My first exposure to tabletops was as a Game Master (GM). A bunch of us neighborhood kids gathered in my friend’s garage with a 2nd Edition Dungeons & Dragons book some graph paper and proceeded to “play”. In fact, we had absolutely no idea what we were doing. A friend asked “How do we know where we are in the dungeon?”. I tensed up and had no idea how to answer. We went back to a modified version of Dragonstrike that we conjured up.
It wasn’t until college when tabletop roleplay actually started to make sense. In my freshmen year, I fell in with a group of DnD players that would eventually become some of my closest friends. We’d usually play Friday or Saturday night and the games would last far into the night with the burgeoning morning sun confirming our passion. It would be easy to say that perhaps we should have done something cooler or gone with a more stereotypical “college” experience. However, my response would reveal my nerd-dom disposition. Dungeons and Dragons was cheap and we never got into trouble. The only danger and drunk brawls were because of a spike-laced pit or the dwarven cleric imbibing on too much wine again. DnD felt free and I was with my friends. It was fun. What I would give to be back in some hot study room surrounded by friends arguing about the feasibility of a pulley mechanism designed to open a trapped door.
Eventually, you learn the best aspect (and my favorite) of role-playing: figuring out what your character would do despite your own IRL objections. Learning to see your character as the halfling rogue she is, rather than the OCD, aloof person you are in the real world, is the greatest gift of tabletop role-playing. Akin to impromptu theater, beyond dice and convoluted statistical systems, actual bona fide role-play is the lynch pin that holds everything together.
I once had a necromancer that constantly betrayed the party and tried very hard to sow dissent and chaos in a group led by a self-righteous paladin. Of course, Oculus had his reasons. The paladin’s cleric destroyed some of his most beloved raised undead.
In an another game, I played a powerful holy warrior that slowly lost his desire to fight after seeing too many of his friends perish; the long campaigns and endless fighting finally caught up to him.
In a way, learning to see my characters from their own point of view made me appreciate books and stories more than I once had. It also contributed to my own sense of empathy in that I tried to see things from another person point of view (I still need work on this part).
The reason I play tabletop games and like role-playing is because of the stories and characters. I like to think of where those people come from and why they do things that they do. I like drawing maps and imagining what a place looks like and what kind of smells would I discover. I like disagreeing with my character and doing something that I, Dan Paredes, would never try.