I recently went on a deep undercover assignment for my blog. My goal was to infiltrate a local Dungeons & Dragons group and make them believe I could be one of them, just for one night, so that I could write about the shenanigans that are role playing games. I wanted to try something new and Boyfriend kept going on and on about Pathfinder (which is an off shoot of Dungeons & Dragons basically) so I figured hey, I could go for 4 hours and give it a shot, blog about it and then move on. That was two months ago. The reason I didn’t write the blog post was because I’m still playing it and you know what? It’s fucking cool.
Until I started dating Boyfriend I always thought Pathfinder was just someone mispronouncing “Pathfinders” and that they were referring to that later version of Girl Guides where teenagers learn how to braid and roast s’mores over a bonfire while singing Koombaya. Which is why I found it really confusing when Boyfriend told me he was going to join a Pathfinder group. It became less confusing when he explained to me that Pathfinder is an RPG (role playing game) much like Dungeons and Dragons. I mean, I still found the whole Dungeons and Dragons thing confusing, but at least I wasn’t picturing Boyfriend learning how to braid his beard while wearing a green vest full of badges anymore.
So I began to learn bits and pieces of what playing an RPG is like because I like taking interest in Boyfriend’s interests and he would come home from game night and regale me with tales of his journey through what I assumed was Middle Earth. He went on and on about slaying all sorts of monsters and finding treasures and he talked about the jokes that were made during the night and it seemed like fun. It basically sounded like Game of Thrones if Game of Thrones were a comedy on FX. He explained to me that Pathfinder was like the younger sibling of Dungeons and Dragons. Basically if Dungeons and Dragons were Disney, Pathfinder would be Pixar.
Part of me wanted to try Pathfinder as soon as Boyfriend began explaining it to me, but there was still part of me that grew up being told “Dungeons and Dragons just isn’t cool.” This was long before Community did an episode on it, of course. I hate to admit it but I heard whispers about the people playing Dungeons and Dragons in high school and it always seemed frowned upon. It was just Darwinism coming into play when I found myself never wanting to associate with Dungeons and Dragons. I didn’t want to get pummelled to death in the school yard. I didn’t want to be turned upside down and have my lunch money stolen.
So I continued on through my life associating RPGs with wedgies and swirlies and I probably even snickered negatively on occasion when people talked about their Dungeons and Dragons days.
And then something wonderful happened: I woke up one day and realized that I didn’t want to be at all associated with the people who bullied other people for playing games in their basement. I realized that it’s cool to do whatever the fuck you want to do if it makes you happy. Trust me, that’s a hard thing to realize when you come from the small town I come from. If you replace dancing with Dungeons and Dragons then my hometown is essentially the town from Footloose.
So, it’s no real secret that Boyfriend is a “nerd,” as some people would say. He reads comic books, he watches sci-fi shows and movies, he plays board games and role playing games. For years now I have been toeing the “nerd” line myself. I grew up watching shows like Buffy and Dark Angel. I always loved sci-fi movies more than any other genre. But that was where it ended. I didn’t play games. I didn’t read comics or fantasy novels. If you asked me what “the Tardis” was I would assume it was some sort of French dessert. And I certainly didn’t have a sweet clue what a D20 was.
Obviously when you spend a lot of time with another human being you tend to take on some of their interests as your own. It was only natural that I would sit down and watch all of Battlestar Galactica and Doctor Who with Boyfriend. Of course I would go to Comic Con in Montreal with him next. Then came the board games like Munchkin and Carcassone. I enjoyed everything he introduced me to. So naturally when he started talking about Pathfinder I began to wonder if it was something I could enjoy with him. It did, however, seem very intimidating. Every Wednesday night he would leave the house with his little red clipboard full of stats, spells and storyline, and a case of dice that looked confusing and unnecessary. No one needs that many dice, I thought. And what the fuck kind of enigma machine would I need to decipher all of the acronyms and numbers he has scribbled in that clipboard? Pathfinder seemed less like a game and more like a full time job, one that you can only get after completing a mathematics degree. Sounds like fun, in theory, I would tell Boyfriend. But it also sounded like more trouble than it was worth.
Then, one day, I got the idea in my head that I would start a new category on my blog called Lisa Tries New Things. As soon as I explained this idea to Boyfriend he suggested that I try a game of Pathfinder with him and his group (who happen to be some of my close friends). I figured this was my one chance. I could go for one evening, play a one shot character that the group runs into on their journey, crack a few jokes, write a few notes down for my blog, and then hasta la vista, gamers.
