I've put off writing this post, because, well, it wasn't exactly the best game ever. The weather was a bit grey, many of us were stressed and some background social anxiety was going on. Nothing too major but enough to dampen our spirits a bit as we went into a dungeon.
Ah, dungeons. My group doesn't exactly love dungeons. I've stayed away from them as much as possible in my campaign for that reason. They seem to love investigating city streets, combing through libraries, and studying found objects. Most of them have characters with pretty good social skills and they aren't afraid of using them. So, dungeons aren't their thing exactly.
However, I did learn a few things from this session. First, is that running the Red Box for veteran players can be hard. Since they already know about class builds, they ask all sorts of detailed questions. I can't remember the exact questions asked, but usually the subject was does this feature of class x apply to these builds. I don't know what the correct answer is, but I said if it wasn't in the Red Box player's guide, the answer was no. This scenario makes me wish that they had a simplified character creation guide in the box, something I as a DM could quickly reference when players ask such questions.
Another thing I learned is that it can be difficult to get players to interact with the environment. I struggle with this all the time. I've heard the advice that you shouldn't give a speech to your players at the beginning of a scene (the equivalent of multiple paragraphs of boxed text) yet I still haven't found a good way to make sure I give enough info to the players to pique their interest.
With the movement away from boxed text, I fear new DMs will be as lost as I am. Perhaps it makes sense to do some tutorials on how to present this information. For instance, have a few veteran DMs take an encounter and detail how they would present it to the players. Even one would be nice, but having multiple DMs do this for the same encounter would help newer DMs notice differences of style better.
Finally, I like the random roll tables. It took me a while to come around, but I like being just as surprised as the players about what they get. I learned that back when I created some rumor tables for a skill challenge in my game. My only complaint about the random roll tables is that I wish the items on them were more interesting. Rope and chains are great and all, but I think one of them should have had some interesting clothing to encourage creativity.
One of the upcoming changes to D&D is the move to a rarity system, where items will be common, uncommon and rare. Used well, the change can force players to get more creative with their solutions to problems. Going to an area where falling is a real risk? You can't just buy everyone a Safewing Amulet. Hopefully, rarity combined with random item tables will spark creativity at the table.
So, those are my thoughts from our second session. How about you? Have you played the Red Box yet? What are your thoughts on the character builds?
Recent years have seen reboots of many long-lived and beloved story lines whether it's Star Trek or Dungeons & Dragons. Many fans of these series went through all the stages of grief, mourning the deaths of their friends and companions. As a lover of story, I totally understand this reaction. It's unsettling when the world rearranges itself beneath your feet and all the lore and knowledge you've gained no longer orients you in the world.
However, as a newcomer to the world of D&D, this reboot has been a godsend. I'm being a bit selfish here. While in theory I love canon, those stories weren't my stories. I didn't grow up with them; I didn't sneak a flashlight under my covers so I could read them. Instead, I viewed them as a barrier to entry. I heard their whispers, "That girl, Tracy, she's just a poseur. I mean, she doesn't even know who Orcus and Vecna are. How can she call herself a D&D player?" I've had my geek cred challenged on the account of the fact I couldn't recite lines from Star Trek from memory, so why would these D&D players be any different.
The other guys in my gaming group couldn't convince me that canon was my friend either. One of the members, Joe, kept telling me that if I set my campaign in a published setting and wanted a lake where none existed, I could just create the lake and the rest of the group would be ok with it. In my mind I wanted to believe him, I mean, a few of them really wanted to play in Eberron after all, but my fears and self-doubt cried out, "It's a trap! They want to use your newness against you. They've read the novels. They are going to recite stories from it that you have no idea about and laugh at you when you don't get the reference."
So what did I do? I "created" my own world, full of towns and details from 1st and 2nd edition modules. No "canon" there that they could use against me. I picked fairly obscure modules and I made so many changes to them. I pulled heavily on fairy tales and European mythology to give my world a framework. And, for awhile at least, things went pretty well.
And yet, as time went on, I struggled. I had to switch jobs which cost me an two hours a day that I normally would have spent on D&D. My world became less rich and I had to do more wholesale grabbing of stories from other places. Andernach, my beloved dwarven city, had to become a reskinning of Hammerfast because I just had no time to do it justice. I became more and more jealous of my new D&D friends who knew the Forgotten Realms or Eberron like the back of their hand or who had binders of stories and characters lovingly gathered over the years.
