Friday, August 29, 2008

The artifacts of our hobby

I’d rather have a pile of lavishly illustrated books spread across my gaming table than a PDF any day.

Sure, electronic documents are supremely portable, and I’ve relied on them many times in the past for their utility and portability. Moreover, their minimal cost has enabled many newcomers to enter the gaming industry, which has been a great boon for our hobby. These days, my gaming table invariably sees three or four laptops humming at each game session, the players themselves half-hidden behind computing hardware. In truth, this shouldn't be a big deal; at 26, I'm part of the generation that grew up with personal computers (specifically notebooks), and they'll only become a more integral part of our game culture from here on out.

But my fondest RPG memories involve “classic” gaming: a kitchen table strewn with dice, pencils, miniatures and battered, much-loved RPG books. These mythic tomes — imbued with an aura not terribly far removed from the spellbooks of arcane wizards — served as the birthplace of adventure and the last resting place of heroes. Worlds lived and died between their pages. They were filled with rich lore and lavish illustrations, yes, but what they held more than anything was potential: the promise, if you will, of worlds unexplored and games yet to be played.

The books on my shelf bear the war wounds of all the games I played. I still remember accidentally sitting on my Star Wars d6 core book, leaving a lightning-shaped crease in the cover. Pages 38 and 39 of my Mutants & Masterminds book are gone forever, having been fused together when I dropped a slice of pizza and then absentmindedly closed the book. For reasons I can't explain, my D&D 3.5 book falls open to the Monk's page every time I set it on the table.

The act of cracking open a new RPG book or penciling in a new skill on a character sheet is a part of the tactile appeal of gaming. Given this, it’s easy to understand how roleplaying sprang from a small group of overly creative tabletop wargamers. Dice, tokens, markers, miniatures, charts, books — these are the physical artifacts of our shared hobby, and I derive a strong sense of inclusion by keeping the tradition alive.

(As an aside, the inspiration for this post came from Xeveninti, a new blog from an old-school gamer who's just now finding his way back into the hobby. It's been fascinating to read about how he discovered roleplaying in the first place; I highly recommend checking in with him.)

Pictured above is my own RPG shelf. It's a work in progress.