So Boyfriend talked to the GM (Game Master) to see if this would be okay. I assume Boyfriend messaged him saying “Hey is it cool if my girlfriend comes along to Pathfinder this week to play? I take it that it won’t be a problem, you will just have to create a character for her and completely change our storyline for the week, and then we will spend the first 3 hours of our 4 hour game explaining what all of the words mean to her. Then she will go home and probably make fun of us on her blog. Cool? Cool.” Luckily he is a really nice, understanding guy, and he said yes.
The big day came and Boyfriend sat me down to prepare me for the game. He told me about my character and explained some of the gibberish in his clipboard to me. He told me all about the other characters in the game and said that I would have to study what my character’s relationship is like with each one. I won’t lie, I got a little nervous. It seemed like a lot of information that I would forget, so I had to adapt it a little to make it stick in my mind. He explained one character’s story to me. The character was royalty without even knowing it. He went on and on about this story for probably twenty minutes and then I turned to him and said “I get it already. It’s The Princess Diaries. Next…” And then to get all of the names straight I had to change them around a little in my head. Someone named Ameiko became Ameikate, because Kate is my favourite human, so surely I could remember that. The more I related the character’s names to my friends names, and the more I related the plot to Disney movies, I started to feel confident about the game. I was ready.
I showed up and the game was probably only ten minutes in when I realized I was absolutely fascinated by the whole thing. The people whom I was playing with were hilarious. Seriously, I don’t think any other Pathfinder group has an egotistical magician who keeps spurting out ice water when he’s trying to create fire, and who mirrors himself after Gob Bluth from Arrested Development. Or a ranger in a giant fancy hat who could kill a bunch of vikings in seconds but is terrified of islands. Or an acrobatic gnome with a satchel full of small animals who is distracted by shiny things. Or a female knight who spouts racial slurs about Elves and describes her horse as being “the horse from Tangled.” Or a flying female ninja who wears a fur hood and keeps shouting out witty pop culture references. Or a Game Master who rewards you when you say something funny or runs with your craziest ideas just to see where they will take the whole group or even keeps track of how many days you have been allergy-free on a white board.
This group of colourful characters were very welcoming and after much coaching about which dice to use (and I figured out what a D20 is!) I started to get the hang of it. I could see why people can spend hours and hours getting lost in some fantasy world with a bunch of friends. There were monsters, vikings, ninjas, deities, magic, ketchup chips, chocolate bars, a constant stream of Arrested Development jokes and a lazy-boy recliner I got to sit in throughout it all. Fuck this blog post nonsense, I thought, I’m coming back next week!
And I did. And I got to create my own character, who happens to be a vengeance witch named Deliah. Deliah has an animal companion who is a hedgehog named Kate Hennigar. And Deliah gets to do really cool things like disguise herself as a viking master to seduce his wife and kill her bat, or kill someone by reading his thoughts and telling him she knows his secrets which sets off a spell cast on him to make him burst into a pool of blood, or try to save the group from a shapeshifting bear and a swarm of hell bees by concocting a honey potion to distract them with. And my GM just laughs whenever I come up with these nonsensical or terrible things that I want to do, and he lets me do them even though I have a feeling other GMs would scoff and tell me no, because it would throw him off of his plan.
So I don’t care if you think role playing games aren’t cool, because I think it’s pretty nice that a group of essentially grown up humans can get together on a Wednesday night and forget about their 9-5 jobs, their power bills, their car payments or their doctors appointments and go off into some fantastical wilderness and fight a bunch of monsters together while listening to the Game of Thrones soundtrack. For four hours a week it doesn’t matter that I have a disease or that I keep going into anaphylactic shock because I’m a badass witch and I still have 30 hit points and a spell to cure light wounds.
This “undercover assignment” has taught me a lot over the last few months, and I now have a lot of respect for those people in high school who played role playing games no matter what anyone said about them. These people get bullied on a daily basis and they stay true to themselves. They should start a series of “It Gets Better” public service announcements directed at high school bullies. “Hey Star-Athlete-of-the- Basketball-Team, don’t let high school dictate your whole future. It gets better. Someday you can learn to use your imagination too!”
So, friends, get out there and try an RPG and tell me what you think.