Another rainy evening, another minion shows up at my door. He pushes another scroll into my hand. I offer for him to come inside, to warm himself or at least get a moment’s respite from the shower. He grunts, turns away and walks into the wall of water. I crack open the seal. Campfire has done his duty once again.
It sounds like they rely more on their own adventure-building than they do published materials.
“Actually, I was recently made fun of for doing just that,” says Liz. “I miss my old D&D setting sometimes.”
“Made from scratch. I drew up the map in my notebook before an 8am Latin class in college. I had fun creating a pantheon, different cities and regional characteristics, history – stuff like that.”
That sounds like a lot of work.
“RPGs can be very intimidating,” says Lexx. “I was afraid of them for a long time. It just seemed like too much information to understand.”
So how did she get over that intimidation?
“I guess by being thrown into a situation where everyone was willing to help me learn and there wasn’t a lot of pressure on knowing exactly what to do,” she says. “Friendly hints like, ‘Hey Lexx, your character can swim. Why don’t you go check that out?’ ‘How do I do that?’ ‘You roll x die and . . .’” She trails off.
“I’ve found a lot of people who didn’t have friendly groups when they started usually don’t stick with the hobby long.”
“My first campaign was AD&D,” says Liz. “My DM made my character and gave me a brief overview of the character sheet. I remember asking, ‘What the hell do all these numbers even mean?’”
“Yes, that definitely sounds familiar.”
“I think the learning process is more practical than book-based. You can read up on the rules on your own, and some do, but usually the group is ready to teach you.”
Again, the interview takes a turn for the conversational. This time Liz and Lexx talk about the horrors they’ve encountered in past groups – not barrow wights or slippery monsters from beyond the realms of nightmare but players who’ve introduced their significant others to role-playing. These introductions seem to follow a set pattern: Boy joins group, boy is favoured by their GMing partner and showered with gold, XP, loot and what have you; the couple break up messily and the boy’s character is devoured by a soul-scorching demon. It’s an unpleasant shred of the real world creeping into the land of fantasy.
“Some part of your personality is always going to leak into the character,” says Liz.
“This is going to sound kind of creepy, but sometimes my characters start becoming part of me,” says Lexx. “There was this one incident where I got mad at the therapist I was seeing and I started acting like one of my characters in mannerisms and language. It took a few minutes to realize what I was doing and stop.”
“It’s because if you have it in you to think of that for a character, it’s there for you to pull out in other situations. I’ve got an NPC in my game who I know embodies certain traits of my own: ambition, a more masculine approach to things, a certain discomfort with showing any vulnerability. I took traits familiar to me and fiddled with them.”
But not everything in role-playing games comes from books or from within the players themselves. What about the setting the atmosphere for the gaming table? What about props, music and mood lighting – do Liz and Lexx ever use those
“Whenever possible,” says Liz. “It adds to the fun. I like to have a soundtrack–I keep different playlists for different scenes–e.g., one for a fight scene, one for a tragic scene, one for when the scene is wacky enough to merit ‘Yakety Sax’.”
One for ‘ruddy mysterious’?
“Props are kind of fun,” says Lexx. “Like being able to hand out antiqued pieces of paper when you find a note instead of just being told what it says.”
“Lexx is actually going to help make a prop for my next one-shot.”
“I’m recording a few answering machine messages,” she says. “This way they’re not just hearing me do different voices.
“Actually Campfire,” she continues. “if you want to make a filler message you’re welcome to.”
Did I record the message? You bet your Amulet of Retributive Healing I did. I cussed my way through numerous takes before settling on a couple I thought lent dignity both to myself and the guy I was pretending to be. Even though I was only hashing out a couple of lines, I wanted to get it right. For those brief moments I wasn’t Campfire Burning, long-winded thirtysomething malcontent – I was Dexter, a trans-Atlantic grunger who’d vanished into a world filled with magic. In a single recording session I’d caught some of Liz and Lexx’s fever.
(And later, after Liz had run the game, she got back to me about the reaction to my performance: “They kept saying ‘An English accent? Something has to be up with that.”)
I glanced at the clock. It was getting late. For them, I mean; for me it was getting early. Time to wrap things up.
Of all the places RPGs have taken them and all the characters they’ve met, what are their absolute favourites?
“My favorite character of all time was Odion,” says Lexx, referring to the character she’d spoken about at the start of the interview. “He was a ninja-type character with a hell of a lot of issues, a sort of a cross between all of the worst things I’m attracted to and the merchant from Resident Evil 4. I like playing really obnoxious, apathetic, generally mean-spirited characters that are good at murdering people, but also have redeeming qualities. Don’t ask what that says about me.”
“My favorite moments are times when the players have come together to create a great story,” says Liz, obviously a woman after my own heart. “One was when a player character snapped and suddenly went to war with the city. He had been courting Maharej (my character) so when the group went to fight him it was really dramatic. He was about to strike her down, saying, “You were always weak,” when another character came up from behind and killed him. It was tense and thrilling–the romance, the arguments, the loss–and we all came up with it together.”
“Augh,” she says, choked. “Now I miss the group.”
I say I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make her feel bad.
“Nah,” she says. “This always happens. As soon as you put more than one gamer in the room, they’re swapping stories for hours.”
Which is the wonderful thing about role-playing games. I don’t know if my game will work. I don’t know if I have the talent or perseverance to pull off such a thing. But if I and the other players have even a fraction of the fun Liz and Lexx have had over the years they’ve gamed together, it’ll be worthwhile.
As the conversation comes to an end they talk about the ‘season finales’ of their RPG campaigns and the gifts they’ve bought for one another, to celebrate.
“We got t-shirts on our last session,” says Lexx. “The girl who played Stone made rag dolls of our characters and distributed them to everyone.”
Which says it all, really. These games might be little more than pencil, paper and imagination, but I’ll tell you what: You don’t get your own customised t-shirts after a playing game on Xbox.
“Well,” says Liz. “You get shirts with your avatar, I guess.”
Shut up, Liz.
Tell Campfire Burning your own tales. Email him: firstname.lastname@example.org