One Foot in Front of the Other

It has been a rough couple of weeks, no two ways about it. Those who follow me on social media may have seen a blog post from my personal blog memorializing the passing of the first pet my wife and I had together: our beloved cat Storm. His death and the loneliness and emptiness that left behind in our apartment was heartbreaking. I remember at one point looking at my wife and saying “I am tired of being sad, and I am tired from being sad.” But as hard as it was on me, for my wife it was worse, and her grief was as difficult for me as my own was. At times, more so.

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. -Romans 12:15

Grief and sadness are exhausting, and I’ve had a lot more rough, half-asleep mornings in the last couple of weeks that I’ve had in the last couple of year. And yet even when the loss is crushing, such as in the case of the loss of a parent or, worse, a child, society doesn’t long excuse the grief-stricken from their daily duties. Work must be done, obligations must be attended to.

And that goes triple for those who, paradoxically, are going to experience grief-triggering events the most often – soldiers, law enforcement, emergency medical personnel, firefighters, and so on.

You know: player characters.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. -Matthew 5:4

Your average PC probably sees a lot of death, destruction, chaos, and carnage just in their first adventure, to say nothing of their entire career. And they generally press on through it with nary a complaint. This is a genre trope in a lot of cases; superheroes, pulp adventurers, crack special forces troops and so on are often portrayed as “psychologically indestructible” or at least sufficiently hardened, trained, and/or outfitted with coping mechanisms to handle the stress and tragedy of what they deal with. That can be great for lighter, more cinematic, and/or high-adventure campaigns and is certainly a valid way of playing. It’s not the only valid way, though. Some games choose to tackle the stressful, painful, exhausting side of adventuring and the emergent content from those systems is fascinating. (Two properties that explore these themes that probably don’t need any more plugging from me, but are going to get it anyway are This War of Mine and Unknown Armies.)

I’ll admit to a certain level of bias; as a gamer, I’ve begun to feel a bit of what I could term “violence fatigue” in relation to my entertainment. So much of the gaming experience seems to revolve around killing things, and after a while (perhaps as a function of getting older) one starts to tire of all the cleaving and smashing and shooting. In fact, I’d say that exposure to so much violent entertainment over the course of my adolescence and adult life has actually sensitized be to it rather than de-sensitizing like concerned folks often worry will. I’ve allowed some of this to consciously bleed into Lambert in the D&D game. He’s still perfectly capable of fighting and killing if need be (ask the phase spider that scared the living daylights out of us a few sessions back) but he’d really rather not; Lambert knows that violence and death (especially with sapient beings) often leads to grief and suffering. He also recognizes that sometimes, it’s necessary. Lambert lives in a fantasy world with evil things that exist pretty much solely to cause the misery he wants to prevent. That dichotomy (and the high quality of the rest of the gaming group) has allowed for some very interesting character interactions.

A reluctance to wade into battle isn’t the only application for more emotionally vulnerable (or even just emotionally complex) PCs, though. Allowing PCs to feel things and react appropriately is an underutilized trick in a lot of mainstream gaming. One needn’t be all melodramatic and angsty about it. Lambert certainly isn’t an “emo” character, but he’s very much a “Protestant work ethic” kind of guy who pushes himself very hard. In his particular case, he tends to cope with that stress by bantering with the other two PCs, whom he trusts even if not everyone else in the colony does. It takes the edge off and lets him keep going without getting overwhelmed. It’s not a front-and-center part of his character on every adventure, but it does add a bit of texture. And that texture helps keep the game fun, at least for me.

Which can be good when the game is one of the ways I, as a player, manage some small measure of the stress in the real world. Sometimes, knowing how my PC keeps putting one foot in front of the other can help me do the same.


This week’s featured image is from Brent Newhall used under Creative Commons.

The Classics are Classic for a Reason 2

For the first time ever with the particular gaming group I’m in, we’re doing Dungeons & Dragons. Grant has been wanting to try out the 5e rules and it didn’t take any arm-twisting to the get the remaining three of us on board. This is going to be the colonization game that Grant has alluded to on the show, which is a neat idea to begin with, and we’re going to be doing a more Renaissance-era game than a medieval one to go with the idea of exploration and colonization, but it’s still going to be D&D.

There’s a reason why D&D and its progeny such as Pathfinder, 13th Age and the entire OSR movement continue to have staying power – the basic gameplay feedback loop of dungeon crawling, fantasy (whatever its level), and leveling up is so much fun that it’s spawned entire genres of digital representations. Everything from roguelikes, to various types of traditional cRPG, to Diablo and the Dark Souls games have their roots in various flavors of D&D. There’s a lot of fun and excitement to be gained from battling monsters and collecting treasure.

But there’s also something else that’s cool about this type of game: Character creation is front-loaded. Because you pick a class (or two) and then follow it from there, the possibility exists to define more about who your PC is and who they will become in a D&D style game than in something more open-ended like GURPS or Savage Worlds. A class gives you a predefined role to play and as such, it gives you a lot of room to think about how you’ll go about coloring that particular archetype in the campaign. And because of that, I’ve been sitting here entertaining a number of possibilities.

I’ve been thinking about a tiefling paladin/rogue that’s basically an investigator and advocate for the religion he serves and looks like Judge Frolo but acts much more like the bishop in Les Miserables. I’ve been thinking about a wizard, ranger, or wizard/ranger that’s basically the benevolent hermit that lives in the woods and keeps an eye out for the safety of the town(s) he lives near. I’ve been thinking about a wizened, kindly old Celtic-style druid, about a tough old man-at-arms (fighter) who will train the colonists in how to keep bandits and wild beasts at bay with spear and palisade, about the cleric of a sea god on the ship as a hedge against the dangers of the long voyage, and that was just TODAY. (Grant floated the D&D idea on Saturday evening when we wrapped up our Rogue Trader micro-campaign.)

The classics are classics for a reason. Gygax and Arneson definitely managed to bottle lightning when they made D&D, and while it has benefitted from refinement over the years, it’s telling that most of the successful refinements have been ways to make it more like itself. I love all kinds of different RPGs, but I never want to reach the point where I sneer at D&D and turn my nose up at it. Much like cheesecake, I don’t want nothing BUT it all the time, but if I never got a chance to have it again, I would definitely be sad.