Saying Goodbye to The Sensational Sierra, Or Why More Writers Need to Visit this Level of Geekdom

For the past two and a half years, I have been gathering once a month with a bunch of friends to play Palladium Fantasy RPG, a Dungeons and Dragons-liked Table Top RPG where we all play tough minded heroes trying to save a fantasy world from almost certain doom. If you were to tell me about this five years ago, I wouldn’t have believed you. It’s true that by then, I had experienced many different areas of geekdom (books, movies, TV shows, anime, comics, musical theater and even video games, which I mainly suck at), but I didn’t think I would ever explore that level. I mainly agreed to join this campaign to make my fiance happy, and didn’t foresee myself sticking around for all that long.

If only I could go back in time and smack that crazy lady for being so condescending. Lo and behold, I’ve actually had a lot of fun! For the uninitiated, the way it works if you create a character that fits into the confines of the setting created for the game. You pick a race, a class (mine was a tumbler named Sierra because I thought coming from the circus sounded like a lot of fun. Apparently this is not a common choice) and skills to start off with. As you level up you get more proficient at your existing skills, as well as pick up new abilities. The inclusion of dice rolls provides an element of randomness, so you can’t just create the biggest badass of all time. Just like in the real world, you kind of have to put up with what life deals you (my character’s physical attractiveness, for example was not anything all that impressive).

Another thing I discovered was that playing a character in this type of game is actually good practice for writers. Clearly Tanner (my fiance and the GM), reaped most of the benefits of this, as he didn’t always depend on the settings or situations provided in the Palladium manuals, and often created his own characters and storylines. But even as just a player, there are benefits. Clearly, you’re exercising different muscles than you would while writing. Everything is very immediate. You don’t have the option of going back and rewriting something if you don’t like how things turn out. Also (and this is something I struggled with the most) you don’t have complete control over everything. Yes I know as writers that sometimes the characters seem to take over and write the stories themselves blah blah blah…. but let’s be honest. We know who’s brain those characters are coming from. When you’re working with characters, being played by other people, within the confines of a story created by a GM, you don’t have total control anymore. I know that when I send out my writing to other people and they suggest changes my first reaction is rejection. Giving up control is not always easy for me, so participating in a setting where I don’t have much of it is very good practice. I don’t know if this is the particular reason why a lot of sci-fi/fantasy writers find themselves with a D20 in their hand at some point in life, but I if you’re a writer and are given the chance to try role playing, I would highly recommend giving it a shot.

The main reason why I decided to create this post is after two and a half years, our current campaign has come to an end. We managed to defeat the bad guys (at least as much as we could), and Tanner even typed up individual epilogues for each of our characters, which was really nice of him. During this time period, players have come and gone, but the central group has remained pretty constant. As a result, the ending was pretty bittersweet for us all.

We’re going to be starting another campaign in a couple of months. Tanner’s even helping me design my own steampunk-inspired class for this one. Even though one story may be over, another one’s about to begin. I’m excited about digging in.

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4 thoughts on “Saying Goodbye to The Sensational Sierra, Or Why More Writers Need to Visit this Level of Geekdom

  1. It’s cool to hear you’re starting another campaign! I’ve never been interested in this kind of gaming, but at least I don’t turn my nose up at it anymore (I did in college. I was a snob about a lot of things in college). I can definitely see how it’s great practice for writing. 🙂

    • Holy comments Batman! I just saw all of them coming in. Thanks for being so thorough. My entries look a little less lonely now 🙂

      I also turned up my nose at this kind of gaming at college, which was kind of awkward given that Tanner was into it at the time. I tended to view very stereotypically: made for socially awkward guys with their mountain dew. It’s actually a lot of fun (although we DO eat horribly every time we meet).

      • Yeah, I thought I’d subscribed to your blog, but apparently I hadn’t, so I missed all your entries! Hence, COMMENTS!

      • That’s okay. Sometimes I swear I click on things here (such as auto posting my entries to my rarely used facebook) and then it turns out I haven’t and I get all confused.

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