Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Reviving my Inner Child

One of the main reasons I decided to get back into tabletop RPGs was in order to fulfill my need for a creative outlet. The role of the DM pulls from multiple creative disciplines and rolls them all into one. A good DM is a storyteller, writer, improviser, actor and to varying degrees, a visual artist.

Now, in my younger days, I was a copious drawer of stuff and things... usually the bizarre sorts of stuff and things that would spring like little mal-formed Athenae from my forehead... usually complete with lasers, or robotic appendages. I kept numerous sketchbooks from my childhood and throughout high school. I could never keep up with a diary or journal, preferring to express myself in pictures and doodles.

When I reached college, my artistic flood began to wane. I found myself increasingly blocked and when I had an idea, I would often second guess my skill to render it, or the "coolness" of the drawing in the first place. My drawing sessions became fewer and further between.

After college, I got sick, and my drawings were put on indefinite hold... debilitating hand tremors will do that. However, as I slowly recovered the use of my hands, I found that my urge to draw remained at least as muted as it was in college, though mostly again because of mental blocks and lack of inspiration.

When I began playing D&D again, I happily found it provided a convenient body of material from which to rekindle my love of drawing. Perhaps the imaginative nature of the game broke through to my inner child so that I spent less time questioning what and why I was drawing, and more time focusing on how... and actually doing it! If I needed a why, I could just say, "It's for the game!"

Anyway, here are a couple images that have been directly inspired by my recent rpg endeavors... Note: the comic will not make any sense to you unless you have experienced the convoluted mathematical system used to determine the price for any given magic weapon or suit of armor in D&D... believe me, it's a pain in the butt!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Coming out of the Dungeon

So, it is one week since Pride Week here in Seattle. When  I wrote this, the streets of Capitol Hill were decorated with rainbow balloons and drag queens were buying street food from vendor booths, inciting everyone into a generally out and proud kind of mood.

Now normally I am merely a happy bystander, an observer of the Pride festivities. After all, I am not a homosexual, bisexual, vegisexual or any other kind of sexual that might put me on Mike Huckabee’s “to change or hate” list. In general, I am about as far from being oppressed as anyone could be… White. Male. Ancestors kicked butt…

However, a while back, I came to the realization that I do in fact harbor a secret lifestyle, one which I have only shared with my close friends for fear of being ostracized.

So, seeing that it is Pride Week, I think it is only appropriate for me to accept who I am and to finally be open about the fact that I play D&D. That’s right, that D&D; The one with the Dungeons and the Dragons. In fact, not only do I play… but I am also a Dungeon Master. I create the worlds and stories and get to play the bad-guys! In fact, every Thursday night, I gather with a group of friends to roll dice, do math, kill zombies and eat Cheetos.

Before continuing, I think I should mention that I am in no way trying to equate homosexuality, and the persecution and other challenges often encountered by people who are gay, with my status as a Dungeons & Dragons player. They are not even in the same universe… or campaign setting as we would say at the gaming table… but I have been thinking about trying to be more open about this little secret I carry and feel that, in a way, it fits with the spirit of openness that is embodied by Pride. My gay friends will probably still roll their eyes at yet another breeder trying to get in on their week of celebration.

So, what lead me to play D&D? Well, as a child, I was very creative. I liked reading sci-fi / fantasy novels and would often imagine up my own worlds and stories inspired by the things I read. I was fascinated by maps and swords and exotic places. I would often attempt to write stories about my imaginings, to draw them out in picture form, or reenact them with my Legos.

When I was in high school, I played my first game of Dungeons & Dragons. I was young and experimenting and I was dating a girl who played. I went out and picked up the basic rule books and started a game with my girlfriend and a few others. It was halting and awkward… none of us knew what we were doing, but I was intrigued by this new outlet for my creative energies. That series of games fell apart after only a couple weeks, and I didn’t play for a long time.

Then, a few years ago, I discovered that some coworkers of mine were looking to start a game. I joined in and played almost weekly for several months. I enjoyed the game sessions immensely, but found myself being very secretive about this particular aspect of my life to anyone outside the group. If people asked, “So what are you up to tonight?” I would simply shrug, or use a euphemism like “I’m having a game night with some friends.” I didn’t want to tell them I was going to play Dungeons & Dragons for fear that they would think less of me.

Often, when I do open up and use the D&D word, I get quizzical sometimes even derisive looks. People seem amazed that I am not overweight, unwashed and unable to carry on an otherwise normal conversation. In short, I do not fit the stereotypical image of a D&D player.  I get questions like, “So do you dress up and act like elves?” To which I respond, “No, Those are LARPers (live-action role-players). We wear normal clothes and keep track of our characters on paper.” The reactions I often receive when I reveal my secret activities, combined with the stereotypical image of a D&D player depicted in popular culture encourage me to be very selective about who I reveal my habit to… like Batman.

To be quite honest, I find it odd that this game does still carry such a stigma around it. After all, playing board games is perfectly acceptable to the vast majority of people, adults included. Books and movies like Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings, which deal with subjects very similar to those found in Dungeons & Dragons, are wildly popular the world over. Even video games, some of which are actually set in D&D-specific settings are more generally acceptable to talk about at a cocktail party than the original iteration. And it is not uncommon to overhear coworkers discussing imaginary teams of sporting players they pit against other imaginary teams for their seasonal fantasy football or baseball league.  So, what is it about the pen and paper version of D&D that keeps it wrapped in a shroud of nerd-dom? I still am not sure.

I too am guilty of perpetuating the rpg nerd stereotype, if for no other reason, than because I am so hesitant to publicly acknowledge it as an aspect of my personality and find myself so surprised to learn that certain friends of mine, who also do not fit the stereotypical image of a Dungeons & Dragons player, enjoy sitting around a table, rolling dice. Every time this happens, I once again ask myself, “Why should anyone be embarrassed to admit that they get together and play games with friends?” and I always answer, “They shouldn’t! That’s just silly.”

And so, that brings me to the purpose of this blog: To celebrate the nerdliest side of my personality and to bring out my closeted inner nerd, with pride. I plan to write about my experiences at the gaming table, and the ways they interact with other aspects of my life. I also hope to encourage myself and others to stop second-guessing their creative impulses. When they hear the little voice in their heads say, “Oh, don’t do that… It’s pointless. You’re not very good at it. It doesn’t have any practical applications. You'll look ridiculous!” I hope to remind people that nothing is pointless if it brings you joy. For me, one of many things which adds joy to my life, is sitting around a table with good friends, rolling dice and delving into the imaginative, interactive storytelling that is Dungeons & Dragons.

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