Early this year, I started kicking around the idea of learning D&D 5E. As some may know, RPGs and I have traditionally not meshed well. My elven ranger successfully did not die on session one of Alex’s 3.5E crypt adventure, but probably ended up dying of boredom as my party never reconvened. I wouldn’t play an RPG again until my brief stint GMing for Open Legend, where I was able to abruptly save my party from meeting a similar fate in my home-brewed tower of terror.
Since then, I started thinking maybe I should try to GM again and make a new genre mash-up setting. Or, maybe I want to finally play 5E and see how badly I can screw that up. Maybe jump into a one-shot, of which I started feeling out some possibilities. Maybe get into a campaign, so I can develop a character (rainbow unicorns aren’t going to build their own magical backstories, you know). Maybe try a completely different RPG. None of these things seemed to manifest. I started to realize something: I think I’m the problem.
I am of two minds at this point. On the one hand, it would be great to experience the wonder of a roleplaying game. I mean, it always looks so epic on streams. Why wouldn’t anyone want that experience? On the other hand, I have a serious reluctance to try, because I know it won’t be the same as those shows. And, frankly, I might hate it. What do I do if this thing I’ve been discussing for 4 years ends up being an activity I genuinely don’t enjoy?
And then, there is a unique problem I’m facing. The thing that made me unique when we started Delve and the thing that made me ideal to GM Rift Hunters was that I am the blank slate (in some circles, they use the term “cabbagehead,” but I find that to be offensive to Cabbage Patch Kids and haven’t they been through enough).
So now, I have to ask myself: How hard do I embrace that role? It’s the one interesting thing about me among the RPG community. But it’s also a huge barrier to entry, because I need to place distance between myself and the game. I get the outsider perspective of asking how games work, but I can’t engage in a meaningful way without losing that perspective.
One of the main reasons I rose to the challenge of GMing was because I had no preconception of how to do that. I purposefully tried not to follow GM tips or advice shows so I could be as uninformed as possible. Seasoned players being led blindly by a man confused by saving throws? It screams entertainment value. But, when that ended, I felt like going back in would not be the same. I wasn’t going to be as much of a blank slate as before.
Recently, a guest on our show said I was on the hero’s journey, a framework popularized by Joseph Campbell. If we use the graphic I’ve included, I’d place myself on Step 3 (traditionally there are 17 steps, but this one simplifies it to 12).
Step 1 was my life in the ordinary world, a place where RPGs were only in video games and I was fine with that. Step 2 would be the literal call to the Mad Adventurer’s Society. Step 3 is the refusal of the call, which Alex may equate to the lateness in receiving his voicemail, but I apply it to my current dilemma.
This leads to some real talk. You don’t always go on the hero’s journey. If you do, it probably won’t look like our handy infographic. Because this was made for characters in, you know, stories. Applying them to real life requires some major creative license.
If your identity also limits your options, do you want that identity anymore? Do you gain more than you lose by changing? We can even pose that question to things beyond me, like game design and roleplaying. If you are known for making micro card games, do you feel obligated to keep making them? If you always play a wizard and people like you as a wizard, do you have a reluctance to play a rogue? Do we risk breaking out of the roles others have set for us? Does our drive to try new things outweigh our drive to use our established strengths?
I take it back. This is the hero’s journey. By finding answers to our questions, we make our own unique framework. It may have 6 stages, the classic 17 or 500 in the end, but it will be yours alone.
If you want to know more about Joseph Campbell and the monomyth, Gap actually interviewed him on a past Orbital. You can listen to that below.
And, if you want another interpretation of the hero’s journey, here’s how it applies to some famous movie protagonists. Enjoy!