I had this odd flashback from being a 13 year old gamer. This is probably a 30 year old gaming memory thanks to the rpgtheoryjuly hashtag over on twitter and reading tweets by Evan Torner and Emily Care-Boss.
The above tweet reminded me of a D&D game I DM’ed almost 30 years ago.
I was DMing; it was probably my first few dozen games. I was 13 years old, sitting on the edge of my bed while my friends sat on the floor. My parents had been divorced for two years. It was some kind of off-night game we’d play when everyone else was out of town. It might’ve been my first experience with GM + 2 players.
A friend of mine was playing this lion-headed swashbuckling character in our D&D game because of course he was. His name might’ve been Leo DiRoarinsky. Here’s the thing about me then and me to this day. I’ll laugh at the name and then I will take it seriously. The name’s only funny once, really…maybe. After that, let’s get to adventuring and find other reasons to laugh or gasp or cringe or cheer. I took Leo seriously and listened to his back-story.
I remember him pitching the character to me. He said the name and laughed and then he passionately described this pale-furred, lion-headed swashbuckling adventurer. I didn’t like silly fantasy, still don’t. I was sold, though. He had mentioned a princess girlfriend his character was involved with but something was keeping them apart. Was it a kidnapping or a father or something?
I don’t remember. It was almost 3 decades ago. I only remember this dashing ivory-furred lion-headed skyship captain.
I decided that the princess would show up. I was young and had no idea about romantic relationships of any kind. What I did know was that it was really interesting if they had to co-exist. What does this lion-headed sky-boat captain do now that his princess girlfriend has showed up? I had no idea what that would look like. What does she think of adventuring? Does he really love her or just the idea of her?
I knew it was satisfying, uncomfortable and odd all at once. I learned right there that liked those things all together at the table. It was difficult, as difficult as my 13 year old brain with just-divorced parents knew how to make it.
Yeah, Leo, you can pine for this princess and you would’ve crossed the 9 skies to save if she had needed but can you live with her? Can you share a cramped skyship cabin with her? Can you plot a course across the stars with her?
I learned some good lessons:
Take your friend’s ideas seriously; even if they are silly, the silliness might be hiding some real pathos buried in there. Find that pathos before you dismiss something out of hand.
Sometimes, give a character what they want but not in exactly the way they want it. Especially when it can make the adventuring life even more interesting.
Asking a character to live with family is often more interesting than using that family as something to threaten or destroy for that character’s motivation.