Welcome to the Dungeon. Nobody Wants to Kill You Here.

Well, I did it.  I geeked out completely this time. In the best possible way. Last weekend, I attended my first tabletop roleplaying game convention.

I'd never played an RPG before in my life. So why in the world did I decide to jump in with both feet and attend a gaming convention? Simply put, I was invited.

Daniel Repperger moderates Fear the Boot, a podcast about tabletop roleplaying games "and a little bit more". Known all over the United States and in parts of Europe, the podcast has created a large online community of gamers who are entertained by the topics covered in the podcast. Episode 115 is an introduction to RPGs, broken up into several small parts, that give newcomers to gaming a quick tutorial on the parts, lingo, and expectation of RPGs. One of their bits of advice is simply to give it a shot.

I met Dan in junior high school -- we were in band together, as well as a few other classes -- and he and I had very similar senses of humor, so we connected very easily.  We lost touch in high school, then reconnected several years ago, and my wife and I have had dinner with Dan and his wife Karla a few times since then.  It was at our last dinner together that he suggested I come to Fear The Con 7, a gaming convention hosted by Fear the Boot.  I thought I'd give it a shot.

Having a background in professional improv comedy, I found the idea of RPGs to be somewhat similar to doing long-form improv, which I had never done. But I had also seen an episode of Geek and Sundry's TableTop video series starring Wil Wheaton, and one of the games they covered was an RPG called Fiasco. An improv-heavy game with a simple mechanic for creating characters, motivations, and locations, Fiasco centers around characters who have high ambition but poor impulse control, and there are no winners. Everyone loses in some way,

So, I got onto the Con Planner website, registered, and found activities to join based on no information other than the game descriptions. I later found out that Five Iron Frenzy was playing their first show in St. Louis in 11 years on the Friday night of the Con (and I wasn't missing THAT), so I had to bow out of Slot 3 on Friday night. Then, after hearing several of FtB's podcasts where the art of roleplaying was discussed, I decided to run my own game in slot 4, an improv workshop for gamers. I rearranged my schedule and waited for the weekend to come.

I posted on FtB's Facebook page about what I should do to prepare, and several people had plenty of great suggestions.  So I purchased a set of gaming dice in a charcoal urban camo design with yellow printed numbers, issues #4 through 6 of Dynamite's "Voltron" comic, 2 packages of index cards, 2 sets of notepads, 2 executive-style mechanical pencils, and 2 journal-type notebooks with which to make notes during my games. I felt prepared yet still inadequate.  I didn't really know what I was in for, and even though I'd chosen to run an improv workshop based on stuff I've taught before, I still felt uneasy. Nervous. Paradoxically unprepared.

I walked in on the traditional Thursday night mixer (World Wide Wing Night) and immediately felt two things:
1. What have I gotten myself into?
2. This is so cool.

At any gaming con, as evidenced by pictures you see flying up on the internet these days, you can expect a certain percentage of physical nerdity, and conversations dripping with tales of foes being vanquished and combats that were epic in scope. But I also encountered welcoming smiles, people who weren't averse to meeting new faces, and impromptu games going up all around the room.

And facial hair.  There was a lot of facial hair.

Mikey Mason
I began to find friendly faces who were eager to find out about me and my experience, and looked forward to helping if I should get stuck or have any questions. Dan was running an Introduction to RPGs game in slot 1, which I had signed up for, and I was told I'd be in good hands with Dan as the GM (they were, of course, correct).  Mikey Mason, comedian and musician (who, coincidentally, looks like he could be my twin), played an excellent set of geek-centric songs ("You all are my people.") which whipped the crowd into a frenzy.  His set ended with a Bruce Springsteenesque version of "Let It Go", which morphed into a medley of other songs performed in the Boss' signature style.  A wonderful night had by all, and for the first time in apparently several years, there were wings left over at the end of the night.

On Friday and Saturday, I spent time learning about the Fear the Boot community of gamers, and more to the point, about gamers themselves. They are, as it turns out, just like me. Just like anyone, actually. They have a hobby that they love and are passionate about, and they relish any opportunity to gather with others who share the same passion.

So I dove in.

In the next installment, I'll go into detail about what I experienced in the games I played, the connections I made, and the things I learned about myself and the gaming community. Until then...

There Is No Box.