Why We Play: Steve Diamond

Why we play is an ongoing series of posts from guest authors regarding their love affair with roleplaying and games.


Steve Diamond is the brains behind the twice Hugo-nominated blog Elitist Book Review. Steve is also an avid boardgamer, occasional roleplayer and one of my close friends. This man knows his stories and fiction, and his mexican food. Seriously. He knows it. He can always find the perfect burrito.

From Steve:

I’m new to the gaming scene. Well, to the RPG aspect of it anyway. I used to stick mostly to board games. But I got roped into playing RPGs by a couple of buddies several years ago. I’ve attended a game group, monthly, ever since.

So what keeps me going? Surely the games must get stale after a while, right? For me, they never get stale. I’ll put out there that if your game is getting stale, you need to switch up your GM or the members of the group. Even the most awesome games can get dragged down by the people playing. And even the games with the most mediocre rule set can be a blast with a good group.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

My first RPG was Legend of the Five Rings 4th Edition. I had no idea what I was doing. But magic samurai? Yeah. Sign me up. My GM was Dan Wells, a dear friend and an amazing author. He, being the veteran of many an RPG, said, “Oh just pick a talky guy to keep it simple for your first time.”

Dan Wells is a jerk face.

If you’ve played L5R, you know that talky bits are just as lethal, and often times more stressful, than the actual combat. Oh, and my character was the leader of the group. Trial by fire, and all that. But here is the thing; Dan may have been a jerk face, but he managed to get me so involved in my character that I couldn’t wait to play every month.

There is something relaxing about gaming. Even when the situation is stressful, and your character is on the brink of being killed…there is just something about the act of sitting around, having a good time that really resonates with me. To me, that “something” is the creative aspect of it all.

I run Elitist Book Reviews, a Hugo Award Nominated website dedicated to book reviews. As such, I read a ton of novels. There is one thing in every story that I look for: character. I care about characters, and I want to have an attachment to them. If an author can make me care for the characters I’m reading about, then I can often overlook places where the author was deficient. This is where the creativity of RPGs really gets me. I’m in charge of my character. I get to make him/her just as I see fit. I come up with character flaws and huge backstories. I come up with interactions that I have off-screen (not in game session) with the other players in the game. I get involved with not only my character, but the group as a whole, and that drives more creativity.

There are two points in that above paragraph I want to expand on a smidge, and I hope you’ll indulge me.

First, off-screen interaction. I’m sure many RPG groups have GMs that reward the members of the group with extra XP for writing a game journal. After a few sessions in that game group run by Dan Wells, we added a player. Larry Correia. Again, he’s an extremely close friend and one of my favorite authors. He joined the group, and immediately was right at home. But he started something that got out-of-hand in the group. He started writing fiction based on the events of the game session. Whether that was for what actually happened, or backstories for NPCs we met along the way, he began writing it all up. Most of us caught the fever. As a guy who wants to become an author, this was a perfect opportunity for me to practice my writing in a safe environment. I probably wrote 60K words of fiction for that game. And I experimented. I wrote comedy, action, love, tragedy, and simple journal entries. All with the intent of becoming a better writer. It served me well. It can serve you just as well.

The second point I want to expand on is creating elaborate backstories for my characters. This, again, has more to do with the creative process that I just love about gaming. In my current game group for the Iron Kingdoms RPG (IKRPG), Alan Bahr is the GM. When he floated the idea of running a game in this setting, I was in. No questions asked, I was in. I wanted to play a Gun Mage based on Raylan Givens from Justified. What’s not to like? Two months before the game started, Alan and I would spend hours brainstorming about all the sordid details of my character’s past. Would they come up in the game? Probably not. Some might, but certainly not all of them. I wasn’t just creating a simple character—a cardboard cut-out—for me to play. I was making a character.

At the end of the day, I play games to have fun. We all do. But to me, having fun playing an RPG isn’t about a dungeon crawl for loot (though I really do love me some loot…), it’s about making a living, breathing character that I can’t wait to play more of. And it’s about integrating that character in a group of other characters to tell an interactive story.

So there you have it. That’s why I game. Why do you game?

–Steve Diamond

Why We Play

This post is the first in a series from myself and some excellent guest authors regarding roleplaying games and how we got into the hobby and how it’s affected us. What we play to accomplish and more.. Enjoy. 

Summer 2000. I was a tall, skinny kid from North Dakota at a Boy Scout camp in Minnesota. We were sharing a campsite with some other troops, and since ours was fairly small, we had made pretty good friends with the other scouts. Near the end of the night, I saw several of them sitting around a camp table. One of the scout leaders was standing up and gesturing expansively. More ghost stories clearly. So I wandered on over. Paper, books, and pencils were scattered across the table.

