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Once Upon A Time: In the North West

by Paula Dempsey


It appears I am the first female contributor to this column, so a quick message to the unenlightened minority: Yes, women do roleplay, yes, we actually do it because we enjoy it and yes, some of us (if not me) enjoy beating the living **** out of things.

Right, down to business. How did I get into roleplaying? Before going any further I should tell you that I was brought up in a small town in the North West of England which was at least thirty years behind the times, had a bloody awful public transport system and no interesting people to hang out with unless you liked Duran Duran and getting pissed every Saturday. I didn't like Duran Duran. Interesting people didn't like Duran Duran.

I was vaguely aware of Dungeons & Dragons but my real first inkling that the hobby even existed was on the children's page of the Daily Express (right-wing British tabloid) in the early eighties, where there was a review of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, the first of those Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks published by Puffin. As I was already a fan of fantasy fiction I thought I'd try it out.

The Fighting Fantasy gamebooks were fun in a sort of retreat to your bedroom with a dice and a pencil kind of way, but somewhat lacking in the sociability factor. Attempts to start a lively discussion on the subject at work led to my being suspected of something approaching total derangement. After a dozen or so of these books I began to tire of flying solo and cast my net a little wider. An interest in boardgames led me to an excellent, tiny and now sadly defunct games shop in Liverpool where I found the boardgame version of Dragonriders of Pern by Anne McCaffrey, a game which could be played as a group or by one player.

Sorcerer's Cave was produced by Gibson Games. It involved linking caveroom cards at random and bashing the monsters therein. Takes a lot of room; best played if you have no furniture.

I moved from the bedroom to where there was tablespace and tried out both Dragonriders and also Sorcerer's Cave, but still had no one to play with. Several months and a boxed set of Tunnels and Trolls later, I began to look for a local society. One existed about nine miles from home but met on a Sunday - so no public transport.

This isn't totally irrelevant, I promise - due to lack of a social life and being in the most tedious job on Earth, I began studying sociology in the evenings and thought about going to university. In September 1988 I passed my exams, packed my bags and headed for one of the less attractive parts of South London.

Timetable for University Induction -

Day one : arrive, settle in, make friends you'll try incredibly hard to get rid of later.

Day two : register, collect timetable, head for the fresher's fair. Join Women's Group, drink free booze, collect goody bag with free pot noodle and look for the roleplaying group.

I assumed there had to be one, as there seemed to be a group for every thing else. In fact, they'd got a prime site right by the door, so you couldn't avoid the buggers. It was now or never. I remember feeling somewhat nervous as a novice player but sometimes you've just got to take the Storm Bull by the horns.

And there they were - REAL roleplayers!! I was unaware at this time that you are all maths and computer fiends, so there was nothing to put me off. I toddled right over and examined some battered copies of AD&D and Runequest with what I hoped was a knowing air while they examined me.

Storm Bulls are beasts found in Glorantha, the world of RuneQuest

A friend says all he remembers is a heap of red hair on top of a purple dufflecoat, so I suppose I made an impression of sorts. I remember particularly one slightly untidy bloke who rather impatiently said they didn't mind people who hadn't played before then demanded a quid joining fee.

Fast forward to the next Tuesday night. The roleplaying society hung out in the old board room at the university - slightly shabby, old panels, just the place for a murder mystery LARP. One of the first things I remember is a woman in the Star Wars game screaming "Wookie, Wookie, Wookie" very loudly, which struck me as rather odd. I was to learn that this sort of behaviour is actually pretty standard.

Character generation was a problem from day one. I rarely play male characters and feel uncomfortable if I do, so throwing something pre-generated at me was a problem. So was clicking with the right clique - I spent several dazed and confused weeks with the kind of players who view roleplaying as a pretext for doing complicated statistics and was lauded for "rolling high enough to kill that wolf FIVE times over!" Not my idea of a good time.

After some false starts with Cthulhu and Runequest (something involving a duck) and escaping from a GM who took a sadistic pleasure in killing off characters played by girlies, I actually played in and bought my first proper RPG, the newly-released AD&D second edition.

It was at this point that I really got to know the people I still play with. I remember the general confusion and panic of rolling up characters. I still hate stats and rules, which is why I got to like Vampire, all blobs, no numbers. In the next few years I tried out Rolemaster, Cthulhu (still a favourite), Runequest (again) and pretty much everything else that was going. After a couple of years playing, I bit the bullet and wrote some stuff too. I was quite keen on Vampire at this point, to the extent of wanting to be one (don't write offering support, particularly if you want to save me, I've had the right therapy), so a few Vampire scenarios followed. I also tried to introduce some friends to the hobby, but found this was doomed. My ex-flatmates thought that the correct response to nasty monsters was to run away (we all know better that that, don't we, children?) and my best friend said she preferred being herself, although she had a lot of fun with a camel during Runequest. I also began a dynasty of characters, all related, who followed me through a number of adventures and various different RPGs. The last Mauss appeared at Gencon UK last year, but they're not finished yet.

About two years ago I discovered the fun of conventions, and with that live action roleplaying which is loads more fun than just sitting on somebody's sofa and allows me to combine my interest in roleplaying with another thing I enjoy massively - showing off.

And so up to the present day. After twelve years of gaming I have evidence to disprove the unkind stereotype of roleplayer as sociopath. The people I met through the first roleplaying society I joined are still my best friends and I've met loads of other interesting / funny / infuriating people too; even some who like Duran Duran.

Unfortunately, the purple dufflecoat was buried with honours in 1993. And the bloke who demanded money with menaces? I married him.


Paula is: jobchanging, a full-time teddy bear collector and part-time student. She enjoys live action roleplaying and has written a Harry Potter LARP if anyone gives a damn. She lives in London, because the buses run after 10pm and there are some good music venues.

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