Hindsight being what it is, it's easy for me to say today that I was incredibly wrongheaded back then. I didn't realize that the canon of published campaign settings could be used like those binders. I wish I had read articles like "Fire the Canon!" I wish I had read the Planescape campaign setting books, where they explain that the planes are big but that DMs shouldn't worry about that, just start really small and circle out. Don't worry if you don't know all of Sigil, there are plenty of adventures in just one small section of it. Most of all, I wish I had the support network then that I have now.
By the way, if you haven't read the above mentioned article, go and do it right now. It's important that every DM and player understands why canon exists. And if you are in a position similar to the one I found myself in when I started, that being you just started playing but your players all have many more years experience, don't be afraid of canon. Just be honest with your players and tell them you're going to make mistakes.
And if you are afraid, like I was, of misaligned perceptions and assumptions about the world due to different levels of experience, set up a system for raising an objection. Try to be as neutral as possible, just like you would any other rules call. Hopefully everyone at the table will be adult enough to realize that a newcomer just can't have the same level of knowledge as a veteran.
I have to admit, a bit sheepishly, that I created the image of the girl in braids, calling out for her parents that Rob Donoghue referenced in his recent article The Tableau. In my defense, I'm working through my issues of scene setting, my players sometimes feel my stories are too full of grey. Also, one problem I have with Dark Sun is that it doesn't represent a genre I normally enjoy, so I'm having a hard time placing myself in the world.
That said, I'm so happy Rob stepped in to patiently teach me how I should think about these things. (In my mind, I heard an exasperated sigh that reverberated through the internet.) The series of articles he produced on the topic are great for anyone although I will pretend he wrote them for me.
In the first article, Rob explains what is wrong with setting a scene in this way, expanding on his comments from Twitter. He calls the scene a "tableau". Although he doesn't define the term, my understanding is that they are well-known, stark scenes created to stir a particular reaction on the part of the viewer.
In my gut, I knew it was wrong to construct a scene this way, but I've been fumbling around for a way to make something so foreign to me real. But I agree completely with him, forcing the players down a certain path by appealing to their heroic nature is a bit forced and letting their mind wander about why I'm highlighting the girl likely will cause them to become snarky. In fact, a number of the responses were that the girl should be the embodiment of something evil.
For his second post, he explains what we should do instead, create a definite call to action. On twitter he suggested that perhaps a man approaches the girl, his description hinting at a less than heroic motivation. He also suggests making the call personal to the characters instead of pulling just on the heart strings of the players themselves. Of course, this requires characters with some development to them, which is something lacking at many tables. But that is an entirely different matter altogether.
The last post mentions a bit of a GM trick, one that I try to employ where possible. Too often we craft our hooks directly around the character instead of creating the larger web of opportunities and consequences. We tie things to primary relationships instead of secondary ones. Of course, one issue with this trick is that it can explode the number of NPCs the players need to remember, but it can create a much richer story and one that feels a little less repetitive.
As for me, I think I've identified my larger problem. I'm trying to create a world that calls to my players without knowing what it is that calls to them. My natural inclination is to ask them to create the characters they want to play and then build a world around them, negotiating the details of the place setting as necessary.
However, this flies in the face of the normal advice given to DMs and players in D&D and so it's taken me some time to figure it out. Yes, I'm still a storyteller, but to me the real reward is in weaving together the threads presented to me by others rather than in coming up with all of the ideas myself. I love the challenge of such an endeavor.
The solution seems obvious to me. I should have the character creation session sooner rather than later, and create my part of the story from what the players create. This way my needs are met while some of the story remains a mystery to the players.
We recorded an episode of 4 geeks 4e last night. For this episode, we discussed how we approach campaigns from both the DM and player sides and I mentioned that one trick I've used as a player is having my character write letters home to her parents. These letters contain information about the story from my character's point of view and give me a way to develop my character without taking up a lot of table time or going through awkward role playing scenarios.
