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Once Upon A Time:
False Starts and Happy Endings

By Sarah Hollings


This is the part about when I started in Role Playing Games.

This is a very difficult topic. Because in part the truth of when I started is shrouded in apocryphal versions of reality tailored for my parents, and cool non-gamer peers; and also in part because as a female gamer I really saw it initially only in its social context.

Really it wasn't until a bit later in life that RPG's became an intellectually and creatively satisfying activity.

In fact my dalliance with RPG's tracks pretty closely my moving into and out of University and intellectual life. During my twenties I left Uni, abandoned my degree and followed the lure of filthy lucre into the workaday humdrum of metropolitan life.

I had grown up in a smaller city (or a big town) reading sci-fi by torchlight under the bedclothes: Ursula K Le Guin, Asimov, Ann McCaffrey, and some fantasy too, including Tolkein. I wrote and drew, and loved playing games that followed these themes.

But somehow these seemed like childish things that were to be put aside to meet my responsibilities.

My parents were Zen Masters of being disappointed. I had moved away from my home town and was mucking about at Uni, and shares housing, but they used some sort of mind control ray capable of reaching me even over great distances to implant the idea that I had to put away imagination and mystery, in favour of income and mortgage.

Although cripplingly geeky and uncomfortable at school and in early Uni life; I managed to pass as a normal grown-up person amongst my sporty, outdoorsy, 20-something right-thinking friends by not making any comments about Sport (for which I could never remember any of the rules) and by avoiding any physical involvement in team-sports.

However I constantly played with computers in my spare time, and escaped into Fantasy novels when I could. But intellectual pursuits and flights of imagination were things I didn't have anyone to talk to about, and when my secret life was witnessed by my partner and or friends they just shook their heads.

In the city I lived in then there was a Greek Taverna with heavy wooden tables and red velvet drapes, where a group of my rowdy work-mates used to meet over a pitcher of red wine and a basket of oily kebabs. If I had mentioned to any of them how much it reminded me of the tavern in Bards Tale 1 or some dimly remembered Ravenloft supplement, they'd have been looking at me with same special look they reserved for the mentally unstable, or those who believe in numerology.

On one occasion when the acronym AD&D had come up my friends from the gym up thought it was some sort of food additive.

So I followed the principle that although money can't buy you happiness it can make your misery a lot more fun.

However at some point I discovered that I was having about as much fun as I could buy and working at something I no longer believed in to pay off a pile of things I no longer enjoyed having, and that generally misery was a comprehensively grim forecast for my future.

Fortunately my life exploded into abject disaster at that point.

Through a chain of ill-considered and desperate choices and events I lost everything I thought I had but didn't actually have, and began in this strange foreign country filled with poisonous snakes and dust to put together something that more closely resembled a life.

Strangely as I did so the pages I slotted in filled out the same geek portfolio which you've read about in this 'zine: Uni IT Degree, Cult TV, amateur philosophy, share-house lifestyles and far far too much time in front of a computer.

Then came probably the pivotal event in my gaming experience — barring false starts and social dabbling — at the University of Queensland Games Society I met up with a bunch of catastrophically sociopathic geeks who all played RPG's, some of whom had just started work on a little on-line RPG 'zine... [Uh oh, I think she means us, Ed.]

I can remember the first RPG I played with that group — it was an Ars Magica campaign, in a medieval mythical-European setting.

I didn't really know what to expect having only a dim memory of pages of D&D tables and confusing THAC0's from highschool and early Uni days. But these guys were all adults: surely they'd respect me as a female and as a person.


I feel a lot like Miranda sometimes...

It seemed like only an hour or two after I'd rolled up the character that she/I found ourselves being undressed by a fanatical group of fighter monks, in some cave in medieval France. I was in a state of disbelief and mild nausea as the GM matter-of-factly detailed the scenario: "No there's too many of them to fight, they dress you in the sacrificial slave girl outfit".

While he read from result tables and continued to roll dice behind his GM screen, I directed all energy to my deflector shields.

"OK, I conceal a large flask of deadly poison in my hand, along with a sharp needle!"

"Poison? There's no..."

"Oh, yes, here it is at the bottom of my inventory. I've had it since the beginning."

"But how could you have got past the river, and fought the..."

"OK, I'm rolling to see if I can conceal it: Yes I succeed!"

"Ummm — OK. *koff* Alright... the head Monk leads you out into the waiting crowd of...*errrk!*"

"I jab the poison covered needle fully up to the hilt into the head Monk, like this!"

"But he would've..."

"I get extra initiative for a surprise attack since he wasn't watching my hands!"

"She's right"

"Yeah, that's right, you... I mean the Monk wasn't watching her hands"

"OK, OK you don't have to roll — at that range an automatic success. Now..."

"Its fast acting poison, what kinds of gurgling sounds does the head Monk make?"

That's more or less I think, how it went. After I left I was a bit confused and fairly huffy, but I discovered that all in all I had fun. Lots of fun. Certainly the gaming group was never the same.

Since then I have had the biggest outpouring of creativity in RPG's I remember, and have met some of my favourite people. Just don't ask me about the 80's — I'd rather forget.

Sarah still games whenever she can. She feeds her habit by work as a Systems Administrator at the University of Queensland where she has successfully introduced lunch-time Magic The Gathering sessions.

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