Full disclosure: I’m about to talk about my friends. My hilarious, ridiculously smart friends. Friends who over a year ago convinced me to finally do something I had been avoiding for a long time. Friends who got me to play my first roleplaying game.
First, some context. I am a writer. I spent my twenties, like many of us, writing fanfiction based in the Star Wars universe. Fanfic with new and old characters that tried to fill in continuity gaps – usually centered around Mara Jade.
I loved building the story, moving people around like chess pieces as they experienced events from the movies for themselves. I enjoyed giving them names, filling in their backgrounds, and imagining their motivations.
So it would be a surprise that when someone invited me to play Dungeons & Dragons or another RPG, I would say no. I don’t really have a good answer now, but at the time I would tell myself it was because it would distract me from what I should really be doing. Whatever that might have been.
This feels ridiculous in hindsight. But remember my friends? Well, eventually a group of them convinced me to say yes, and a little over a year ago we got together to participate in a tabletop RPG that they called Regency Daze for my friend Kristin and Maggie’s podcast First Impressions.
With First Impressions: Why all the Haters Are Wrong, Maggie and Kristin discuss Jane Austen’s work and adaptations while reflecting on how her work changed their lives and challenged them to be better people. Maggie explained that Kristin started the podcast “as an outlet for her Jane Austen love in a judgment-free zone. I think she was really fed up with having to justify her Jane Austen obsession to people who just didn’t get it. She asked me to help her out on the first episodes since she thought the format would work better as a conversation rather than a soliloquy.”
So with that in mind, it should come as no surprise that the prompt for the game was to essentially plan a ball. Both Kristin and I were newcomers to the RPG world, with Maggie being one of our two guides. The gamemaster was our mutual friend Selvi, who based this game on a popular RPG called School Daze. In developing this version, she said, “The challenge for me as a DM was to find a system that was good for beginners and lent itself to the ‘theater of the mind’ format of podcasting. I think School Daze worked well, and all I really had to do was change some of the terminology.”
Here’s the thing. Playing Regency Daze was harder than I thought it would be, but also incredibly freeing. There were rules and parameters that we had to follow, and tasks we had to set out for ourselves in order to “win the game.” Things like “hiring musicians,” or bigger goals — in my case, get the woman whose ball we were throwing to admit that I was her daughter. Easy right?
Like writing fanfiction, I found the RPG an amazing way to give my brain a little jolt creatively. To practice creating characters within a pre-existing framework, where others force you to shift and adjust the plot at their whim, and all in real time.
It also gave me a chance to be silly without consequences.
As Maggie said, “I think the most difficult thing was trying to get the everyday details right. Would this character speak this way to that character? Who would realistically be in the scene? Any fan of fantasy or historical drama knows that the details of the world you are building have to make sense or the audience will never settle in for the ride. The most challenging part for me was trying to keep the world surrounding the characters realistic, without getting too hung up on the details such that the story would never advance.”
For me, the challenging part was trying not to fall into stereotypes or easy tropes. If you listen to the episodes, you’ll hear us try to navigate that in places, and even found ourselves limited by how these stories are normally told.
As we kick off 2020, I wanted to share this piece (almost a year in the making) as a reminder to myself that trying something new can make you appreciate the craft and the challenge of writing good (or mostly good) stories. It also reminded me that something that is usually done in isolation can also be a way to reconnect with people you care about.
As Selvi said, “I love writing but it can sometimes be a lonely experience. You might spend days, weeks, months on a story that no one will read! I think it’s the shared storytelling that keeps bringing me back to RPGs – sure you give up a lot of creative control, but you get to enjoy the story in real time with your friends.”
So Happy New Year FANgirl! You can listen to the podcast First Impressions here, but the three episodes of Regency Daze are embedded below. Enjoy listening to me try to be extremely gothic while also laughing with gleeful joy.
Regency Daze Part 1:
Regency Daze Part 2:
Regency Daze Part 3:
- Regency Daze and the Magic of an RPG - January 5, 2020
- Let the Past Die (or Not):Erin Bartram and Contingent Magazine’s Star Wars Issue - December 20, 2019
- A Rumination on the Power of Place - July 10, 2019