A Prayer to St Cuthbert, or: How I Lost My Roleplaying Virginity

A Fighter of St Cuthbert arguing with a halfling by Symatt

Art by Symatt

I choose the above by-line with care. I have been a gamer for just over 15 years but our recent foray into the Temple of Elemental Evil feels like the first time I have ever played a character. Having said that, should the live play recordings ever reach the light of day, you may not be impressed. I don’t do voices, in fact I’m not sure I actually talk as my character that often, but I feel like she is behaving how she would and reacting to circumstances in a truthful way.

I commenced my roleplaying ‘career’ at university.  I played with two groups of friends, but due to our varying schedules and the easy distraction of our GMs who were always finding new games and sourcebooks, my university gaming mostly consisted of creating characters. At best we’d get in a couple of hours of play before moving on to the next thing a few weeks later. This was great for the imagination and I often came up with complicated back stories for my characters. I think the one about my Lasombra Antitribu even made it into my final Creative Writing portfolio (got to love an Arts degree).

When I joined our current group and played in campaigns for the first time I discovered that there is a great deal of difference between story and character. I have always found that I am my most creative when given a seed. I remember in Year 2 we would be told to write stories for writing class, and I couldn’t. But if the teacher told me to right a story about a boat I would have no problem.

Having never played D&D before (my Uni friends had ‘graduated’ from that by the time I came along), and jumping into a 3.5 campaign that was already in progress, I was told that it would be easiest to start with a fighter. My advisors weren’t wrong and I found that it suited me well. I’m a pretty easy going, passive person in life so it was nice to carry around a big axe, give the much-maligned D12 some lovin’, and hit things first, and let others ask questions later for a change.

Over several campaigns I honed this into the perfect team player ‘meat shield’. I would make sure that I bulked up on toughness ready to resist the area of effect spells the party would no doubt almost centre on me. I would be the calm centre soaking up the hits and dealing out lots of damage. I left it to the other characters to cartwheel around the place doing all the ‘fancy’ stuff. Once in a while I would stray from my norm to play a thief or rogue. Even then they were more likely to be the silent mysterious type and not big on interaction with others. This behaviour of mine continued through our Grand Gaming Experiment where I would normally play weapons or technical specialists depending on the setting, which really are just a variation on the same theme.

Let’s not say for a second that I wasn’t having lots of fun. Sunday dinner with my friends, a lot of laughs, great stories woven by GMs or other PCs, a sense of achievement when we completed quests, unlocked mysteries or got through scrapes by the skin of our teeth. But I wouldn’t say I was really ‘Roleplaying’. My character did what was needed of it, with very little interaction with the other NPCs and PCs.

I would say I’ve always swung more to the left than the right on the Roleplaying Scale. I’ve always tried to have an idea of who my character is, and then pick my skills as appropriate, rather than trying to game the rules. However, as I said at the beginning, there is a big difference between story and character. There were many times I sat at the table internally conflicted. Players would be cone of cold’ing away plot points or behaving in ways that didn’t suit my character’s ideology and I wasn’t sure what to do about it.

Approaching the Temple of Elemental Evil campaign made me nervous. We have tackled several of RupertG & Paul’s childhood dreams in recent years and they have often come away a bit disappointed. Once again I was to perform my raison d’être for the group and be the melee fighter. As we sat round the table creating our characters, the GM said something that at the time I didn’t think was that significant, but later would be.

“I need someone to follow St Cuthbert for plot hooks.”

Having just read through some of the religious options available I volunteered for the role. I know I pretty much have to  follow a ‘lawful good’ deity anyway as that’s how I’m going to end up playing my character.

One of the other key concepts that was was to become important to me that was this edition of AD&D is a game of secrets. Passing notes between players and the GM is to be expected. This really helps with creating a character as real people are very much like that too. You don’t dump your life history on someone you met in a tavern 5 minutes ago (well most people don’t anyway…). This gave me an opportunity to develop my PCs character without having to fight for theatrical space around the table.

Knowing very little about Greyhawk I did what all sensible people do. When I got home and checked the Wiki article. There is a great summary on the AD&D St Cuthbert. Having gone through the article I then spent some time discussing my options with the GM and coming up with a comprehensive back story. Maybe I’ll write a Part 2 to this later about that, but at the moment I can’t share it with you as the other PCs don’t know everything, and RupertG will have to edit this! [Ed: we all have deep hidden secrets in this campaign. No-one really trusts anyone…]

This comprehensive concept of my PCs character and how the followers of St Cuthbert interact with the world was only the beginning. The next step were the little things. I’m sure everyone around the table has gotten sick of how often I say “Cerys gets up at dawn to pray”, but it gives me the feeling of a living breathing person getting on with her life regardless of what the PCs & NPCs are doing. I made sure to check in with the local church regularly whenever we were in Hommlet, and perform whatever rituals are required.