Since Sarah had some rather romantic notions of the adventuring life, I really worried about how much to role play. In case it helps someone with their game, here is Sarah's letter home. I wrote this on April 13th, 2009, about a month and a half after I started playing.
Dear Mom and Dad,
Hey guys! I hope all is well with you guys and that the show is doing great. I know I haven't sent anything for a while, but I didn't want to write until I could provide news about Douvan. Just so you guys don't continue to worry, we found him and he is safe and sound.
After the last letter from mom, I went straight to Winterhaven to see what I could find out about his whereabouts. The innkeeper was nice enough to tell me that Douvan had made friends with a local farmer and that there was an adventuring group in the area who had made good progress against the kobolds there and around Fallcrest. I went to find the group straight away to see if I could persuade them to help me in my cause. I met up with them outside of town outside of a cave under a waterfall. I agreed to help them with the kobolds they were fighting. It was my first battle! Of course, I made some rookie mistakes but with the help of the dwarf (more about him later), I got through it and learned a lot from the process. To top it off, I helped them defeat a goblin named Irontooth and the band of kobolds that were helping him.
After convincing the group to help me, we went to the farmer's house to find out where Douvan might be. The farmer was kind enough to draw us a map of hte location. When we got to the location, we happened upon a gnome, some humans, a halfling and two drakes. The drakes really scared me because the rest of the group kept telling me stories about a place they call 'That guy hall.' Apparently a former member of the group was killed in a horrific fashion by drakes in a place known as Kobold Hall. That was more than enough to make me extremely nervous of drakes and when I saw them at the dragon tomb site, I almost lost it. But I remembered the locket you gave me and the warmth it provided helped steady me, especially when the gnome then set his drakes loose on us. We were able to work our way through the gnome and his friends and after the battle we found Douvan tied up in a burlap sack. I quickly helped him get untied and everything and he told me his story. For my help, he gave me a magical locket he had. I felt bad taking it, but the truth is it is incredibly useful for me right now. I hope one day to no longer need it and will then return it to him and Eliza.
But enough of scary monsters and battle and stuff that's likely to make you worry. Let me tell you about the group I found. Lucan, an elf ranger, likes to refer to me as a half-human and he always seems suspicious that I'm going to steal something. I wish I could explain to him that I don't like to steal, that I only did it to help us, but words fail me. Then there is Klute, a human wizard. I'm not sure what to make of him yet, except that sometimes he concentrates a little too much on how other women look. Sometimes I don't understand guys. There is also a dragon-born warlord named Haradrin. So far he's been pretty quiet and I don't know a ton about him. And finally there is the dwarf paladin. I now know what you always meant about paladins having great hands.
Unless you guys really need me, I think I might stick with this group for a while and see where fate takes me.
By the way, the reference to the paladin's hands was an in-joke for our group. When poor Sarah needed some healing (she got herself surrounded by enemies early in the encounter), the paladin healed her with his "Lay on Hands" power. Since someone other than my husband played that character and it was my first session, someone made the joke that he better be careful where he placed his hands and, to put a stop to that, I made the joke about paladins having such nice hands. I refuse to have such constraints placed on my characters. :)
I am writing this while on a bus to New York City to meet up with a friend I made while at Gen Con. While I'm excited about this trip for many reasons, one of the things I'm most looking forward to is the ability to just play. You see, my friend has a puppy. I've already warned him that I'm going to lose all sense of decorum for a moment while I play with the dog. It's not really my fault either; I get so few moments of pure child-like joy, that I need to take them where I can get them. I always feel refreshed and re-energized afterward.
So what does this have to do with gaming? Sometimes I'm afraid we are a bit too serious about our games. We box ourselves into viewing the game in one particular manner. Take for instance the number of people who refuse to view D&D as anything other than a Western-European, medieval fantasy game. Or the people who limit themselves only to the powers and skill manifestations listed on their character sheet or the player's handbook.
So to everyone out there, I say take a night off from the very serious campaign and have a night of pure play. Whether that takes the form of improvised weapons or something completely different, go out and just have fun. You might be surprised at what you discover.
