There’s something strangely satisfying about creating something from nothing. You sit down with a handful of dice and a short while later you have something that was not there before: a character. Not right away, of course. It takes time to decide who you are, who you are going to be.

Sometimes this process is easy. Something about the game setting speaks to you, or perhaps it is an idea that has been worming its way through your subconscious for a long time, waiting for the opportunity to put it into practice. Other times you have a concept for what a character is, but the question of who the character is is a mystery. For example: The character is a gnome barbarian. According to the dice rolls the gnome is tall for its species. It is middle aged. It is also a level one character and therefore is a novice in the world of adventuring. That is all you know. And then the DM speaks, setting the scene for yourself and the other players gathered around the table, and in a few short moments you will learn who your character is.

Playing any tabletop role playing game is an adventure not just in the literal sense of game mechanics, but also in regard to being able to be what your are not for the span of an evening. Losing yourself in a character, however,  is not always something easily achieved. Recently my gaming group has been working through Pathfinder’s Jade Regent and while the little goblin gunslinger I’ve been allowed to play is fantastic on paper pinning him down as a character has been a bit more rough. The first session we sat down was pained, every move or comment he made never seemed right. My vision of what he was conflicted with who he was.

It seems weird to say that. This character is something I created. I should know who and what he is without a second thought. And yet, I didn’t. You’ll hear authors talk about similar problems as they work their way through a story, realizing later that something doesn’t fit and needing to go back to repair or recast. Playing an RPG isn’t so different, only I find the indecision that much more painful. You are the character and the character is you and yet…there’s no connection. It takes time.

Other characters seem to jump off the page fully formed. This past Friday my group played a one-shot with pre-made characters, which means I had very little decision making to do in the way of what the character was. The papers were laid out on the table, each with a picture and all the pertinent stats and a name. This leaves a player in a precarious position. Often the “who” portion of the character is slowly formed along with the “what”. Being given the “what” means snap decisions have to be made based on the information already given. Its a lot like playing an improv game in the theatre. They give you the body and you provide the heart. Much to my surprise the character leaped out at me and made it very clear who and what he was. A pretty face, yes, but also a huge foul-up. Within two rounds I knew who he was and had the greatest fun playing an elf Indiana Jones/Han Solo type.

The DM mentioned, “Wow, you have that likeable a-hole down pat.”

“Yeah,” I replied, “And it’s so much fun.”

It truly was a fantastic experience. When something is right, it’s right.

For those curious about DnD and how it works or if you’re nerdy like me and enjoy listening/watching other people play might I suggest The Nerdgasm Podcast Episode 41. The crew over there actually invited my own DM to run them through a beginning game. If you’ve never played before this will give you a general feel for what goes on, or bring a smile to the face of anyone who likes to see new players enjoying themselves for the first time.

I would also suggest the star-studded Author D&D that happened at Legendary ConFusion this year. Run by Peter V. Brett and Howard Taylor the whole session was probably one of the most enjoyable I’ve seen. (Acquisitions Inc with Pat Rothfuss from PAX Prime was pretty good as well.) Author Players include: Kelley Armstrong, Myke Cole, Wesley Chu, Brian McClellan, Rich Morris, Cherie Priest, Michael Sullivan, and Sam Sykes

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