Then, sometime during session 3 or 4, I realised my PCs character had come to life.

We had finished an encounter where we had captured some bandits. From Cerys’ perspective we had opened a door and they had defended themselves. Now they were claiming to be honest folk who had fallen on hard times (unlikely), but the proposal by some of the other PCs to kill them because having prisoners in the middle of a dungeon was inconvenient (potentially not how they saw it) was, for Cerys, a step too far. This left us with a problem. By no means am I a great orator, and other players around the table could probably reason you around to believing black is white if they put their minds to it, but I would not be budged. Eventually Cerys had to say “Fine, go through me then” which pretty much decided the issue. At that stage we were all Level 1 and my hammer would have turned them into good approximations of broken watermelons. We took the prisoners back to Hommlet and handed them over to the townsfolk. No doubt they were put on trial and sentenced to death anyway. This was fine -it followed the law.

The thing that surprised me was what an effect this had on me as a player.  After deciding to go back to town we ended the session. Having a post-game conversation in the kitchen I realised I was pumped full of adrenalin almost like I had one too many red bulls. I found myself running a mantra in my head: “It was the characters arguing, not me and my friends”. I gave the involved people big bear hugs to make sure. My personality is very non-confrontational. I’m always giving people the benefit of the doubt and trying to find the least offensive way of approaching contentious issues.  But Cerys had become so much of a character to me that she had dragged me off in a direction I wouldn’t normally go. It was very reassuring to have the people I’d been arguing with tell me what fun it had been and it was great to see my character come alive because a part of me did feel bad in the end.

Cerys’ story is far from over. I look forward to seeing her continue to grow. I hope that some of these new found skills in roleplaying will translate into our next game, but for the time being, I’m taking baby steps.

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About Lisette

Lisette first came into contact with RPGs at University in the late 90s along with a brief sojourn into a Warhammer Fantasy Empire Army. After a break from gaming in the early 00s she competed in Blood Bowl tournaments for a couple of years, with mixed success. In 2007 she joined Rupert's gaming group and is loving gaming regularly for the first time.
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  • tedopon

    When are you kids going to post another podcast? You’re one of my favorites, don’t die.

    • http://diceofdoom.com RupertG

      We have had a rotten run of luck with getting together to record a show. We should have one out in a week or so.

      We don’t want the show to die either!

  • MKG35

    Really enjoyed this article its always a great moment when your character clicks and you become more comfortable playing that part.

    Its one of the main reasons I love campaigns as they give you the time for that click moment to happen.

    Looking forward to hearing more as this does sound like an interesting way to play a group (all the secrets) and how you guys handle a classic adventure.
    thanks again.

  • http://kikiandtea.com/ Tamsin Howse

    Lawful good… Yeah, I guess you are. I had to be chaotic neutral as good people don’t randomly chop off everyone else’s heads

  • Althoroc

    I find intense intraparty conflict to be the font of real roleplaying and, as DM, do my level best to goad it on (unlike many other DMs who desperately try to avoid it). It gets you in your character’s head like nothing else.

  • Tathum

    It’s wild I’m reading this, I just GM’d a session with my own group (two friends and my girlfriend) in the Temple as well. They’ve gone to the moathouse where, after cleaning it out of bandits, ran into a group outside that included evil NPC’s that they refused to pick up in town along with a few archers and gnolls.

    They proceeded to Entangle the lot of them, killing the NPC’s and gnolls, but letting the archers live if they discarded their weapons. They then loaded their captives up with loot from the moathouse, marched back to town, and turned them over to Calmert at Cuthbert’s Church.

    Admittedly, it was a nice turn of events; especially considering that one of them is bloodthirsty (casting sleep and slitting throats in past campaigns even though he was Lawful Good) and my girlfriend who prefers rolling high numbers while swinging her Great Sword over roleplaying. To see them all talk about it and come up with a more peaceful solution was amazing.

    I don’t think any of them like members of the Church, though. The cleric in the group is a follower of the Traveler’s God and finds them a bit … pushy. Especially since I have them running all over looking for Cuthbert converts and collecting overpaid dues as small quests in town.

  • Groggy1

    With the secrets and all…sounds more like a good Vampire:tM Game than D+D :P