Maybe it was Chris Sims's game at Gen Con. Or perhaps the fact the campaign setting has the right mix of lore to mystery for me. Then again it could be the fact my players asked when they could revisit Dark Sun (I ran Chris Tulach's Free RPG Day adventure for them). Regardless of the reason, I'm sold and am preparing a Dark Sun mini-campaign for when Newhamshire ends.
I have to admit I'm a little intimidated. True, I'm not a complete newbie at this. I created my own campaign world last year, or at least a rather loose framework of a world with lots of borrowed material to fill it in. It was so easy then as I really didn't know any better. My introduction to DMing was a lot like unceremoniously dumping me in the middle of the lake and telling me to swim to shore. I cared a lot less about proper form and stroke and a lot more about keeping my head above water and moving forward.
But now I know so much more. I won't start this adventure in a tavern and I won't make my players go through hoops to get their first quest. Oh, and I should probably add more quests instead of taking the lazy way out and giving them just one at a time.
My plan is to get them involved early, filling in the loose framework given in the Dark Sun book with the types of characters and stories they want to explore. I want to facilitate them telling the stories, with me doing the hard work of tying it all together, filling in the adversary stats, etc.
To help with this, I'm working on a series of vignettes. I'd really prefer to set the campaign in the city of Nibenay, a city ruled by a reclusive sorcerer-king and his Templar-wives and a decadent noble class who owns the water. So far I have three vague ideas for the city, each highlighting a different aspect of what I imagine life must be like there.
A newly captured slave who won't submit to her new "masters" after being sold in the slave market. Such a situation presents a bit of an issue for a city whose populace "expect[s] decorum in all things." For the lower classes, this means knowing one's place and for those in the higher classes it means remaining cool and indifferent.
Someone who refuses to accept this, particularly in public, brings these issues to the forefront. How does this play out? Are the buyers there or did they send agents to perform the sale? Is she made to submit in public or do they drug her to create less of a scene? What do the PCs do when they see this? How do they feel about their actions or inactions?
The official government, in the form of the Templars, is run by women. The sorcerer-king Nibenay is a recluse, although Kalak's assassination concerns him a bit. The Nibenese nobility, the descendants of the once powerful warlord caste, are very wealthy and decadent. From the little information available in the book, it feels like the noble families are run by men. It's also likely that the fortunes do not get divided equally amongst all children, or else the wealth would be too wide spread.
If we go by these assumptions, what of the younger male children of the nobles? The inheritance goes to their older brothers and only their sisters have the chance of becoming Templars. Yet they probably have some wealth and prestige along with a burning desire to stay in the upper echelon of society.
The tension between the nobles and Templars is obvious, but I wonder about the other people of the city. They live in a very wealthy city, one where the tales of the past surround them, carved into the walls of the buildings instead of squirreled away in books. Some are bound to be tired of seeing their friends and relatives used as playthings of the rich nobles while the Templar-wives, the keepers of order, do little more than watch or perhaps avert their eyes.
One way to change this reality is to start secret schools hidden among the winding, narrow streets. Teach the children the evils of excess and give them basic skills to improve their situation. Find the children who have natural talents, whether psionic or arcane, and help them grow and learn or point them in the direction where they can get that assistance. Perhaps there is a Templar or two who is willing to sneak them some books from the royal compound. The schools could be part of the Veiled Alliance or not. They could work passively through education or decide to take a more active role bringing down the nobility.
Hopefully this start will encourage my players to think about what sorts of characters they want to play and help them build a connection to the city. I can't wait to start exploring.
Last week I got a real treat, the chance to run the new D&D Red Box game for my table. As you can imagine, the Essentials announcement had a few of the group members on edge. They are veterans of the older edition wars and sometimes express their bitterness over the 3/3.5 changes. While I could come back from Gen Con and tell them about how Essentials really wasn't 4.5, I knew the only way they would understand it was if they actually got to play it. So when I suggested that we run Red Box instead of our normal campaign, they were all in.
Their first request was that they create their own characters, using paper and pencil. They wanted to go through the solo adventure and build their character that way. While it led to a slow night of gaming, they had a lot of fun with it. This way of building a character was a little different for them but they enjoyed it.
