Sunday, 20 June 2021

Traditional RPGs in 2021.


Copyright ©. 2021 Mark Kelly.

Allow me to shed a little perspective on a pastime, and I suppose, hobby - though I rather look at it as a simmering love affair - that is traditional paper & pencil role playing games.

I was first introduced to Dungeons & Dragons back in 1981. The whole thing seemed a confusing and curious experience that teased my imagination, and unknowing to me at the time, laid the glowing ember of role playing games deep within the heart of the furnace that was my imagination. There it would gently glow and smoulder over time, until eventually giving rise to the flame of desire to become the creator and story teller of worlds yet to be born and shared with people I had yet to meet.

Role playing games were like a back room industry in the early years. Many publishers at the time were small concerns run by enthusiasts producing 'home brew' game systems and rule books in A5 format. Many were printed via a copier machine, stapled together and distributed to the chosen few gaming / hobbyist shops, such as Beatties, which in Cardiff, was situated opposite the corner of Cardiff Castle as you travelled in and out of the city centre. This was the first influencing location I discovered containing the hidden treasures of RPG games, miniatures and the then brilliant independent gaming magazine, White Dwarf - now a sad, former shadow of itself, turned into a useless Games Workshop catalogue.

I recall reading about games based on the Wild West, Japanese Ninjas, ancient Greece and a plethora of Space centric games, and the infamous, Tunnels & Trolls - something I never got to experience. I was soon directed to F. C. Parkers game shop located in a part of Cardiff city centre called 'The Hayes', just as you entered The Royale Arcade. This was heaven for gamers and role players alike. It was the place to get everything RPG: dice, figure, game rules, box sets, expansion rule sets, and so much more.
For me, it's one of those memories I shall never forget, and one that is so unique. A small, personable shop staffed by lovely people and frequented by all ages. 

Here is a LINK to a blog page I've discovered, talking in detail about that wonderful shop, F. C. Parkers.

That whole era of early hobby gaming was generally shrouded in misunderstanding and suspicion by those who were not into games, often linking the likes of D&D with Satanic practices, and reviled by many religious bodies and communities, especially within the United States.
For those playing such games it was a near secretive pastime, conducted under the cover of dark at a pre-arranged time, at a pre-arranged location. Often those who were open about their hobby were ridiculed and mocked. We were the nerds, for want of a better expression. On the whole, a nice  bunch of folk with a passion for gaming, social interaction and a level of imagination bigger than most, with a hunger for RPG to match.

Later, when I hit my early twenties and jumped in with both feet, starting my first game session as a 'Dungeon Master', and a group consisting of only two players. But that was enough.
Together we scaled rocky valleys, traversed deep and dark forests, explored the ruins of castles, and delved deep below the earth in dungeons lost to time. I say 'we', as often I would play the role of the accompanying Non Player Character (NPC). It was, quite literally, the best of times. Sadly, those two founding members of my erstwhile roleplaying group have since moved on and away, no longer lured by the call of the dice. It happens.

But from that foundling group I attracted two more players, then a third, and a fourth, and finally a fifth, and without realising it I had a core of players bound together by the paper, pencil and dice.
Visiting players also came and went, but the core five remained, and our games were blessed with humour, laughter, pathos, anger, frustration, betrayal and even the odd tear or two. This all spanned over roughly twenty years, possibly more. Sunday evening was our time.
There is a down side to this, and as the saying goes, 'all good things must come to an end', and end it did. My group had grown up and taken on the responsibilities of adulthood. Marriages took place, new careers were forged, and new horizons presented themselves to be visited and settled.

All things have a beginning, a middle and an end. And so it was for my Sunday evening group.

Fast forward to 2021.

I now have a new role playing group. Five fresh minds have taken up the Goblet of  Imagination, armed themselves with pencil and paper, and have bonded with their dice. So far it has been entertaining for the group, even exciting at times. Already bonds have begun to form over the shared moments. 

From my perspective, as the 'Dungeon Master', I liken my role as to that of a parent: I watch my players explore possibilities, though not always right or correct, like any good parent, I let them carry on so that they might learn. And learn they do. Inwardly I smile, proud of their team work, and the way they respond and react to the story as it unfolds and the characters within it.
This is all done via Discord and webcam. Though I omit my camera from showing my face, but use it in order to show floor plans and any important dice rolls. All they need is my voice, for I believe it allows for a better immersive experience, as I, like a narrator, tell the story within which they are the characters and in part, the writers.
Our only issue is that of game time, seeing as we are all bound by the varying patterns of our shifts. As a result we can be somewhat hit-and-miss in our gatherings. But we are working on it.

Role playing in 2021 is huge and now resides within pop culture, often referred to in TV and film.
It's now big business - huge in fact, run by Hasbro's offspring, Wizards of the Coast, owning the entire Dungeons & Dragons franchise and everything associated with it.
Even celebrities are proud to announce that they play D&D. On YouTube there is a massive following for a channel going by the name of Critical Roll, consisting of American voice actors, who, as a result, have gained greater fame for their role playing than their acting could ever achieve. 
Other famous D&D players are, Joseph Gorden-Levitt, Deborah Ann Woll (Dare Devil series), Vin Diesel, Matthew Lillard (Scream, Scooby Doo), and Jon Favreau (Iron Man), to name but a few.


The hobby has gone from shy nerds gathering secretly in their parents front room, to proud and loud, Hollywood types filming their game sessions for YouTube. It's mainstream and big business.
Hasbro has made $816 million in 2020 from D&D and Magic the Gathering alone, a rise of  24% from 2019. Read about it HERE.

For those reading this thinking, 'Role playing games? Waste of time!', I'm sorry to inform you, but you're out of touch with pop culture. You are now gradually becoming the minority. It is now one of those life experiences people dabble with, and I would go as far as to say, on par with everyone's first puff of a cigarette, or first swig of an alcoholic drink.

It is a thing. Forget console games, and pc games, this is where it's happening. It's social, stimulating, cerebral and highly entertaining, not to mention, slightly addictive. It brings people together, teaches them team work, problem solving, communication skills, tactical planning, basic maths, and a whole host of other interpersonal skills. 

The Dice Rule.

Until next time.

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