Clearly. Not ghost stories.

I was sat down, and someone handed a character sheet. A older scout instructed me in assigning ability scores, choosing a class (druid seemed appropriate), a race (half-elf, because they had cool names), and an animal companion (a badger, our troops animal). It probably took 20 minutes for me to pick my spells, thumb through the Monster Manual to look at my badger and see what was going on, and pick my weapon. Dire flail. Because hell yes. It’s a two headed flail…seriously. So awesome.

So, 30 minutes down, and the rest of my life was utterly changed. Aramil Naell, the half-elf Druid, was the first character I ever played. It was a simple adventure. Hunting kobolds. Fighting a white dragon (I summoned a thoqqua, a elemental fire worm that drills through the earth), and it was over. Maybe two hours of game play total. I remember thinking how cool it was to play a board game where I controlled a character.

I went home to North Dakota. The only stores that carried any RPG books was the Borders and Barnes and Noble in the only mall in town. I saved money I earned for a long time. In the meanwhile (several years), I read every fantasy novel I could get my hands on. Robert Jordan, R.A. Salvatore, Weis and Hickman, David Gemmell, Elaine Cunningham, Ed Greenwood. Anything that had a D&D label on the cover, or a fantasy looking character I devoured. Anything with a TSR or Tor imprint was given a shot and read.

About this same time, a friend introduced me to Warhammer Fantasy. While looking at models at the only hobbystore in town, I saw boxes of dice. I still have the first set I bought. Crystal Green. White lettering. Eventually I spent 100$ on all 3 core source books for 3.5 edition D&D. I still had no play group, and so I eventually taught my younger siblings to play.

After that, it was history.

16 years of roleplaying has lead to a lot of history. I’ve studied the origins of the hobby extensively. I’ve hunted down old editions and bought them online and at cons. My RPG book collection is extensive and covers games from Stormbringer to World of Darkness, to 1st Ed D&D to Pathfinder to Traveller to Empire of the Petal Throne.  Boxes of dice litter my house. All my old characters are in a binder carefully kept and placed. Minis, campaign notes and more are just scattered everywhere.

I’ve graduated from player to gamemaster more often then not, and I relish the chance to play. Everyone is different and plays for different reasons.

It took a long time for me to realize why I played and what I enjoy in RPGs. Story, character growth and strength are great, but what I relish, more then anything, is the chance to be a hero. Almost all my campaigns revolve around heroes. The world needs more heroes, and sadly, our modern society doesn’t allow heroics in everyday life. Roleplaying gives me that out. I play to be a hero I can’t be in real life. But more then that. I want a game that allows for laughter and fun with friends. The realization that all of us are playing a game and telling a story together, and that in the end, a game is just that. A game. A tool to provide fun. It’s a tool that when you forget why you use it, you stop using it right. A good RPG gives every player what they want and need.

Some of my best campaigns were in college with my friends. Staying up late during finals week to hurry and rush the resolution of a campaign before we all left for 3 months. All nighters to finish that epic battle and save the world. Characters dying and frantic rushes to the temples to bring them back. Markus Cryst, my rogue turned thief guildmaster. Ser Dante Alabaster, Paladin of the Ninth Order. Suka Coldheart, Ice Witch and Queen of the Northern Reaches.

Roleplaying has given me life-long friendships. I’ve got shared stories with some of the best people I’ve ever met, and the bonds you forge in the late hours of a night with friends are hard to break even through distance and lack of communication. It’s affecting my writing, my day to day activities and how I handle myself. I’ve learned not to sweat the small stuff and let the little things slide. I’ve become more patient, more analytic, and I’ve learned to approach problems in out of the box ways.  I would never change this hobby for anything in my life, and I will always be grateful to the lessons I’ve learned.

Scion has become my favorite RPG. As the child of a God of classical mythology, fighting to save the world, it’s really the game that falls right up my alley. Built to drive cinematic, environment destroying combat, it’s a game about choices against parents who only want to use you as tools in a war, defending your legend against evil and monsters. Awesome powers, heroic feats and so much more. I’ll drop anything to run Scion. The tales of the children of gods. Heroes in the extreme.

For me, RPGs will always be about heroes and villains. Knights in shining armor, fighting alongside knights in battered and dented armor. It’ll be about not choosing evil over good, or the easy way out. For me, it’s how we want to view ourselves.

It’s escapism into a reality where I am more then the sum of my parts. Where the equation is not balanced. Where the words I use to describe myself are ideals, not truth. Synergy into heroism. Indomitable. Honorable. Chivalrous. Gallant.

Why do you play RPGs? What are they to you? Sound off in the comments!