By Charles Marshall
While I love the life I’ve made for myself here, there’s definitely things that I miss having the ability to easily get involved with when I lived back in Alaska. And I’m sure that’s something a lot of us can relate to to some extent or other regardless of the hobby or passion. For me, it tends to be theatre, musicals and, most relevant to this article, table-top role-playing games, or TTRPGs for short.
I’ve always been drawn to role-playing games in one form or another since I was young. I loved the idea of exploring new worlds and stories, interacting with interesting characters in a way that feels like the best that story-telling has to offer. But I never really got into TTRPGs until high school, when I had a reliably consistent friend group to play them with. Generally speaking I stick to some of the more traditional systems, like Dungeons and Dragons (I’ve played games of 3.5, 4th, and 5th Editions), but my main love in TTRPGs is Pathfinder, which is a bit crunchy on the numbers but the variety of stories you can make with it are insanely high. It’s what my online group does… when time and work schedules across five separate time zones allow for us to actually coordinate sessions. Unfortunately, due to those factors, we rarely have an entirely consistent schedule for sessions. For example, in the past three months we’ve had at most three sessions, and most of those were pretty short due to extenuating circumstances. It makes it frustrating sometimes.
So, when Ada posted about the RPG conference she was planning, I signed up. I didn’t know what system we were doing, and honestly that didn’t matter so much as being able to just meet and play with new people. I originally didn’t mind being either a GM (Game Master) or a Player, and I ended up being a GM, which is a position I enjoy, as I like knowing all the background for things going on.
The game system used was one I’d never tried before, or at least not in any official game capacity. It was a system called Dungeon World, a fantasy TTRPG based off of a game system called Powered by the Apocalypse. From what I read as a GM, and what I played as a player in the beta-run, I quite enjoyed the way that the story was shaped not just by the storytelling of the GM, but also how we as a party got to help world-build and describe details about what we saw, smelled, heard, and the like. By the time Ada had finished running us GMs through a beta test of the adventure we’d be Game Mastering the following week, I had been on the edge of my seat. I’d laughed, I’d gotten incredibly excited, and in general I had a really good time. Everyone’s characters were entertaining, the party got along really well, and the ending was well done, to which I must give our DM, Ada Smith, all the praise for leading us through this adventure.
A week later, it was my turn to run this story for a group. Originally it was going to be a group of four, but when we began it was a group of three. Each brought a unique perspective, idea, and sense of humor to the session as we made their characters, established their relationships in-game with each other, and then began the adventure. And what a fun session. I found myself laughing at the antics of my party as they fought their way through each encounter. Everyone meshed well, and when confusion about rules or the situation within the story cropped up, we worked together to rectify the situation and proceed. They comically demolished the cultists at the entrance to the Cave of Hypnos, and even managed to find one of the very meta items located within.
The inter-party dynamics were also highly enjoyable, with the spoony bard, the evil ranger, and the zealous cleric of the harvest god. When the final battle against the monstrous Bone-Tree came, they approached it well, but the tension was high as the party cleric fell in one blow, on the edge of death. Slowly, the bard and the ranger tried their best to hold off the Tree’s onslaught, the ranger’s companion bear falling in the struggle. Even as the cleric was revived and struck another blow, it wasn’t enough before he was brought to Death’s Door yet again. With a last, desperate volley, the ranger was finally able to fell the Bone Tree and reveal the ancient portal they had been looking for, but in the last moments the cleric gave his last breath and died. Truly a bittersweet story moment, but a fun combat that I’m hoping everyone involved had a good time with. The rest of the adventure, the wrap up to the several hour long story, was an entertaining meta-story that I don’t think I’ll spoil here. Having it play out as it did was a very fun way to finish the night.
Overall, this TTRPG experience with my fellow ALTs was an absolute blast. I got to meet some new people who all seemed great and friendly, creative and full of good humor, and together we told a story that was fun for all of us. I would definitely do this experience again, either as a player or as a GM again. Because when it gets down to it, one of the joys of TTRPGs are the ways that it can unite people from all over, and allow you to showcase skills that you never thought you had. I mean, who here doesn’t like a good story?
Charles Marshall is an ALT originally from Fairbanks, Alaska who is currently living in Niihama. He’s lived in Japan since 2018 and is always open to meeting new people and going on adventures.