Why I Promote the Tabletop RPG Hobby
After last month’s epic Tabletop Summer Camp at Home post, I will keep this one slightly shorter. It has been a weird and challenging time for me lately. Doubt can be one’s worst enemy, and when your livelihood rests on creativity, it can mess up your day quite a bit. To fight my own lizard brain, I find it useful to remind myself of why I strive to continue on this crazy adventure. I thought it would be useful to reflect on a few things that make The Voyager’s Workshop the worthwhile endeavour that it is.
The Art Life
As a designer, artist and storyteller, making a living is a daily challenge, mostly because this field of work is perceived by most people as far from essential or even necessary. On top of that, I now also specialize in all things fantasy which is downright futile and a needless distraction. Of course, and thankfully, there are plenty of other people who need fantasy storytelling as a source of inspiration, a way to seek refuge, a vehicle for their own aspirations or as a means to reach out and make friends.
For fans, it’s easy to support artists whose work they enjoy but it’s a lot harder to express that support in financial terms. Spending money on art is easier said than done even though most people will tell you that life without the Arts is simply inconceivable! But when the time comes to actually pay the artist for their work, they cannot commit to those righteous intentions. Contrary to popular belief, designers, artists, writers, musicians and performers do not work for free. How come? After all, why wouldn’t they? It’s fun for them to practice their craft. Unfortunately, the reality is quite different and just like paying the good mechanics at your garage, we also need to be paid for the work we do.
All kinds of fans
Sometimes, however, financial support is unconditional. Someone will, out of the blue, see artwork and feel so compelled that they need to have it. This is how, for example, I sent a large pencil illustration all the way to Australia, where it found a new home, pleasing someone who genuinely appreciates it! On other occasions, someone can come to me looking for something.
Here, I am inking a mini map commission for Joshua, one of my awesome patrons who is also the co-creator of The Little Warrior comic. If you enjoy creator owned all ages comics, you should check it out!
This can be an art commission, such as one of my patrons wanting a hand inked map of his independently created comic book’s setting. Or it can be for design services that require me to work within the restrictions of what the client wants and a very tight budget. Such projects can be the smallest and simplest of affairs. Yet one just like it became one of the most rewarding projects I’ve worked on as a freelancer. It is the logo for an online tabletop role-playing community. The owner and moderator of their forum had a very limited budget to re-work their logo and freshen up their web site.
It was interesting to see how, once again, my skills as a storytelling designer were put at the service of a hobby that I have been promoting in the pages of this blog since it started, two and a half years ago.
A hobby for everyone
Celebrating tabletop storytelling hobbies is what the Voyager’s Workshop is all about. I definitely seek to be personable and approachable rather than have it be a cold corporate brand. Just like the games they honour, my creations focus on their shared storytelling aspect and value as social activities. Maybe having originally played many Tabletop role-playing games (TTRPGs) while growing up provides me with a better appreciation of their many benefits. Playing them now with my own kids, completely validates my conviction that they provide us with a special and incomparable opportunity for developing many skills. It’s a great way to experience being more like someone we want to be. It does so by providing a safe and fun environment. Because of its natural inclusiveness, the game space is welcoming to players. Even the most introvert of kids - or adults - find that this form of pretend play gives them the confidence to interact with others, benefitting from a level of comfort that they cannot find in other social situations. TTRPGs are a playground for social interaction, a space where you can find out more about yourself and others. It’s a limitless sandbox to help you see what it’s like to be more like this or less like that.
I have chronicled my experiences with role-playing games before and I have also talked about how I rediscovered the hobby, playing it with my kids. Rather than asking you to take my word for it once again, I want to let others tell you about how it has impacted them. Below is a talk by comic book writer, artist, and art instructor Jim Zub. It is a great and earnest talk, it illustrates my point perfectly.
Just like collaborative board games, TTRPGs require everyone’s contribution and the only way to win a game of Dungeons & Dragons, or any other role-playing game, is to show up and have fun for a few hours!
The game also provides players with lots of opportunity to practice and learn skills such as mental math, logic, problem solving and using your imagination, even if you think you are not a creative type. Playing in a theatre of the mind style is great gymnastics for your brain. If you use miniatures and a battle grid for encounters, strategy and other planning skills come into action.
If it wasn’t enough, our hobby is also a fabulous way of learning about things that seem to be so often overlooked by a growing number of people the world over: empathy and ethics. Yes, not just for kids and teenagers, role-playing games help us feel how others feel. As such, empathy allows us to perceive the world outside our bias and pre-conceptions. By playing the role of someone else and making decisions as that character, you are able to see another perspective than your own. Here are another two videos that are quite telling of the positive power of TTRPGs and the depth of their scope.
For the uninitiated, it’s hard to understand that there is more to this great hobby than just D&D. Even back in the days when I started in the 80s, there was a lot of games to choose from so do not go thinking that Tabletop Role-playing Games are Dungeons & Dragons. D&D is simply the most popular but also, to be fair, the game responsible for the current resurgence and boom of the hobby. Once players discover what it’s like to play, it acts as a familiar gateway to many more worlds and ways of pretend play with pen, paper and dice!
So if you are more of a sci-fi buff or a steampunk obsessed adventurer, you will find the shoe that fits. Finding the right game will set you off, and before long you will be telling and living tales with your friends, or making new ones as you do. The TTRPG hobby is one that brings us together without interference from the chaos of everyday life. Even today, as we practice physical distancing and have to resort to creative ways to run games in person or with the help of technology (online sessions are popular and there is a variety of specialized tools to facilitate them), these games are a testament to the power of storytelling and how shared social activities can improve your life.
Hopefully you will see how my ongoing and endless artist journey is made even more worthwhile by tabletop games of all sorts. But in the end, it is storytelling that is at the heart of everything I do, from logos to magazines, posters to woodcarvings and everything in between. As long as it tells a meaningful story to those they are made for!
Stay safe and healthy,