If I could make one suggestion, it would be to include a short cut version, even if it's only available online. I had the pre-gens from Gen Con we could use, but they all wanted to create their own. Each character took about half an hour to create. One of them wanted an old-school experience and rolled for his scores, 4d6 drop the lowest, in order. While doing this is likely something someone brand new is unlikely to try, it would be nice to support it since part of the appeal of Red Box is the nostalgia factor.
New Character Sheets
One of the first things they commented on was the new character sheet. When I handed a sheet to each player, one of them asked where the rest of it was. That's right, the sheets are now 1 page. In fact, the solo adventure references just writing the information down on a scrap piece of paper if desired. My husband has been complaining about this for years now so I'm glad to see it addressed. If you want to see an image of the new sheet, Games HQ has one as part of their unboxing.
But there is more to the change that just the number of pages. Skills are now listed beneath the corresponding ability score. All those funny little boxes are streamlined to just two, your misc modifiers and the overall check modifier that you would use. If I had this sheet when I started out, it would have made so much more sense.
In addition the page is divided into three vertical sections, abilities and scores, combat statistics and character info like class, race, languages, and notes. The top portion of each column lists the info you are most likely to need during the game.
In addition to character sheets, the box provides cards for each class's abilities and powers and the magic items found in the adventure. This keeps the character sheet nice and clean and means no messing around with a printer and scissors. The only downside to these cards is that they are a bit flimsy and I ripped a few as I tore them out of the stock.
Given how long character generation took, we didn't get much in the way of gaming that night. It was nice that they already knew the basics of the story and so I didn't have to point them in a particular direction or anything. The first encounter, which was devastating at Gen Con, was pretty easy for my group, but they know how to work well together. On my side of the screen, running the adventure didn't change at all.
Different Skill Challenge Organization
The other thing I want to mention about Red Box is something they haven't gone through yet but I noticed during Gen Con. The skill challenge format is much changed and, in my opinion, much improved. I'll admit I was wary of the change when I first saw it. But then again I had fewer than 12 hours before I had to run it and some of that time had to be spent sleeping. When I pointed out the difference to Chuck Arnett, he said something along the lines of "Interesting, isn't it?"
Once I got over that though, I fell in love with it. First, there is a whole section on how to roleplay the NPC with usable information about how the NPC would act and react. In addition, it details ways to deal with each failure, giving the players clues that the accumulated failures are making the NPC unhappy.
It recommends that the DM "[t]ry to keep the skill challenge flowing like normal conversation." To aid this, it suggests the DM encourage the players to get into character, describing what the character does as it interacts with the NPC. It describes three ways the PCs might try to interact with the NPC and how different skills might help the PCs achieve their goals. In addition, it explains why the DCs are different for different checks and also states that different characters may want to use a different strategy during the challenge. Great advice for all DMs, regardless of their experience level and something I was pleased to see.
I'll discuss more about the Red Box as we play through the adventure, but the character sheets and change to skill challenge layout were things I just had to mention straight away. I can't wait to see what other goodies await in the Essentials series. So far the judgment of my players is that this is no 4.5.
1 - Ha, a footnote! I have to show my appreciation to Chuck ( @wotc_chuck ). I saw him the Wednesday night of Gen Con when I was, well, freaking out about having to run Red Box the next morning. I looked like I was cramming for a really hard exam and he noticed. He was very patient with me and suggested that I streamline the adventure a bit to make it easier for me to run. I would have been so afraid to make a decision like that on my own and I think he really saved a large portion of my Gen Con experience from potential ruin. Thanks again!
Saturday was the Dark Sun World Wide Game Day. I have to be honest and say I almost didn't go in for it. Between Gen Con, con crud, writing a ton, my podcasts, not to mention my real life, I was a bit worn down. But my friend Jason ( @neldar ) told me they could use players and so I signed up for the noon slot and I'm so glad I did.
I knew it was the right choice as soon as Jason placed the pre-gens down on the table. Expecting the normal 1 or 2 female characters, I had decided to let the other woman at the table pick her character first. However, when I saw that there were 3 female characters (out of 6) and that one of them was a goliath barbarian gladiator, I had to claim that one. Fortunately the rest of the table was ok with the grab and I spent the next 5 minutes determining who she was.
It was obvious right away that she was strong, both in body (20 strength) and internal fortitude (16 constitution). She was trained in athletics, endurance and the ability to intimidate. My guess is that she makes quite the opponent in the arena.
