Bonding with my Family Through RPGs

A Miserable Little Pile of Diverse Interests

My first in-person gaming group was an eight-man party consisting of my brothers and my cousins. I had been hesitant to introduce them to the hobby; my experience at the time involved faceless strangers over the internet through play-by-posts and virtual tabletops.

But one of my college goals was to break out of my shell, and if I could take acting classes and try out for an improv group1, then playing pretend with my family should be small beans.

Even though we had all grown up playing video games together, our interests branched out after the formative years. The differences are probably best illustrated by our music playlists. Dad rock. Rap. Country. K-pop. Dance and house. R&B. We weren’t people, we were radio stations.

Imagine The Breakfast Club without the sexual tension and paint them all Filipino and you won’t be far off. In hindsight, I’m glad they humored me by playing in the first place.

Our first game together was Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition (4e). The timing was great: I had started to spend more time at home while still going to university, and Wizards of the Coast had just released the 4e version of the original Red Box.

I had enough saved up to invest in the first Player’s Handbook, too. I bought it because I didn’t want to limit everyone to the Red Box’s four races and four classes. I know, very ambitious.

dd-4e-character-sheet-half-orc-barbarian-character-art
Crude, but we were catching up to the “I hit on the barmaid” phase everyone else got.

Getting (Too) Ready

I read through all the material. Twice. Each rule was going to be memorized and the game was going to be played by the book. If there was a window into the past, I would look through it and admire my own naivete.

It’s also been six long years since I ran the adventure for my family, so I will admit that I ripped off the video game Icewind Dale for the first session. The town, the sidequests, even the dialog—sorry, guys. It was fun though, right?

My brothers and cousins got a strong kick out of 4e’s tactical combat system. One of them is a huge fan of Fire Emblem and another invested a hundred hours in Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, so once that comparison was made, they were counting squares with the best of them.

We are relatively close in age, spread out one by one for every year of the ’90s, but I am still the oldest. I have a little pet theory that there will always be a subconscious part of younger siblings’ minds who want to beat the oldest at something. They worked together to kill my orcs that well.

The game didn’t last long past the first few sessions. I place most of the blame on myself being a first-time GM. I couldn’t handle that big of a group. I also had a lot to learn at that point about running a game with a group as opposed to for them.

My family is a group of people you don’t want in your gaming group if you’re looking to have a deep, meaningful, serious RPG experience. The second more than two of us are in the same room together, we’re children again, fighting over Nintendo 64 controllers in the garage.

Looking back on it brings nothing but fond memories, though. Their first natural 20 was on an Acrobatics check. We still joke about how Lil’ Shardon’s backflip was so beautiful, it was the basis of a minor religion on the opposite side of the world.

add-2e-homebrew-character-sheet-avatar-the-last-airbender-1
I’ll blur out their names since I’m sure they wouldn’t want it floating around the internet…
add-2e-homebrew-character-sheet-avatar-the-last-airbender-2
…but I’m not going to hide how lowbrow we were.

Late Nights and Endless Pancakes

My extended family would gather at my grandmother’s house every Saturday for years. The ones in San Diego still do, even though some of us been scattered across the globe and Grandma’s passing in 2015.

The parents would congregate in one room and play BINGO and do whatever it is that parents do when other parents are around. If I ever have kids, maybe I’ll find out. Their other hobby was trying to get us to eat, I know that much.

Meanwhile, me, my siblings, and my cousins would be sequestered to the other room. Our night would be spent playing video games, shooting the shit over a trashy television show (I don’t even like Pawn Stars all that much), and, sure, alright, eating. And playing RPGs.

By the time our parents decided to turn in for the night, we were still at the table, hunched over the battle mat and outlining the plan of attack. After that, if there were money in our pockets we’d head over to the nearest late-night breakfast pancake house chain and use our outside voices in there.

Of the original eight-man party, I still regularly game with two or three of them, but not with any regularity and through Roll20. A lot of it has to do with not being around each other as much anymore, and having “adult” obligations that pull us into every direction.

I’m the most egregious sinner of the bunch, what with flying away to Korea and plopping down on the East Coast.

But, we do manage to get the band back together during the holidays.

Here’s to the Christmas game.

Important Links

RPG Crossing, formerly DnD Online Games
MapTool, a virtual tabletop program
D&D Starter Set for 4th edition, on DriveThruRPG
The Player’s Manual and DM’s Rulebook from the original Red Box, on DriveThruRPG
Roll20, a virtual tabletop you can use right out of your browser

I bombed. Horribly. The memory still haunts me whenever I try to fall asleep. But, that’s another post.

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