Across the table sits my fellow fighter for justice, Al Roth, sporting a faded burgundy sweatshirt and some stubble. He grabs his second can of Barq's root beer and takes a swig. With stubby fingers he pulls a handful of clear, yellow dice from a weathered Fumo Dolce cigar box. The Champions guidebook, as thick as a Bible, sits to his right. And before him is a sheet dictating the Champions personality he will soon become, that of the lithe and sexy Starlyn, a female superhero whose brother destroyed their family with his evil doings.
By day Roth is a graphic designer. But, as a member of the Houston chapter of the Role-Playing Gamers Association, he spends most weekends and lots of evenings as somebody else. Roth's multiple personalities demand creativity and cleverness, and sometimes offer a sweet escape into a universe where everything is different. "When you game," he says, "your character is like a part of you, but it's an extension of the parts of you that you might never get to express."
This Sunday afternoon, part of an RPGA-sponsored weekend of gaming at Midnight Comics, I get to transform myself into Princess Obsidian, a tough, 900-pound brute who left her home planet for Earth because her countrymen were misogynists. My three fellow superheroes and I are charged with defeating the natives of my planet who have come to retrieve me. John Simons, co-owner of Midnight Comics, will rule as game master, which means he'll come up with a main story line and throw a couple of obstacles in our path. "You can just call me God," he says with a sinister laugh.
Role-playing games, which became popular in the early '70s with the birth of Dungeons and Dragons, is something like theatrical improv. The players speak in their characters' voices; sometimes they even sing out loud. Their choices are determined by rolls of the dice.
The rules are complicated, and the lingo flows freely. A "rules lawyer" is someone obsessed with the minutiae of the game, and a "D6" is a six-sided die. There's no losing involved, just decisions and consequences. "A game is like life," says the ponytailed Simons, who has played in France and Canada as well as here in southwest Houston. "How do you win at life?"
Today's game lasts three hours, short when you consider that some stretch for days and even years. Our lucky rolls and good decisions force my uninvited countrymen to surrender to my powerful punches, and I also surrender my belief that role-players are, as Allison Polise (the only other woman in attendance) joked, "a bunch of male geeks." Role-players are certainly quirky, but with dozens of characters rolling around inside them they are also expressive, inventive and memorable.
Leaving Midnight Comics, there's still a little bit of Obsidian -- intergalactic princess, defender of all humankind, redeemer of everything good -- clinging to me. Normally I'm afraid of large bugs, and my brother always made fun of me for throwing like a girlie girl. But right now I figure I can sucker punch just about anybody who crosses my path.
-- Jennifer Mathieu
The Houston chapter of the RPGA and the Organization of Role Players-Brazoria will host a gaming weekend at Raven's Bluff on March 12, 13 and 14. For more information call John Dorman at (281)261-9989. Midnight Comics, 13155 Westheimer, will hold an Introduction to Gaming Weekend on March 25-26. For details call (281)293-0226.