Not only did she have the skills to survive in the arena, she was a bit of a showman (14 charisma) which translated to her scoffing at her enemies when they missed and her declaring herself king of the mountain after she caused the perched bowman to flee.
Beyond that, the rest of the ability scores told me she was decent at dodging and moving (12 Dex) but wasn't great at matters of wisdom and intellect (8 and 10). I did decide that she must have some knowledge of tactics given that she lived long enough to see level 4.
The adventure itself was very challenging, just the way a Dark Sun adventure should be. Luck played a big role in our survival as did our tactics. My poor barbarian went unconscious once and was brought back to life by a very tasty piece of fruit. And the tembo didn't have much of a chance when I rolled a crit on my Avalanche Strike power (6d6+11 damage which came after a decent use of my daily for a total of 66 points of damage in one round). When we finally killed the beast, my barbarian claimed the hide for her own.
In the end, everyone at my table survived and our poor DM looked a little sad that we had brutalized his monsters. I had so much fun playing that when I came home, I announced to my husband that I had won at D&D. This amused him greatly. But the truth is, I did feel as though I had won, at least against Athas.
Some of my tweets from the game:
- Yes I provoked a marked target just to watch him die. :)
- This archer is pissing me off. Time to climb the rocks and make him cry. At least it would have been if I didn't roll 2 twice :)
- Archer thought he was clever and tried to launch into an awesome jump attack. I am king of the mountain now!
- Ok dice, I hope the 1s and 2s are out of your system now. Time to kick some ass!
- Looks like an arena to me. http://yfrog.com/18snwj then again everything looks like one to me
- Stupid hobbler pinned me to the ground with his javelin. Pulled it out and returned it. Missed but damn did that feel good
- Barbarian just ravaged the tembo for 66 points of damage. AP & Crit on avalanche strike 6d6+11. But I've let my guard down a bit as a result
- OH: Player: oh I'm no longer bloodied DM: yeah hold that thought
- Got ravaged by that tembo in return. But the leather will make a nice addition to my wardrobe.
- OMG is the barbarian really going to try to be the diplomat?
- Well my hammer says me own this now! Take it if you dare!
- Ha your weak attacks are meaningless against me. Taste my hammer and then eat earth! (hammer fall)
- Our ardent gave me a free melee basic. Killed that challenger and charged the Templar. Hammer struck a ringing blow (21 dmg)
- Harried the templar (go with the flow) and made him spend his action point to shift again. That sucker is mine!
Starting at 8 am on Thursday, I had just 76 hours to give to GenCon. Due to scheduling constraints, my husband and I had to leave Indianapolis by noon on Sunday. In this time, I had to sleep, eat, play games, hang with friends, and network. As it was, I had so little time to do everything I wanted to do, and yet I gave 10 of those precious hours to the RPGA. Some of my friends have asked me why and I'd like to answer their questions here.
I've received numerous kindnesses from members of the D&D community, especially from RPGA members. I met Mark ( @AsmodeusLore ) at PAX East and he encouraged me to ask Wil Wheaton and Scott Kurtz for their autographs and shared in my excitement when they signed my DMG. He also encouraged me to run some games that weekend, particularly the DM Challenge. And he was kind enough to put my husband and I up for a night during our great GenCon road trip.
Marcel ( @Mudbunny74 ) and Dustin ( @WolfStar76 ) are both my go-to community guys whenever I have a question about online D&D resources. Both have encouraged me to become more active in the community and in the RPGA. Dustin is the person who threw me to the delves when my learn to play group finished early, giving me the confidence I needed to give it a shot.
These are just three of the people who've nudged me to give public play a try. And I know that by participating and running games, I'm paying forward that kindness to others. I'm reminded each time I run that not everyone has a home group, at least not one that will play 4th edition. During PAX East, I heard a number of people waiting in line express that this was their only chance to play for the foreseeable future. Giving a little over 10% of my time to make that happen doesn't seem like that much of a sacrifice to me.
Leveling My Game
War often changes the cultures of those involved in interesting ways. Back when travel was difficult and information scarce, war provided one of the few opportunities for large-scale cultural exchanges. The crusaders brought back technologies and spices from the Middle East just as G.I.s returned with a love of tiki drinks and pizza.
