Detours from home: Killing boredom with tabletop role-playing
Editor’s note: Detours from home is a Rappler column where readers can share about the new things they have been doing while in quarantine. In this essay, a high school teacher talks about her gaming discoveries. You, too, can share your own Detours from home story.]
A few weeks into the quarantine, I realized that I didn’t have any hobbies to fill up my free time. Being a workaholic, I was busy with my teaching job, graduate school, and other responsibilities, so I never really had the time to pursue other interests.
Because of the pandemic, the school year abruptly ended, and I found myself with a lot of free time. I tried to keep busy with chores, reading, and learning how to cook, but despite these, my screen time still shot up. I knew I needed to spend my time in more worthwhile activities than idly scrolling through my feed. I decided to try out tabletop role-playing games.
For months, my friend has been telling me about Dungeons and Dragons (D&D), the most popular tabletop role-playing game; she’s an avid player, and she invited me to play too. I recognized it as the game played by Mike, Lucas, Dustin, and Will in Stranger Things. I also saw an episode of Community that featured D&D. I was attracted to the pop culture relevance of the game, so I decided to get to know more about it.
My friend sent me YouTube videos of groups of people playing D&D campaigns, and I initially didn’t get what was so great about 2 to 4 hour long videos of people sitting around the table, talking animatedly while rolling dice. But after my friend invited me to play one day in a board game café, I quickly understood its appeal.
In a tabletop roleplaying game, the players assume the roles of fictional characters in a story. The chief storyteller of the game is called the game master (GM) or the Dungeon Master (DM) in D&D, who creates the setting and is the referee of the game. The GM describes the game world and the different non-player characters. The players describe what they want their characters to do, and the GM would say the outcomes of their actions. There is a game system and a set of rules that the GM and the players must follow. The success or failure of a character’s actions is also determined by rolls of dice. It is like make-believe for adults, as my friend describes it.
As an English teacher, I appreciated how the Game Master and the players would get immersed in a story (a medieval fantasy one in Dungeons and Dragons) and use their imagination and creativity to play the characters. There are some theatrics and improvisation involved as the Game Master and the players are encouraged to speak like their character. I also liked the literary origins of popular tabletop role-playing games: D&D was influenced by Lord of the Rings, a childhood favorite of mine, and Call of Cthulhu, a horror fiction RPG, is based on the stories of H.P. Lovecraft, whose works I’m currently reading.
I also watched episodes of Critical Role, a web series where a group of professional voice actors plays D&D. I also got invested in Fantasy High, a high school-themed role-playing game featuring College Humor actors. After watching these fantastic exemplars of role-playing, I’m inspired to know the game well enough to be a DM in my own campaign.
Since I could not meet up with my friends during the quarantine, we would play Vampire the Masquerade on Roll20, a virtual tabletop that includes tools for playing table-top RPGs, such as video chat and automated dice-rolling.
Vampire the Masquerade is a darker RPG where players assume the roles of vampires. I’ve been playing the role of Paul, a financial analyst who’s recently become a vampire, and I work with the other vampire player-characters to investigate a series of mysterious murders. This is my first prolonged immersion in an RPG, so again, being an English teacher, I’ve enjoyed the development of the plot, the dialogues of the different characters, the twists and turns of the story.
Roleplaying has also been helping with my story writing (another hobby I’m trying to have) since I have to develop my character and supply the dialogue.
Although my tabletop role-playing hobby is still in its nascent phase, I’ve seen how it’s a fun, worthwhile activity where I can bond with my friends, use my imagination, and improve my storytelling and story-writing skills. Now that the quarantine has eased and I’ve started reporting back to work, I don’t know if I’ll have time to play again (one game could take hours). But perhaps I could incorporate role-playing games and Dungeons and Dragons in my work as an educator…perhaps even start a D&D club. – Rappler.com
Lex Adizon is a high school teacher in Bacolod City.