Matsuyama ALT 2018-2023
Jordan Rocke is a former Matsuyama JET who worked in Japan for 5 years as a Senior High School ALT in Hojo. As the former AJET Blog Editor, he also created much of the foundation for the Mikan Blog as we know and love it today! Here, he explores his adventures into TTRPGs (table-top role-playing games) back home in Australia, along with the striking parallels between gameplay and navigating new worlds IRL.
By Jordan Rocke
I was at the pub getting drinks after my first TTRPG convention when I met one of the founders. He had given a eulogy for his friend, who had been the lead founder, at the closing ceremony, so I offered to shout him and his wife a drink in condolence. This, combined with the fact I was one of the only newbies to the convention and thus a novelty, earned me an invitation to sit with them. It turned out they were headed to Japan the next week, having fallen in love with Lake Biwa on an earlier trip, and had a bunch of questions about Shikoku. Despite the fact that we were across the road from the local Japanese restaurant, Kagawa, they were actually the first people I have talked to in person since August 3rd who knew where Shikoku was. The point of this particular anecdote is when I mentioned that I had translated a Japanese murder-mystery game, and wanted to run it at the next convention. I made it clear it had been a one-off, and I don’t actually have much knowledge of Japanese, but my character sheet had been filled out. For the rest of the night, I was “Jo, Japanese games translator”. Probably for the best I don’t know how rubbish my stats must have been.
I’ve been a lot of fascinating characters over the past few months, both at the convention and at other events. One of my recent favourites was a God of Justice named Bralemborn in a game entirely about gods helping one of their own who has recently had a breakup. All the newly-single god wants to do is have a great night out with her friends, while we all quietly consider the fact that she is the god of night, and her breakup with the god of time means that the sun will almost certainly not rise, and humanity will die out. All the players cried during that game to varying degrees. The GM bought along a plot-relevant teddy bear, and encouraged us all to use it while we navigated some heavy stuff about change and responsibility.
Slightly more enjoyable was my time playing “Jordan, family member/friend back from Japan”. Nobody knows QUITE enough about Japan to ask anything specific, let alone where exactly I was living, so questions tend to be the equivalent of “so you speak Japanese now?”, “are you planning on going back?” and “have you got a job here yet?”, the answer to all of which is “no”.
A fascinating game that I played a little bit in Japan, but was keen to try back in Australia is called “Dating”. I had a character called Jordan back in Japan, who was a level 5 “foreigner with a handful of fun stories”. I made up a new one to start from square one, just called “Jo”, but man, I forgot how hard it is to start as a level 1 character! I keep going to make a check in “work anecdotes” or “hobbies” and forget I’m not actually trained in those any more. Instead I have “I’ve been reading some interesting books” and “I know about politics but you probably actually know more because you’ve been like…actually living here for the last 5 years.” The one upside is getting rid of the character flaw “can’t speak Japanese”, but the character flaw “talks about Japan too much” is not without its drawbacks.
More traumatising was my stint as Dr. Rayan Knutson in an indie standalone sci-fi horror game, an up and coming recruit placed on a remote mining station that is running low on supplies and overdue on a supply ship. She had a good run despite losing a leg while being led on a bizarre errand by her delusional commander, but was fully conscious while she was killed by a malfunctioning med-tube that dissolved her alive.
The Fallout RPG system hasn’t impressed me too much, to be honest, but I had a fun little session with the character Emelia ‘shine, a smooth talking survivalist who had to charm her way into New Vegas pretending to be a high roller while actually gathering intel for her NCR handlers. Also fun was the fact the DM had only come back a while ago after 10 years in Abu Dhabi. We both quickly realised we didn’t know enough about where either of us had come from, but just talked about how much Canberra had changed. About living here, having an identity here, and then leaving here for so long that all the names we knew were more associated with the idea of a person or a place than actually resembling what those names meant to people who lived here. If they meant anything at all.
My first LARP experience was playing a game set in the Ars Magica universe. I accidentally picked the optional 10th character, so optional that all the other players were confused why they had their relationships to other characters listed on their sheets except for mine. I was Gassius Guernicus, skilled Italian mage with a focus on plant magic. My job, according to the DM, was to ensure that we actually ran through the topics the in-universe wizard meeting was meant to cover. My main memories were desperately making eyes at the DM to give me something to do, attempting to end the various recesses to resume the meeting while other players asked for more time to scheme against their rivals, and being berated by a French wizard for using the wrong terms while running the meeting. I was unsure if she was actually angry with me, or if her character was trying to distract me, but it went for well over a minute. I realise if the DM had given me tools to show I was uncomfortable I would have used them, but he didn’t, so I just sat there. I didn’t manage to finish my sidequest.
A fun little game a few people have played me in various places is “What do you do?”. It’s mostly people who I think don’t really want to get invested in the game, so I normally try to use my pre-written character “I’m trained as a teacher.” That works for some and they move onto other games, but some want me to make a new character with them, which they indicate by asking “Where do you teach?”. I’m a bit of a cliche, because I stick to the same character background each time, and say “Well, actually, I’ve been teaching in rural Japan until recently.” That normally launches into class creation, which they start by asking “Oh, how interesting. Are you going to be teaching English or Japanese here? Or do you teach primary?”. I appreciate them giving me some simple options, but I’m actually pretty good at character creation at this point, and have a custom class. “Oh, I’m actually a high school history teacher by training.” That’s normally about as much time as we have to play the game before we move into their character, but some really dedicated players take a chance to tell me how much they hated history in school, which is such a lovely little touch that I never get sick of.
One of my favourite experiences was playing “How to Rescue a Princess in 10 Easy Steps”, a comedy game about a handful of a princess’s friends traveling around the kingdom to track down their adventure-loving princess friend. The game was a ton of fun, but the DM was just…incredible. I’ve never had a DM so skilled at improv, at playing off her players, at making people comfortable. She walked such a perfect line of keeping the game interesting and engaging while still focusing on player contributions and keeping them involved. I had a great time playing Robin, the loudmouth spy, but goddamn. I want to be a DM like that lady someday.
At the end of the day, however, I’m still working on a cross-system character called Jo, a guy who lived in Japan for 5 years and doesn’t really have a life outside Japan anymore. Which is ironic, considering they don’t have a life IN Japan either. They’re still tryna find hobbies, friends, identities, routines, all that jazz. They’re currently writing a nonsensical parody of TTRPG articles while their laptop lies to them in Japanese time, trying to reassure them that it’s 12:44am in Ehime, which while true, has nothing to do with the 2:45am actually happening in their apartment right now. All things considered, it was nice to be given someone to pretend to be for 4 days at the convention, instead of needing to create my own person to pretend to be like every other day.
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