Fortunately, war is not the only mechanism for such exchanges. While many of us play with just one or two home groups at a time, the running and playing games with the RPGA gives us the opportunity to play with many different people in a short time span. Only after experiencing a number of different players, from different backgrounds, is it possible to grok what the different play styles mean and how they influence game play.
Besides, I love analyzing how other people play or run games and see what ideas I can steal from them. And I love it when someone tells me that they are going to steal an idea from me. While the Internet is a great forum for information exchange, nothing can replace seeing it in person, being able to interact with it and have a conversation right there about it.
The RPGA is a real community and they are very welcoming of those willing to spread the love of the game. In addition to these highly personal perks, tangible rewards are often given as well, everything from books to passes to hotel rooms.
So, that's why I give time to the RPGA even during my first GenCon. I hope you'll consider volunteering as well.
I mentioned on Twitter today that when I first started playing, I almost went with a male character instead of a female one. Someone replied that he knows a woman who refuses to play anything but a male character. This preference confuses him a bit and he asked the reasons why I had the same initial preference. 140 characters are a bit too few to explain my reasons completely (particularly when I'm in the middle of a game) so I wanted to explain a bit more here. I want to warn my readers in advance though, this isn't a pleasant topic and I'm going to show a bit of my soul here. I can't tell you that any other woman has these same reasons; I can only attempt to explain myself.
My parents raised my brother and I in about as gender neutral of an environment as one can get. I got matchbox cars as well as dolls as presents and the only reason they were concerned about me playing sports was due to my heart condition. My brother and I had the same chores and I often was my dad's helper on construction projects.
Most of my town, however, didn't show the same outlook. I was told my love of sports was a phase that I would soon outgrow. When I wanted to play basketball against the wishes of the boys in my class, I was offered the position of cheerleader. When I brought out the classroom ball, the boys attempted to take it away from me and dragged me across the playground. I was told that as a girl I should have known better and just let them have it.
All of this resulted in me hiding my gender for much of my youth. Since only boys were allowed to do the things I loved, I took on the look of a boy. I had my mother cut my hair as short as she could bear it and wore boys clothes. Of course, this confused many adults and some of my classmates, but to me it made perfect sense. Of course, this was in elementary and middle school. By the time I hit high school, I had convinced enough people through sheer force of will that I didn't have to do this anymore and could just be myself.
Beyond this highly-personal learned behavior, when I play, I don't want to feel like the girl of the group. I don't want the male players or characters to feel like they need to heal the girl over anyone else or to protect her from the evils of the world. Many guys are more than willing to treat me as an equal, but when I'm in a group of people I don't know, I like the neutrality of playing a male character.
No easy way exists to discuss this topic. For a subset of players, and I think it's actually a really small minority, playing a fantasy game like D&D brings out their dark side. I'm well acquainted with how dark things can get, although I haven't had it happen to me at the table.
When I was in middle school, honors students were given passes that allowed them to go outside early during lunch and study hall, without adult supervision. I loved this as it gave me an opportunity to play sports. However, boys that age aren't always nice, and for months I had to undergo a number of tortures, everything from pretty detailed descriptions of what some of the boys wanted to do to my mother to threats, by some of them, that they were going to rape me in the woods by the school.
One day they finally broke down my will and my cousin could see I was upset during class. After I told him what was going on, he convinced me to tell the principal. So here I am, in 7th or 8th grade explaining to my male principal the bullying I was undergoing. After he heard my story, he told me that the only way he could do anything was if I repeated my allegations in front of my tormentor. Except it wasn't really in front, he sat the boy next to me. The end result was the boy got two days of in-school suspension and, while the overt sexual tone decreased, the bullying got worse.
Now, I know there are many wonderful men who would never do anything like this. And I have enough wisdom now to know that this was more about power than sex. But I always have that fear when I meet a new group of guys. So, at least in my mind, playing a male character is a protection mechanism against this darker part of society. It may not be fair and it might not even work, but it is what it is.
So those are the two main reasons why I might prefer playing male characters to female ones and, to a large degree, why gender issues are so important to me.