By James Everett
I was probably about thirteen years old when I first dabbled in tabletop role-playing games. My uncle tried to explain to me what it was, but I just didn’t understand. It sounded so strange. Our conversation went something like this:
“So is it like a video game?”
“Is it like a board game?”
“Then how do you play?”
“Well, you make your own player character and the Game-Master puts you through a series of challenges and adventures, the results of which are determined by your character’s skills and your luck with the dice.”
“Oh… But how do you actually play?”
Coming from a world where the only games that I had known were board games, video games, and sports, the concept still didn’t make sense to me. My uncle laughed and explained that I had to play for it to make more sense. So we played.
My first role-playing adventure was in the famous Star Wars universe. My uncle guided me through the character creation process using his extensive role-playing knowledge and a series of rule books. Using these guidelines, I designed my own unique character. I chose his species, his abilities, his strengths and weaknesses, his name, his personality, and his personal history. By the end of the process, I had created a gun-slinging alien scoundrel with a sour disposition who was on the run from his enemies. All of this information was recorded on a character sheet that would be used to determine the results of my character’s actions within this fictional world.
My uncle served as the Game-Master (role-player jargon for “narrator”) who created the story, setting, and non-player characters of the fictional universe. Orally, he described the setting and situations to me and I was responsible for determining the actions of my character. As with real life, there is a heavy aspect of chance incorporated into the game using dice. Depending on the results of the roll, certain actions will either be successful or unsuccessful. For example: I decided to have my alien hotwire a speeder in order to escape from my enemies. Had I rolled a low number, I would not have been successful but thankfully I rolled a high number and was able to escape.
I was instantly hooked. I fell in love with the game because it allows the players to be creative. It encourages us to think critically, solve problems, to take on a new persona, and explore an exciting fictional world. How could you not love it? I spent the next nine years involved in role-playing; first as a player, and eventually as Game-Master. I became somewhat of an expert.
When I came to Colombia as a Peace Corps Volunteer I left all of my gaming books, dice, and miniatures at home. I didn’t think I would encounter role-playing circles in Colombia. I wasn’t wrong, but I failed to consider the possibility of making my own role-playing circle. I started to see how a role-playing game could benefit the lives of my students. Not only would it reinforce creativity and critical thinking, but I could add a language aspect to the game to help increase the students’ English practice opportunities. I set to work creating my own game that would cater to their needs. After creating the world and deciding on a system of play, I invited a small group of students and my counterpart, Alberto, to participate in what I labeled as an “Interactive Story”. They absolutely loved it.
This “Interactive Story” project is still a work-in-progress. We have only played about six times and in each game we face challenges, but I continue to tweak the game so that it remains beneficial to my students. The ultimate goal, my own personal passion, is to meet the needs of the community I work with. What could be better?