Role-Playing as Interactive World-Building

In addition to writing, I’ve been doing some other things with my time as well. A few weeks ago, my old friends and I started another table-top role-playing adventure with the Star Wars D20 system. As you can see, we use Lego to represent our characters and the settings we go into as well.

My friend Noah is our Dungeon Master–or Game Master–for a good portion of the time. A good majority of the Lego that is used in our adventures belongs to him. While I’d started role-playing with Noah and my other friends since high school, our first Star Wars game started in 1999 slightly before the Prequels were released but after the action figures were.

Back in those days we had some group games, but we mostly played solo–which I know was a lot of challenge for Noah to accommodate–and we fought each other a lot. It was a very conflictive game (or what you might call Player Vs. Player) with a whole lot of manipulation and planning but also a lot of mystery and wonder. Back in those days I was a Dark Jedi mercenary named Nagir Taron that eventually became a Sith Lord as time progressed. It was an interesting time: when we still believed that Force lightning could only be used by powerful and experienced Darksiders and where lightsabers were very rare and couldn’t be made until you reached a higher level … and were so easy to lose.

We have played sporadically–on and off–over the years as we’ve all gone from one point in life to the next. Noah himself, along with a few others, have tweaked the rules and added some very idiosyncratic elements into his version of the Star Wars Universe that we all play in. There are some very funny and zany moments and a whole lot of “making fun” which I can really appreciate nowadays.

These days we play a group game with a lot less internal in-game conflict. In the following picture below are the following characters from left to right. They come from a previous game we played: the taciturn and steady mercenary Hal Tavers, the Force-sensitive doctor and archaeologist Dravas C’Tor (who I played), Juyo’Maya (Noah’s Non-Player and alternative Player-Character Half-Twi’lek Jedi Knight), the conniving and gifted slicer Mynock, and the late and unlamented psychotic former Republic soldier turned mercenary Sergeant Sharp.

Dravas C’Tor was my attempt to play a Light-Sider character and I had varying degrees of success with that. The name Dravas C’Tor is an old one I created in elementary school for a Dark Jedi and then an alias I used in the early Star Wars games I played with Noah.

There is a magic to a long-time table-top role-playing game. First, you have to understand that we have been playing this game–and others like it–on and off for over a decade now: which is frightening because it makes me at least realize how old I’m getting. We have invested a lot of time and enthusiasm into the worlds we’ve played and made by playing. During this time, Noah has developed many of his own rules from the D20 systems that exist. In addition, we create actions that change the environments that he creates. Add a twenty-sided die and its other counterparts to this mixture of fate and freewill and fortune and you get a very organic world that uses us to build itself.

And I’m not even talking about the stories that I have written for it, or the in-character journal entries I keep recounting the events of what has transpired. I like the idea of keeping journal logs and having us all do that because we get to see what he role-played through from different perspectives. I try consistently to keep up with this to preserve the events we’ve participated in and to do some character-building. In a lot of ways, I’ve learned how to hone my own writing craft and voice from making these entries.

I’ve not always been able to do this though. There are some games that were never written down beyond Noah’s scenario notes and some of them just exist in our memories. But what I find really remarkable after all this time–whether we play Star Wars D20 or other worlds–is that there is continuity to everything we do. For example, the former Nagir Taron played one game session where he encountered some enemies in retrospect I find eerily familiar. We retconned that and even though I only played one game session then it impacted and has effects on the game that we play now. I didn’t realize this until one day–a week ago–when it all started to flow together in my head. It is really amazing when that happens.

I mean, a lot of that isn’t just decided by Noah but also by ideas that we ourselves either play our or throw out there. I know I suggest a lot of ideas as we go through stuff and really it just makes the game that much more interesting. It is a personal craft and shared artifact made between us all. Some of us were there from high school or early and others came later. Some of us aren’t around anymore, but everything we’ve done remains in this group-creation we all interact with.

Without that magic, without us, it would just be Lego figures, statistics, and dice. But with us, it is so much more than that. I haven’t always been around. I’ve been here, there and everywhere: especially in these past three years of Grad school. And every before that–and after–life happens. I’m just glad that I get back into that and that even without this game I have the memories and my friends.

So this is something else I do when I’m not writing on here, or making my stories, or going on my walking routines. I do need to write up my new log entries though. I’m doing something different this time and playing a droid character named SR-NX or “Nex.” He is a droid that specializes in life sciences, computers and cybernetics: very different from the Force-sensitives and Darksiders that I usually am. He writes with a lot of jargon, but I try to get his sentience to show through it. He is actually a droid that wants to study the strange biotic-energy field phenomenon known as the Force.

I always wondered how a droid would view manifestations of the Force and I get to play that out. I have to customize him some more and familiarize myself with how droids work. But that’s part of the fun. It’s really interesting to see how droid characters exist and are treated as opposed to organic ones. Maybe I’m doing this because despite my issues with technology I feel a strange fascination and kinship to A.I. and I want to show that they can be different kinds of characters as opposed to obedient automatons or megalomaniacal hive-minds.

What can I say: it’s good to have a hobby.

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