Living the Dream

Oh no, we aren't a gaming family. Why would you think that? Yes, our copy of Dragon does get passed around to everyone in the house (and I figure it's only a matter of time before Dungeon gets the same treatment). Okay, so we have the D&D Master Tools program installed on every computer in the house, and it does see a lot of use (we're looking forward to the actual release of the program - the demo crashes a lot). And dice do tend to be found in the oddest places, but doesn't that happen to everybody who has a cat? So we have a lot of gaming books - three copies of the third edition AD&D players manual at last count, but who's counting? And doesn't everybody have a bookcase devoted just to RPGs?

I've been hanging around gamers since high school. I was exposed to D&D several times and as well as a very bastardized version of Traveller that was played by some friends on the bus on the way to marching band competitions. I kept running into more and more people who were into LARPs (which sound really fun, although I haven't tried one yet) and other RPGs. Still, I never seemed to meet any other females who played, and got the definite impression that gaming was a boys' club. I was curious, but not quite enough to try getting past the implied "No Gurls Alowed" sign on the clubhouse. Besides, everybody else seems to get into gaming as a teenager - I'm a little old to start now, right?

But then an acquaintance from the music committee at church introduced me to an old friend of hers, Sam - a wonderfully intelligent, funny, romantic, handsome game designer (okay, can you tell I'm in love with the guy?). (Thank you Gwen!) They played Werewolf on weekends at Gwen's place, and I was invited to join. Gwen and the rest of the group were very patient with me as a newbie. Yes, all of them had been playing since their teen years - but apparently they're always willing to welcome new gamers to the fold, no matter how old or young (we had a 10-year-old playing with us and holding his own).

To be honest, I didn't find the whole idea of playing a werewolf very appealing - and that came out in my character, who was experiencing a fair amount of angst about it herself. I quickly found, though, that it can be very fun to lose yourself in a character who can be very different from yourself, or very much like yourself but doing things you'd never dare doing in your mundane life! And you can learn quite a lot about people pretty quickly by gaming with them - more so than in most social situations I encounter, anyway. And it's a good thing I was interested in gaming already - it isn't something you can fake well - because I don't think I could really get along with my partner that well if I couldn't share an interest that is so important to him (obviously others have found this a problem).

For a variety of reasons the Werewolf game ended more quickly than normal. We moved on to playing a variation on another White Wolf game, Mage, that Sam changed a fair amount (we played in the "World of Mostly Dimness" rather than the World of Darkness™). He called it Threshold Mage, and I loved it. My character was completely different from me in almost every way - well, she was still female, but just about everything else was different. We ended up with eight players in that game, which I'm told is close to the maximum who can easily participate in a non-LARP game. I would have very happily continued that campaign indefinitely, but Sam started with a definite end in mind.

We've just started an AD&D third edition campaign in which I'm playing a half-elven bard. This is the first time I've gotten to use miniatures, which is rather neat. I'm looking forward to playing Pendragon, which is another game I've heard my gamer friends discuss. There's been a fair amount of talk about getting a Changeling game going, and I'm willing to give it a try but I'm not really wild about the whole World of Darkness universe - I guess I see enough darkness in the real world that I'd rather play in a brighter place! Several of the guys in our group love Shadowrun, as well. Some of them do a fair amount of online gaming, but I don't think that would be nearly as much fun for me - I enjoy the real-time social interaction a lot - I think it would be harder to do online gaming with kids around, too.

It may sound odd, but one of the things I'm enjoying about gaming is that I get time to do my needlework - if I'm not actually rolling dice or moving a miniature around in combat, I'm stitching.

Sam is invited to run LARPs or one-shot games at various cons from time to time, so I'll probably get my chance to try that soon enough. He wrote a kids' LARP that he ran at our church a few years back and ran it as part of the children's programming track at Dragon Con in 1999 - it was a major success. That led to being the director of Kid Con at Dragon Con 2000, where he of course did another LARP. He also ran a children's LARP as part of family week at the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies this past summer.

Sam plays D&D with our kids (as well as whatever other kids end up here) whenever we can make time for it. They played the old Star Wars RPG after we all went to see Phantom Menace together (and there's a lot of excitement about the new version coming from TSR), and the girls recently started playing the Sailor Moon RPG with a friend of theirs. Katie has been asking when she'll be old enough to play Mage - parts of the Threshold campaign were definitely rated PG-13, but I suppose Sam could probably run a Mage game suitable for kids.

Gaming As a Parent

Or actually, with your kids around. I didn't realize it was an issue, since I've only gamed with kids around, never without! It seems some people think that you can't game with children present, or something like that - I've encountered several people who said they stopped gaming when they had kids. Well, Sam's kids have been around gaming throughout their lives, and Katie's been around it for the last couple of years, and we haven't had any problems. We do make sure we game here or at another house that's already set up for kids, and we make sure we have things set up to keep the kids busy - videos, Playstation games, whatever (since our kids don't usually get much "screen time" videos and Playstation games are a pretty big treat for them). They love gaming nights because we have more junk food around than usual and don't really enforce their normal bedtimes. They often want to sit in and listen to the game as much as possible (they are shooed away for some parts of the game - if anything gets really nasty/dangerous for our characters, etc.). It was necessary for me to explain the nature of roleplaying to Katie in the beginning - otherwise, if my character got upset or hurt, she got upset because she thought I was upset. She understands that much better now that she's playing herself.

Fortunately the folks we play with do understand that occasionally kids are going to interrupt a game with requests or minor crises or just the need for some attention, and the kids understand that we're busy and keep those to a minimum while we're playing. Since we play with several other parents, too, we use round-robin or tribal parenting - if there's either suspicious silence from the kids' part of the house, or suspicious amounts of noise, whoever isn't immediately involved in the current play goes to investigate and deal with it.

Gaming With Kids

Actually, Sam has said a fair amount about gaming with kids on his own web site, and he knows a lot more about it that I do. I've had several people ask me, though, how I can let my kids get into gaming, or even watch us game as aduts, as they seem to assume gaming is a Bad Thing.

We do make sure the kids know the difference between fantasy and reality, and we find it good for them to see that sometimes bad things happen to your characters through no fault of their own - no, life isn't fair, and neither are games. They also see our characters being creative in working through problems, and dealing with personality conflicts with people they must cooperate with in order to achieve whatever the current goal is - all valuable life lessons.

The way Sam runs games, at least, the kids quickly find out that no matter how good their characters are at fighting, combat isn't the best way to resolve most situations. They learn to question what they're told, to look beyond surface appearances, and to think critically. They're starting to get a decent instinctive grasp of probability from working with dice and character statistics. They're learning that all actions have consequences - and while we reinforce that in every day life, of course, there are some consequences that we as parents won't let them experience in real life that can occur in games (for instance, if they do something really stupid, it's very likely that somebody in the game dies). In one game Genevieve was playing a cleric, and she abused her powers by using them for personal gain. The deity she served immediately took away her powers and she had to spend much of the next game session doing penance to that deity for her behavior. She remembered that lesson for a while.


These are a few links I've bookmarked while learning more about RPGs.
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