There are many stereotypes attributed to role players, but the truth is that we come from all walks of life. We’re students and soldiers, programmers and prison guards, teachers and porn stars. I’ve resolved to travel across the world and play with as many different groups as I can – to find out what draws people to gaming, to see what we have in common and what’s different. I stay for three days wherever I go. One day I run a game for my hosts. Another day I ask them to entertain me, showing me the things they love or find inspiring. The third day is open. If you’re interested in being a part of it, contact me at [email protected].
You’ve just put away your dice for the night. It’s late, but you and your friends are in the mood to relax and talk about the game. Someone suggests that you go to the Home of the Scones, and why not? A hot buttered scone is just the thing for a midnight snack.
If you’re used to the scones of Scotland, this may seem like a strange idea. When I hear the word “scone,” I think of a small, hard pastry that could be used as a deadly weapon; not exactly the stuff that late-night snacks are made of. But we’re not in Scotland tonight. This is Boise, Idaho. Forget the potatoes and get your scone on.
My host Kevin is an IT/Web Developer for an Idaho PBS affiliate. His house shows a blended love of fantasy and science fiction. Novels compete for shelf space with a wide range of roleplaying sourcebooks, and a colossal red dragon stands next to an Imperial Walker from Star Wars. Cats named after Sith Lords and Firefly characters watch impassively as the gamers gather for the night.
Kevin’s friends are in their thirties and forties, and most of them have been gaming together for over ten years. Kevin met one of the other players – another Kevin – while both of them were working at Albertsons; a decade later, Kevin the first is keeping PBS on the air in Idaho, and Kevin the second is a Senior Systems Engineer. The two Kevins played Rifts together long ago, then pulled in Richard and Dave to start a Second Edition Dungeons & Dragons game. Ben joined the group with the advent of third edition D&D and has been a part of it ever since. Other players have come and gone over the years; when I arrived, the most recent addition was Kevin’s girlfriend, Tanya. But the original players were still there, over ten years later.
While Tanya was a newcomer when she joined the group, most of the players were gamers before they were friends. A young Ben loved reading the Monster Manual long before he ran his first game – something I remember from my own childhood. The first Kevin started in fifth grade, running adventures inspired by the movie Krull. The second Kevin was drawn into roleplaying when the tenant in the apartment above him invited him to play so that the sound of the game wouldn’t be an issue. “They were a loud group,” he says. “I was hooked from that point on.”
I always ask people what they love most about roleplaying, and there’s a common thread here: friendship. As an avid reader of fantasy, my host loves the opportunity to shape his own story – to be the character at the heart of the novel. But the most important thing is that it’s a tale that he’s creating and sharing with his friends. The second Kevin agrees. “I couldn’t care less what game we play,” he says. “I just like hanging out with my friends.”
Watching the group play, it’s easy to see the strength of that friendship. Laughter comes easily, along with stories of past triumphs and humiliating defeats. I’ve been in groups where clashing playstyles have created tension, or where one person can only have fun when he’s spoiling it for everyone else. There’s none of those self-destructive elements in this group. The circumstances of a story may pit characters against one another, and indeed, as this game goes on, Dave tries to sneak something past the others. It doesn’t last long. Ben realizes what he’s doing and calls it out – but while it’s an unfortunate moment for Dave’s character, all of the players enjoy the scene.
Ben is one of the group’s regular DMs, and he loves being on both sides of the screen. Like the Kevins, he emphasizes the social nature of gaming as being the most important aspect of it. What does he enjoy about roleplaying? “What don’t I enjoy about it?” he says. “It challenges me with political puzzles, riddles, geometic teasers, and optimization. When I’m DMing, I get to research history, technology, and linguistics and then play around with alternate versions of all of those things.”
After a moment’s pause, he adds, “And now that I’m getting older, I also get a test group for whatever cooking challenge I’m attempting next.”
Ben didn’t cook on the night of our game, which brings us to the scones. Kevin was adamant that I couldn’t pass through Boise without stopping at Merritt’s Country Café, a 24-hour hole in the wall that advertises itself as “The Home Of The Scones”. But don’t grab the clotted cream just yet. The promise of a scone didn’t set my mouth watering, but what was set before me was an enormous melding of fried dough, cinnamon sugar, and butter, what I can only imagine you’d get if a beignet was exposed to gamma radiation and got angry. And I like it when it’s angry. I’ve always been of the opinion that dessert isn’t really dessert unless chocolate is involved – luckily that means I can consider this a meal.
Touching base with the players earlier this week, I learned that there’s been a few changes in Boise. Richard has left the group and been replaced by the second Kevin’s son Arik, bringing a new generation to the table. Tanya and Kevin have split up, and Tanya hasn’t played since. But she says, “It sparked a interest in creative writing that I didn’t know I had. I’ve been able to use that creativity to further my goals and expand my experiences.” She hopes that the lessons she’s learned in character development will one day help her write a novel.
Times change. Relationships shift. People lose their jobs and find new ones. But the game continues. These friends have been creating stories together for over a decade; I hope they’ll still be playing a decade from now.
Keith Baker is best known for creating the Eberron Campaign Setting for Dungeons & Dragons and the card game Gloom, but he’s also worked on at least five games that you’ve never heard of. If you want to know more, check out http://www.bossythecow.com/hdwt/.