Fear, Role Playing Games, and Solo Role Playing

Warning: Rambling thoughts ahead that need to come out. Brace yourselves.

I got to thinking about fear while learning a new activity. I remember some of the fear that I had while learning Japanese and how I managed to turn something that could have been straightforward into an exercise where I bought all the books, found all of the programs and managed to turn the whole exercise into one where I was worried that I wasn't learning it right, wasn't progressing quickly enough, and would be a complete disgrace to the entire Japanese-speaking world. Sure, I learned a lot of Japanese along the way, but it wasn't until I took a continuing education course at Macomb Community College and sat among other folks learning Japanese that I really started to "learn Japanese". After two courses of "learning Japanese" (with Sensei Faye, who was an amazing teacher) I was confident that I had learned all that I wanted to learn and put it aside. I spent years getting to the point where I was OK to let it go. I had learned all of the Japanese that I wanted to know.

The same is true with many of the things that I have wanted to learn: game programming, Go (the ancient game), Django, Pylons / Pyramid, Python, programming in general, and so on. Many times I would buy all the books and putter around with them, but it didn't really click until I put myself in a situation where I needed to learn it either because of a class or because I had to ramp up quickly to fulfill a deadline. The book learning only took me so far because I had no practical application for what I was doing.

Fear comes into this as well. There's always the fear that I'll learn bad habits, make a fool of myself, not measure up to whatever standards I've created for myself, or what-have-you. My creative mind can conjure up dozens of reasons why sitting down to learn something will ultimately end with the destruction of myself and humanity as a whole. (Maybe that's why I'm so attracted to Lovecraft stories, or maybe that thinking is a byproduct of Lovecraft stories. Little column A, little column B).

Which brings me to one of the fears that popped into my head while I was thinking about this. I was thinking about fear and the learning process when I realized that one of my fears comes from tabletop role playing games. These are a unique area of fear for me because most tabletop roleplaying games require about 3-5 people, including one playing as the game moderator (GM). It also requires a time commitment from each of the people of about 3-4 hours per session, usually lasting weeks or months. Carving out that much of my schedule just feels impossible to me, and to do that for weeks or months at a time just blows my fuses. Worse, I'd like to do the Game Moderating at some point, which requires additional time in order to set up and think deeply about the upcoming session, not to mention reading the rules, making sure that everyone is comfortable and ensuring they're suitably entertained. Just thinking about this makes me exhausted.

So what have I been doing? Why, buying all of the RPG books, reading them, studying GM advice, listening to podcasts, and basically thinking about and working on my own RPG games for publication.

All this while having played less than a handful of RPG games (2 x GURPS, 1 x Dragon Age, and 1 x Toon, if you can count a one-shot where I was a nose-shaped clay figure named Nostrildamus).

Part of that is the fear that I've created around this. Fear of showing up, fear of not finding the right group, fear of looking like a fool, fear of wearing out friendships, fear of "Cones of Dunshire" (ask JoDee about my game ideas that she's had to endure), and fear of just plain sucking.

I know that the only way out is through. One thing that I've found is a game called Ironsworn, which is a solo RPG. The only player and GM that I need is myself, but it can also scale up to cooperative play if someone else wants to join. I've also looked into Cthulhu Confidential. There's plenty of options for solo and pair play out there that I'm exploring. It's helped me with my own confidence in this area, and has also proved to be a lot of fun.

At some point I'll dip my toe into joining an actual group. I know that during the pandemic is probably ideal since lots of folks have been gaming online, but my mental energies have been pretty low lately. It's enough for me to keep up with what I have without trying to add more to it. One step at a time.

I've been interested in tabletop RPGs for a while now. At some point I'll get the nerve up to play them as intended. Perhaps I can help others to overcome this hump, assuming that anyone else feels as much fear about this as I do.