For those of you who have been wondering: yes, the Roleplaying Class (also known as Creative Interactive Storytelling) has officially started!
I cannot begin to tell you how much fun it is. No, really, I can't. I walked into the classroom the first day of the semester, and it was filled with people I knew I was going to love. We just had to say the word "roleplaying" and the class filled up in no time - we even had a waiting list! We ended up with 14 people, including me (in a weird place between being a student and an instructor - officially, Dr. Sobol is the teacher, and I am the Game Master of the course).
It took us one look to count the Doctor Who T-shirts in the room; it took us 10 minutes to get to the first arrow-to-the-knee joke. We had dice ready in our backpacks, and rulebooks, and sonic screwdrivers; we spoke a language that left everyone else slightly baffled, but we understood each other just fine. I felt right at home; it has been a while since I last ran a tabletop RPG, but I felt like I finally found my people. Five minutes, and we were laughing together. And we had not even started playing yet.
That was for the next class. Seven of the fourteen came with D&D characters ready, and we jumped right in the deep end, into the world of dungeons, dragons, and critical hits. I made up a short campaign that would last three sessions (about four hours altogether). Every beginner in the class became an "apprentice" next to one of the experiences gamers for the first class; two days later, they took over the characters, and kept playing.
It was, all in all, an amazing experience. I had no clue how I was going to run a game with 13 people in it in such a short time; also, it was an issue of trust, and playing with strangers is always more of a challenge than playing with friends. Add to that the fact that I had never actually played D&D before - in Hungary, we play M.A.G.U.S., which is pretty close to D&D, but still not the same. But whatever doubts I had and however nervous I was, the moment I said the opening words to the story, I knew I was going to be fine.
Because I am playing with great people, that's why! The group was well rounded in its own way (for those of you who speak D&Dese: all Neutral and Chaotic with the occasional Good), and included a bunch of fun characters: an elf sorcerer and his (occasionally fluorescent) cat familiar, Mr. Squiggles, who totally stole the show and got his own backstory; a dwarf rogue with two pistols and a Sean Connery accent, excellently played; the only two humans in seven, a fighter named Ironfist and his bard companion, Trevor, who quarrelled like an old married couple; the only girl in the group, a rogue half-elf who liked all things shiny; an elf druid generally labeled as "the hippie", the healer and the brains behind the whole operation in his own quiet way; and another half-elf rogue, pretending to be a noble.
Take this team of misfits, lock them up in an inn and a snowstorm over a mountain pass, toss a Shadow Wight at them, sit back, watch the show. For those of you who don't borrow Dragonlance monsters on a daily basis: Shadow Wight is a nasty little thing made of shadows that sucks on the Charisma of people while making them see their own darker self and scaring them into a catatonic state; and the best part is, its victims forget about the attack as soon as it happens, and if he drains a human, only leaving the empty clothes behind, everyone else will forget they ever existed. Kind of makes investigation hard, if there is no one missing...
My little team of 13 made a splendid job of the whole story: there was suspense, mystery, ingenuity, and an epic fight on top. And of course, we had to stop every once in a while to roll around on the floor in fits of laughter.
(My favorite moment came from the elf druid: "Shut up and let me concentrate, all of you. I am going to speak Dwarven. Here we go. Beer. Beer, beer, beer. Beer. Long, red moustache. Beer. Beer, beer. Really rough sex. Beer.")
The first three sessions of D&D were good for a number of things: for one, they allowed the group of random classmates to turn into a team that can work and have fun together; they needed to have the challenge to face to learn how to pay attention to each other, and how to solve anything I can throw their way by acting as a team instead of a bunch of lone wolves. And they did really well with that.
Then, of course, there was the storytelling aspect of it (it is still a storytelling class, after all). Once the adventure ended, we spent a whole class going over the story we created together. We sat in a row, and tossed an apple at each other; I told one part of the story of our glorious adventure, then tossed the apple to somebody else, who continued and ran with it, and so on and so forth. At first, everyone was a little shy from narrating the story instead of playing a character, even though they had to do it in the first person; just by calling it "storytelling performance" instead of roleplaying, everyone, even me, was out of their comfort zone. That is, up to the point when, in the middle of well-improvised inner monolgues, the bard took over, and yelled "Shit, Ironfist, I thought you said we have money!!!". And suddenly, something clicked; we finally realized at the same time that this was exactly the same as playing a character in the game. And from that point on, all through the rest of the story, "decent" turned into "awesome". All the people who are not professional storytellers or even storytelling students displayed a wide range of natural talent in recounting their own adventure, solely based on their roleplaying experiences and personal creativity.
Sky is the limit!
As the class goes on (we are going to start playing Changeling: the Dreaming this week, to sample another kind of roleplaying experience), I am having more and more fun. It only took the group a week to suggest playing outside class; we got together today for a Sunday afternoon gaming session, just for the heck of it (complete with pizza and a whole bunch of deliciously unhealthy food). I turned the Hangover into a D&D adventure, and the little team of gamers aced the whole thing! They took my half-cooked adventure idea, and turned it into epicness, complete with humor, self-sacrifice, CSI: Forgotten Realms style investigation, and a great fight scene in the end! As usual.
We played in the school cafeteria (a nice quiet place on a Sunday); people kept stopping to take a look at what we were doing. Some recognised the dice and the character sheets, some didn't; but I guess we were loud enough to make it pretty obvious that whatever we were doing, it was fun.
Because, people, playing games is important, now more than ever. Playing them with a group of great people instead of a computer screen is even better! And if said games happen to involve a lot of spontaneous storytelling and adventures that you will talk about for weeks to come, you really found one of the best ways to spend a Sunday afternoon.
I am not even going to mention getting university credit for the whole experience...