I always ask people what they love most about roleplaying, and there's a common thread here: friendship. As an avid reader of fantasy, my host loves the opportunity to shape his own story - to be the character at the heart of the novel. But the most important thing is that it's a tale that he's creating and sharing with his friends. The second Kevin agrees. "I couldn't care less what game we play," he says. "I just like hanging out with my friends."
Watching the group play, it's easy to see the strength of that friendship. Laughter comes easily, along with stories of past triumphs and humiliating defeats. I've been in groups where clashing playstyles have created tension, or where one person can only have fun when he's spoiling it for everyone else. There's none of those self-destructive elements in this group. The circumstances of a story may pit characters against one another, and indeed, as this game goes on, Dave tries to sneak something past the others. It doesn't last long. Ben realizes what he's doing and calls it out - but while it's an unfortunate moment for Dave's character, all of the players enjoy the scene.
Ben is one of the group's regular DMs, and he loves being on both sides of the screen. Like the Kevins, he emphasizes the social nature of gaming as being the most important aspect of it. What does he enjoy about roleplaying? "What don't I enjoy about it?" he says. "It challenges me with political puzzles, riddles, geometic teasers, and optimization. When I'm DMing, I get to research history, technology, and linguistics and then play around with alternate versions of all of those things."
After a moment's pause, he adds, "And now that I'm getting older, I also get a test group for whatever cooking challenge I'm attempting next."
Ben didn't cook on the night of our game, which brings us to the scones. Kevin was adamant that I couldn't pass through Boise without stopping at Merritt's Country Café, a 24-hour hole in the wall that advertises itself as "The Home Of The Scones". But don't grab the clotted cream just yet. The promise of a scone didn't set my mouth watering, but what was set before me was an enormous melding of fried dough, cinnamon sugar, and butter, what I can only imagine you'd get if a beignet was exposed to gamma radiation and got angry. And I like it when it's angry. I've always been of the opinion that dessert isn't really dessert unless chocolate is involved - luckily that means I can consider this a meal.
Touching base with the players earlier this week, I learned that there's been a few changes in Boise. Richard has left the group and been replaced by the second Kevin's son Arik, bringing a new generation to the table. Tanya and Kevin have split up, and Tanya hasn't played since. But she says, "It sparked a interest in creative writing that I didn't know I had. I've been able to use that creativity to further my goals and expand my experiences." She hopes that the lessons she's learned in character development will one day help her write a novel.
Times change. Relationships shift. People lose their jobs and find new ones. But the game continues. These friends have been creating stories together for over a decade; I hope they'll still be playing a decade from now.
Keith Baker is best known for creating the Eberron Campaign Setting for Dungeons & Dragons and the card game Gloom, but he's also worked on at least five games that you've never heard of. If you want to know more, check out http://www.bossythecow.com/hdwt/.