Want to Revisit Your Youth? Why Not Try Paper-and-Pencil Roleplaying Games


So you experimented in college. Why is unimportant. Maybe you grew up being told that this thing that you now wanted to try was wrong, and you decided to find out for yourself. Maybe you always really wanted to try it, but you were afraid of social ostracism if it ever came out that you were that way.  And maybe you just sort of drifted into doing it because your new friends all liked it, so they figured you would. And you did! So you got into it, then after a few years you got out of it because you felt you needed to conform to society’s expectations of you.  Only, lately, you’re starting to feel that urge again.

Well, I’m here to tell you that you needn’t feel ashamed. It’s OK. You can go back to playing roleplaying games (RPGs), and never mind the haters.

Seriously, though: I get people on a semi-regular basis sidle up to me at various venues and quietly admit that, yeah, they used to throw down the dice on Saturday nights. But then they tell me that they’ve stopped; and usually they’re a little surprised when I asked them why. Because it’s perfectly possible to keep doing this hobby as an adult, and I’ll be happy to give you some reasons why you should.

First off, one good reason to start gaming again as a real-life “grown-up” is because you are a grown-up now, and can do as you please. This may seem patently obvious to many, but I encounter folks who seem to think that the absurd and artificial micro-society that dominates high school and college still applies here. You no longer have to care what your peers think of your hobbies.  You didn’t back then, either, but we don’t have time travel to fix that.

Second, the general gaming experience can improve with age. Note “can”: there’s a stereotype of a certain type of older gamer which is unfortunately not entirely inaccurate. But there’s generally less self-destructive backstabbing, pointless arguments, and other personal drama at the table when gamers get to their thirties and forties; that stuff gets old, yes? — plus, younger gamers bring munchies; older gamers bring food.

Third, it’s not a bad time generally to get back into gaming.  As was mentioned earlier, the industry has been having a bit of a renaissance, thanks to crowdfunding, PDF publishing, the increasingly digital economy: the bottom line is that it’s now easier for companies to survive and put out product. And the nice thing about digital product is that it’s a lot easier to have a professional-quality layout and production values. The days of staples-and-hole-punches as a sign of small-business publishing are finally behind the gaming industry.

Fourth, you don’t have to go back to hack-and-slash style roleplaying. Like any art form that has been developing for half a century, RPGs have been evolving. Pelgrane Press produces the two contemporary alternatives (Hillfolk and GUMSHOE: episodic serial and investigative roleplaying, respectively) that I’m most familiar with; but there are other products, like Microscope (which allows you to effectively roleplay epic stories, like the rise and fall of a Galactic Empire) or the regrettably-no-longer-supported Unknown Armies (a postmodern magic game that starts its combat section by giving the player a variety of suggestions on how to avoid combat entirely). So if you weren’t really interested in fighting six orcs in a 20’ by 20’ room again, you have alternatives.

Fifth, you absolutely can go back to hack-and-slash style roleplaying. To give just a single example: an interesting thing about getting out of this hobby for a few decades is that people who did more or less missed the way that Dungeons and Dragons mutated away from AD&D… and then mutated itself back to it, in my own personal opinion. I don’t want to criticize the intervening editions, because many people play them, like them, and will be happy to eat my spleen in the comments section; but I can say with some confidence that the latest edition of D&D reminds me strongly of the AD&D I played in college and grad school. So if you did want to fight six orcs in a 20’ by 20’ room, you still can. Nobody’s going to tell you no.

And that’s back to sixth and last: you are a grown-up now, and can do as you please. I know that I said that twice, but as the robot said, it was worth mentioning twice.

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