Back to the old dining table

Lately I’ve joined an RPG group. You know, the old-school, actually roll dice kind of game. It’s interesting after exclusively getting my RPG fix through computers games. But, as you may have guessed, this post is full of geekiness.

We’re using Pathfinder, which I understand is an offshoot to the 3.5th edition of Dungeons and Dragons. I hadn’t played D&D since 2nd edition, and that was well over ten years ago. The first session was a lot of me getting used to the new rules (“There’s no THAC0? And I’m always rolling d20s? That’s… weird but neat”) whilst trying to integrate into the mostly-unknown group. I knew the DM and the party’s Paladin, but the other guys were new to me. They’d been RPGing for many years and had had many adventures together. It was weird coming in as an outsider, but everyone was friendly.

I chose my character to be a half-elf Ranger, mostly because we already had our quota of fighters and the other options required me to be too savvy about rules, spells and stuff to be effective. I’m a Narrativist from the GNS School, so I had this backstory where I linked all my character design decisions from. Well, okay, I pulled the name “Rainor” from the Markov language model in my head, but everything else was story 🙂 A little cliched, but still it got my inner critic’s wary stamp of approval.

Rainor grew up in a small village on the outer edges of the empire, helping his father hunt and trap. One day they returned from a successful hunt to find the village under attack. Orcs had staged a blitz raid. Houses were afire and bodies lay everywhere. Rainor and his father watched from the treeline. To his eternal lament, Rainor saw a band of orcs defile his elven mother and then tear her into pieces. Knowing they would suffer a similar fate if they stayed, he and his father fled into the woods and never returned. They roamed through the thickly wooded countryside, living off the land and staying away from anyone who had even the slightest chance of causing trouble. One night, Rainor and his father sat around a campfire, as they often did, eating the spoils of their hunt and not saying much at all. Rainor’s father wiped his hands, got to his feet and announced he was going to bed. On his way past Rainor he threw a little cloth map into his chest, casual as could be. Rainor spent the night looking over the faded map. By the morning, his father had passed away in his sleep.

Yeah, nothing too special, but I managed in that brief story to get his class (Ranger), his preferred combat style (archery), his chosen foe (Orcs) and his personality (austere and wary to trust others) all sorted and interrelated. I also had a neat future plot hook for the DM to use if he liked. I kinda liked the idea of his personality damage coming from the orcs’ defilement of his mother (the orcs being irrational, hateful, barbaric forces of nature destroying that which is pure, female, elven). I have to steal that from myself some time.

My party is fairly mercenary, mostly because the other guys are experienced (read: jaded?) RPGers. I played my character as being standoffish but slowly warming to the group (kinda intentional to reflect my introduction to the gaming group). We’ve had two adventures now and I’m still playing him as reserved, but there is an element of trust. Well I thought there was until our thief-mage Colour Sprayed me into unconsciousness, leading me to very nearly being subjected to a coup-de-grace by a flustered turnip-farming kobold. It subdued the three other kobolds so I guess it was worth it.

The dynamic of tabletop RPGs is quite different to computer RPGs. I’m used to exploring every nook and cranny, and chasing down every loose thread in an RPG game. In a tabletop RPG you have to consider the others and understand the risks of going it alone – dangers are at the level of the party’s combined forces, not at each person’s individual capability. I wanted to go off and do something suicidal heroic, but was pulled back by the unspoken warnings from the party. Every player seems to have a role to play and the best way forward is together.

One other interesting comparison was how our task list evolved. In a computer RPG I’d expect to have a laundry list of different things to do. In this we more-or-less have just the one plot thread at a time. There’s an overarching goal and I’m sure things get much more complicated later, but it felt linear: our caravan got raided; we hunted down the remainders; we earnt some bounty on the goblins we killed; the bounty-givers encouraged us to go south to a trading post for more bounty-getting; the trading post was being extorted by bandits; bandits attacked; remaining bandits fled with our horses; I tracked the horses down and we’re about to go deliver some justice to the horse-thieves. Your modern computer RPG would like splitting plotlines and some parallel tracks at this point, but I think we’re fine with how we’re going so far. I guess the linearity is borne from DM overhead, our party’s mercenary nature, the fact we’re using a bought adventure and we never really cared to explore other options. Also the infinite freedom in tabletop games means that the choices aren’t as easily enumerated as they would be in a computer game. I don’t know I’m missing out on a quest if I don’t ask or try.

In the back of my head I’m making little notes for Kung Fu Legends. I think I’d like to wed the strengths of both forms in some way, but we’ll see how that goes.