the following week, and kept playing with this group. The d3 incident became an in-joke for our group.

Here’s why this story is important: We’d all been playing many years before I joined the table. We all knew that using the wrong dice was funny, but we all also knew it was something that could have happened to any one of us. Ask any group that has been playing together for a while and they’ll tell you a similar sort of story about an adventure gone wrong, a misguided player decision, or a GM non sequitir that confused everyone else at the table.

When you’re playing a tabletop RPG, you’re really just sharing time with friends. You’re engaging with other people, and that is inherently imperfect. Actually it’s those imperfections of human interaction that make tabletop roleplaying such a marvelous pastime. So don’t fear mistakes. Know that you’ll screw up. Laugh at it, embrace it, and play on.

Image Credit

Haste makes waste…. by Aristocrats-hat under CC-by-2.0 license.