Relating to Others through RPGs
I realize that my last post about RPGs was not, as promised, ALL the things I learned from playing them. I ended up focusing on my journey into RPGs and how Allie helped me to relate to myself in a much healthier way. For this next installment I would like to focus on how RPGs have helped me relate to others.
Suddenly I'm In Charge...?
It all started when Mylyri Ro, my character, was unexpectedly put in charge of our entire squad, session two of our Star Wars campaign using the Fantasy Flight Force & Destiny, Age of Rebellion and Edge of the Empire source books. This was our first campaign within the system and I was not prepared to play a leader. I was already the supervisor of my department at work, IRL, and I really didn't want the extra work. But...it wasn't so bad, as it turns out.
Mylyri Ro is a Cathar, a humanoid cat species, sniper who joined the Rebellion without any thoughts of leadership. She just wanted to make a difference agains the Empire and the evil they represented. Her home world had become enslaved under the hand of the Empire, her parents killed early in the planet's defense. Her only direction for vengeance seemed to be becoming a Rebel. She and I took to leadership with a "stand back and listen" kind of attitude that actually seemed to work.
Leading what turned into a 8-9 person squad, aptly named Renegade Squad, wasn't always easy. Especially once we had grown past our initial 5 person team. But it was rewarding in a lot of ways. I've always understood that listening is important, but being a leader meant a lot more than I was used to. Also having the courage to say, "No, we are not going to do our first crazy plan!" Though, let's be honest here, every single one of our plans as Renegade Squad were in large part crazy, but we pulled them off, for the most part, due to team cohesion and a decent understanding between players.
I never thought that playing a leading character should mean I make cascading decision for my squad. I knew absolutely nothing about good space combat and a lot less than others about actual game play in the RPG system. The team works because all parts work together. I only really used the leadership clout to make sure we were working towards a less crazy, workable, group solution.
In some ways it feels that in a role playing setting I learned far more about leading and working with others than my real job and life. I'd say that had a lot to do with the world of the RPG being largely a fiction. There were much less likely to be real world consequences to missing the mark on a decision, leadership related or otherwise. Obviously I do not want to condone any sadistic things in role playing, but I want to believe that it can be a really good tool for better relating to others through character trial and error.
Wait, I'm Pregnant and Expecting 5 Kittens!?
Relating to others isn't just about understanding those that are with you IRL. You can learn a lot about loving other people through empathy and love for fictitious characters.
As it happened, Mylyri fell in love with an NPC, a previous storm trooper named Braxis Salvo, or Alpha, as we called him, that had defected to the Rebellion during our assault on an important base during an early session. He was kind, really sweet, and super organized...very list-oriented, but that was cute. Mylyri was not organized, nor was she very good and the whole military thing. It was a good match.
The story had wily plans of it's own, though, once they married they learned soon after that Mylyri was pregnant with a litter of 5 kittens...yeah, it was a lot. There were rolls made by the game master and everything. This definitely made me empathize with expecting mothers, I had to imagine what all of that would be like, even if I, myself, was uninterested in having my own kids.
All this lead to what is referred to as the "Mom Rage" episode of our campaign. We had gone to help a member of the squad, going on a "vacation" from the Rebellion, ending up stranded on a distant planet trying to liberate them from the Empire. At this point the kittens are expected almost any day. So, when there was a way to possibly get off planet to a safe location for delivery, Alpha and Mylyri jumped for it. No kittens would be born on a planet owned by the Empire! And not without proper facilities either...
Only problem was the Sith Darth Wyyrlock had caught wind of Mylyri's pregnancy and recently discovered force sensitivity. He wanted Mylyri and the kittens. He would do anything to acquire them for his own twisted ends. They were ambushed at the ship by Sith with stokhli stun sticks. Mylyri had to fight to save not only herself but her husband and unborn kittens. By the end she wasn't sure if they'd make it out alive.
IRL, I was standing up, pacing, almost yelling/growling and in tears because I cared so much about my fictitious character and her family. You fight for family. This is where the "mom rage" comes in. This was also the moment where I understood that, while Mylyri was a part of me, she was also her own person. I was able to separate myself from Mylyri and see her as herself, not an extension of my conscious mind. It was beautifully terrifying.
They had Alpha, using him as a bargaining chip. Her rage was so pure. The Sith were trying to take away everything she had, the family she had always wanted but had never truly had until now. She made the only call she could in the beginning of those final, defining moments of the battle and threatened everything the Sith wanted, she held her unlit lightsaber to her pregnant belly. A third option. The Sith would never take any of them alive if they hurt Alpha!
In those last moments, not knowing if they would live or die, Mylyri was surrounded on all sides by Sith. They had an electrified net of a stokhli stick over her, she pulled inward hoping to shield her unborn kittens from whats to come. Then, suddenly, things shift. She feels five small force presences within her, bolstering her. Throwing off the net she takes out all her righteous rage on one Sith in one deadly shot, intimidating the second to run for his life. The team shows up and mops up the rest of the battle as Mylyri rushes over to Alpha, sobbing the happiest tears of her adult life. They made it, all of them were alive.
THIS was the moment I realized that you cannot make people do what you want them to do; you need to respect them and their decisions. Especially when they are not the decisions you'd make. Everyone is their own person, and we must love them as they are. I was floored by this experience with a character that I had created. For most of the campaign up until this point I had played Mylyri as an extension of myself. What would Mylyri-Rachel do in this situation? In this one session, I suddenly knew that what I would do and what she would do were two separate things, and she scared the hell out of me with the threat to sacrifice her and the kittens for their safety. She's one bad-ass cat mom.
I also learned so much more about myself. Roleplaying games are great! I cried some retelling this story. In many ways Mylyri's story is my favorite character story, even while Allie is still my first and favorite character. There was so much mental and emotional growth both in story with Mylyri and IRL with me during the last sessions of the campaign, locked in knowing exactly who Mylyri was and how she'd act. This was a truly beautiful experience.
One quick, last thing, Mylyri met and befriended a young Krayt Dragon, Azalus. In case you were wondering about the post image...
Go forth and at least try giving RPGs a try, I promise that they are rewarding!
—A Recovering Design Imposter