Learning how to roleplay or remembering how to roleplay?

This is a follow-up post to my previous entry How to Roleplay – the oral tradition.

The matter has been on my mind, and rather than forget it or move on once I’d committed it to type and posted it (as I tend to do), the writing of that post was a summons rather than a banishment, and I continue to turn the concepts over and over.

This morning, my daughter was dressing the dog in towels.  The image of Koi swathed in cloth linked weirdly with the culturally-loaded image of Mary by the cross, similarly wrapped in mantle and robe.  Blame it on Easter, and the illustrated book of bible stories which supplied most of my internal iconography and visual lexicon used when thinking about the bible.  As an aside, I’d love to find that book again, because I’d swear it was illustrated by Frank Frazetta – David was ripped, but Goliath was a monster.

So Addie was wrapping up the dog, and she’d effortlessly spun an imaginary world around herself and Koi, and the snow blowing through that world was fierce and the dog needed to be wrapped up tight to go out looking for the lost children.  She was excited, engaged, she spoke in different voices for different characters in the world she’d conjured.  The dog, patient in her old age, endured it with dignity and the occasional ninja-quick face lick.

I’ve watched her share the same world creation and immersion with her human friends too.  They plug right in, and it’s as effortless as running or climbing with a child’s body.  And the kids already have a sense of rules, even at four years old – things work a certain way, even imaginary things.  “NO, THAT COLOR HORSE CAN’T FLY!”

When I learned to roleplay I was a spotty socially insecure adolescent, mortally afraid of appearing stupid or foolish or babyish to my peers.  I consumed geek media, but increasingly I was learning that this stuff was going to get me mocked or at best, excluded.  After a rough move, I’d not really made any proto-geek friends.  Nobody knew what Doctor Who was (I’ll have to relay my gross failure to be cool by wearing Doctor Who buttons on my jeans jacket at some point).  Legos were toys, and toys were increasingly sneered at.  I didn’t run and play monsters in the woods anymore.  Playing pretend was something little kids did.  And as an adolescent, what I did not want to do, perhaps more than anything, was seem like a little kid.

When a game session is really popping – energy is high at the table, the dialog comes fast and easy, when I’m really tight behind the eyes of my guy, imagining what it’s like to be him – then it’s all I can do to stay in my seat.  I’m a terrible ham – special voices and accents for all my NPC’s, methody postures and pantomime.  I’m up, I’m pacing, I’m waving my hands around.  Hell, if I had a dog at the table I’d probably be dressing her in towels.

It dawned on me this morning that we know how to roleplay right out of the box, and we’re good at it.

Learning how to do it as an adult is like Yoga – all that stretching and technique and system to help you achieve a flexibility and relative strength you had naturally as a kid.  Adeline can put her feet behind her head (and sometimes does so at the dinner table), but I’d break my back trying to do that now.  She can drop into an imaginary world and assume another persona just as easily, and I’ve been working my whole adult life to achieve that same ease and lack of self-consciousness.

Perhaps ‘How To Roleplay’ should include some useful advice on how to stop worrying about looking like a douche in front of other people.  “Cops and robbers with rules” is closer to the truth than I’d given it credit for, but I’ve never read one of these that addresses overcoming inhibition which is the barrier I’ve encountered most often when initiating people into the mysteries.  “But I feel goofy, talking like this imaginary character.”  or “I’m too self-conscious for this.”  or “I don’t know how to pretend I’m somebody else.”

This all got me thinking I’m on the right track in my napkin-backing for that introductory game which stealths the rolepaying in by the back door, avoiding all the layers of social inhibition many of us carry, and tapping back into our dog dressing days of effortless wholly joyous roleplaying and imaginatively holographic fantasy.


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