5 Lessons from my first Role-Playing Session

Oddly I’ve not role-played for nearly a year; it’s quite odd considering how much I have played every years since I was eleven; amusingly my speech recognition thought I said “since I was elven”. Whilst I have been resting, trying to heal, I have been rereading my unfinished role-playing guide, as well as some old anecdotes. This article follows up on my role-playing introduction that I wrote about in role-playing and cyberpunk, I recommend reading that first.

I have written the following about my origin in role-playing to help explain why I emphasis certain aspects. My intent is not to be preachy about what people should do or prioritise; I long since stopped viewing role-playing as a competition.  Whilst I have my preferences, I strive to adapt to different situations, other players’ preferences, and of course moods.

Mr Knowles ran the Warwick High School role-playing games (RPG) club. In 1987 most of the club members played Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st Edition, and that is the system I spent the first few years playing. I was aware of other games being played at the club, such as: Traveller, Palladium, as well as board games such as Chainsaw Warrior or Star Warriors. Coincidentally, about 5 years later I got to know several of the older lads I had seen at the club, one became a close friend, and another became my boss when I worked at KJC Games.

During the first week of joining the club, several of us were allowed to play during our lunch breaks. We got to try out tiny scenarios, to learn mechanics with context. I got a bit more explanation about the concept of in-character (IC) and out-of-character (OOC) from Mr Knowles, as the concept seemed paradoxically easy and confusing to my eleven-year-old mind. That week I also met the older players in the group run by Julian that led me to Pete, which I had mentioned in my cyberpunk article.

Batjutsu old D&D, AD&D

My 1st Campaign Session

On Friday the RPG club had its weekly official sessions. For my first Friday I took part in a game that was a big leap for a novice, I was given a level 7 Illusionist! I had barely learnt the core mechanics, yet I was being given an experienced character, and I was expected to know what my spell list was, what the character should memorise, never mind crucial campaign information like monsters and social knowledge.

In a busy science class room, a small group of eleven-year-olds were crowded round a long lab table; I wish I had a picture. We were being mentored by sixteen-year-olds, well more like tolerated. I vaguely remember later talking to a few of the players, trying to figure out why these older lads had agreed to be mentors when they clearly seemed disinterested in more than teasing our inexperience. Playing was more like being dragged along a semi-interactive cut scene, with random dice rolls being called out for the strangest of incidents, like an archaic set of quick time events.


dnd screen

Looking back now this first session had the typically bad introduction, the Dungeon Master (DM) listed off a bunch of made up nouns in quick succession, and no context was given. Even if we had been playing first level characters that we have made ourselves, we would have still struggled to grasp what was going on. I don’t recall there being a discussion about backstory, plot arc, personality traits, how this existing party dynamic worked. After all, we were given level 7 characters that had allegedly been played for years in the same group.

After a few random encounters the game resulted in our characters being stranded in the wilderness, in winter, on foot, whilst a blizzard was raging. The characters kept travelling, and soon they were days from anyway, they had run out of provisions for fire, and had no shelter. The mentors or DM didn’t have much of an explanation as to why we had been led into this blatantly bad situation; we had just been told that we had to move quickly to catch up with our target (insert random noun).

The phrase “Winter is Coming”, reminds me of this gaming session. A weak quirky association.

So, each IC day a party member took turns begging for divine intervention. A percentile role of 1, was needed, except the cleric needed a 2 or less. Obviously given the statistical chances required, the rolls failed.

A single 1% is hard enough, requiring several rolls?

Eventually after days of failing, and with the party members near death my character, I enquired as to whether my character should be praying to the pantheon as opposed to an Illusion God. The DM made a secret role and declared my character’s thoughts were perceived as blasphemy, a lightning bolt struck my character destroying all clothing, equipment and leaving on 1 hit point. My character then sacrificed themselves in an act of  penance, to have a bonfire lit to save the rest of the party; I had been told my character would die in moments from exposure. The older lads were in hysterics, and apparently I had made a classic mistake?

“HAHA you died due the DM rolling a dice for suspect reasoning!”

Afterwards I spoke with some other players, a few thought it was hysterically funny, which given the maturity level of eleven-year-olds wasn’t surprising. Thankfully a few other players were not mean, and in fact they thought the whole thing was ridiculous. It was highlighted that since my character was good and worshipped a good god, it was very odd that a good god would kill a character for a thought, never mind the fact that worshipping different gods in a pantheon should be normal.

Importantly this incident raises a key query: why was regularly pleading for divine intervention required? If it was common, then surely the population would have an idea of the types of results, and a level 7 character with high intelligence would have some understanding of their own culture, an every-person knowledge.

I’ll refrain from ranting about a DM having cognitive dissonance in regards to requiring a skill roll for a scenario that they made and are running, whilst claiming they are not involved in decision making. Never mind my thoughts about fudging results.

This incident helped me learn about role-playing, both good and bad points. I will focus on the few key lessons that became a big part of my role-playing opinions.

1. The importance of IC and OOC knowledge.

I have been obsessed with this ever since, including working on my own program to aid in tracking it. Whilst working at KJC Games, a core part of the mechanics I made for Quest GME was about tracking the vast information in the different Quest game worlds. With paying customers to consider I prioritised this aspect of the game, since information is power in any scenario, with play by mail (PBM) games it tends to more so due to the heavier focus on strategy. However, I am lenient with myself and others in less professional games, without the tools to track things it’s no wonder that even amazing players can slip up.

2. Mocking players about character death.

Understandable a player that has lost a character is going to be upset, they really could do without the teasing/bullying on top of it. I appreciate that a character death is a big deal, and thus it is often discussed with a high level of emotional energy, but even in PvP at a big live action role play (LARP) game, a bit of respect should be considered.

3. Mentoring new players.

I think it is important to give a new player a good introduction to a game, a chance to immerse themselves in something new. At a small tabletop group level, letting someone join a game is not required and generally a rare event, so it is odd when DM/GMs don’t assist new people. At a large level, like a big LARP, well veteran players stopping a new player from joining is not possible, so why not help make a new friend and at least not make an enemy.

4. Being forgiving of ideas and actions.

This has served me well in all scenarios, from one of my local groups, running games at conventions, to receiving compliments from paying customers at KJC Games. One of my favourite incidents was helping to prevent a civil war due to a player using the wrong ID code on their ships targeting list, but I checked with the customer to make sure instead of assuming it was wrong, after all it could have been intentional. It is much harder to do this at LARP, but even in large LARPs there can be windows of opportunity to check things.

5. Plot Centered Around Multiple Fake Difficult Rolls

Not understanding statistics is a common human problem, the subject is counter-intuitive. I have come across a lot of role-players who do not appreciate the impact of dice rolls, or other random mechanics. Whilst a lot of gamers are good with numbers, statistics is subtly different. Thankfully I have met many gamers who are good with statistics, like with everything else, the population can be represented as a bell curve.

In hindsight I think the whole scenario of spending days in a deadly blizzard praying for constant divine intervention to be not just forcing deus ex machina, but doing so repeatedly? That’s some outrageous odds, and it turns out the whole scenario was fake, since the party was rescued by NPcs, more deus ex machina, and not very player-centric or heroic.


Author: Batjutsu

Writer, role-player, games master, martial artist, programmer, disabled but not giving up.

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