Last week Andrei wrote about his first ever Dungeons & Dragons game, and about how board games and role playing games are not direct competitors. The story of his first role playing adventure reminded me of the times when I used to play RPG on a more regular basis – and of something that is still almost exactly the same among board gamers and role players.“Hi, my name is Błażej, and I’ve been a gamer for the last twenty years”, I say in the Kickstarter video for Mistfall, being pretty accurate (off by one extra year, but saying “for the last twenty one years” seemed somehow too specific), and kind of surprising myself with how long I’ve been rolling dice, moving miniatures, playing cards, or pretending to be somebody else.
In the teenage years most of my gaming revolved around Warhammer, MERP, Fading Suns, and Cyberpunk, with an (un)healthy dose of pouring over War of the Ring (not the one you’re most probably thinking of), Star Trader, or Battletech. And among many memories and artefacts that have remained with me over the years, there’s one that I still find amusing and very much alive: the Rituals.
Maybe it’s because gaming (even role playing games to an extent) is competitive, and we want all the help we can get, or maybe it’s due to dice and cards either originating, or having strong ties with the idea of peering into the future, we tend to believe that there is a bit of magic to the rolls, or a touch of fate to the card draw. If you’ve ever seen a slow motion dice roll in a movie, or the iconic Maverick scene, where Crazy Mel draws exactly what he needs to win the poker tournament, you definitely know what I’m talking about.
Over the course of my life I’ve seen people do some crazy stuff with dice and cards, starting from “rolling out the ones” before a D&D adventure begins, and peaking at a certain individual who would have a special set of dice for character creation only – and that’s because he would roll them by putting them in his mouth and spitting them on the table (yeah, kind of puts the “ick” into the “magic” of the whole experience).
During my Warhammer: Invasion tournament days I’d see individuals only drawing with their left hand, people using their lucky card sleeves, or people that would get seriously cross if you did not cut their deck before the game. I myself am guilty of being somewhat rattled by opponents who would mess up the single direction all of the cards in my deck would face while performing the cut and shuffle.
The truth is that – unless we are actually cheating – the rituals have no real influence on the outcome of our game. Messing up the draw order does not mean that our opponent got a card fated for us, and a single die can roll all ones or all sixes (eights, tens, twenties) in an impossibly long streak, and it will not be due to anything but pure chance.
That, however, does not mean that rituals hold no sway over our gaming, as they do – on how much we enjoy the experience as a whole. And although we might not be too taken with the dude that makes us clean his personal splash damage out of our favourite dice bag (who, incidentally, nobody is allowed to touch), there is no real reason to try to eradicate them. If nothing else, their quirkiness might amuse us down the road, or through the magic of cognitive bias they may become a centrepiece of truly epic tales of win or fail.
So, what are the rituals you’ve seen other people perform – and what are the ones you can admit to yourself?