The first time I ever played a pen and paper role playing game was at a Boy Scout camp. Our troop leader asked a few of the older boys if we would be interested in playing a Robotech game. My first thought was “We get to play as giant robots? I’m in!”, and thus started my long adventure into trying to be the most badass character in every game.
Years later I met up with Matt and found that we each had the most useless books to begin playing an AD&D 2nd edition game. He owned the Dungeon Masters Guide while I had the setting book for Forgotten Realms. We ran off (no cars back then) to the local bookstore to find the Players Guide. We then spent the next three years running and playing in amazingly epic and horribly trope-filled bar fights/dungeon crawls/wizard towers, all the while twinking out our various characters with every conceivable magic item. There was even a point when my Elven Bladesinger had a skirt of swords so he could have the right sword for all occasions. We even allowed the Deck of Many Things and a wishing ring in some of our adventures.
After years of one-shots and over-the-top stat-ed out characters, we found the final two to what would be our permanent group. Karen and Ramses had never played before and both had reservations about the game, but we convinced them to try it, and they both had fun. Eventually Karen wanted to try her hand at GMing. It was at this point the tale of our characters completely changed. Karen actually created a campaign with story and continuity. Matt immediately jumped in with both feet. He created a huge backstory with plot hooks and actually gave his character a voice. I on the other hand had the generic “my parents were killed, so I’m traveling” past and my focus was still on making my character as stat-ed out as possible. Even through the years long campaign my actual character was a second thought to what amazing stuff he could do.
And so we come to more modern times when Karen is running a World of Darkness campaign and we are all playing average people in a world that is going crazy with the supernatural. My attempts at defining a character were much better than in my past, but I was still unable to step into the role and experience the game. I spent more time wondering which stats I could use to help in the situation than thinking about the real reaction my character should have. The only times I really felt comfortable in the game was when we were trying to decipher puzzles, but that was mostly due to their being an overlap in character abilities and Robert abilities. I had created this PC from scratch, but I really didn’t know who he was.
Since we last played in the World of Darkness game I have been listening to a number of RPG podcasts, and reading up on the hobby, not just stats and rules. These things, along with a failed attempt a running a 4E campaign have really changed my perception of what playing the game really means. This is not a video game where the story are the bits you can’t control between fights, this is a game where the players create their own stories. The players shape the world the GM created.
It has taken me a number of years and I’m sure a great deal of frustration on the parts of my GMs for me to get to this point, but now it is time for me to kick ass and chew bubblegum, and I’m all out of ass.