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The Gamer's Guide to Hitch Hiking

Lace Up Your Boots

by Justin Unrau
May 02,2005

 

The Gamer's Guide to Hitch Hiking

Lace Up Your Boots

Gamers are masters at the vicarious life. We roll dice, engage in collaborative storytelling, use our imaginations, but whatever you want to call it the whole point of getting together to game is to do stuff that you can't do in real life. Whether that's lead an army of marines to fight off the alien hordes, dive into the occult significance of the Big Mac (and use that knowledge to change the world), or y'know, kill things and take their stuff.

We all know that. We build our worlds and the cool stuff we make our characters do based on the (for many of us way too many) books we read, the movies we see, the other games we play, and the art on the bathroom wall. We get inspired by a movie and it finds its way into our games. You've done it. I've done it. It's a gaming thing. Very postmodern.

So this column isn't about all that.

What the Gamer's Guide to Hitch Hiking (G2H2 for short) is about is getting away from the table. Going somewhere real and how that can influence your games.

In 2002 I left for six months of travelling through the Middle East, India, and Nepal. For the last 9 months I've been living in China and wandering around. I've been constantly finding things in the real world that make me want to run home and base an adventure on it.

The other thing that happens when you become a real-life traveller you take second looks at things you usually gloss over because they're boring in a game.

Example: I'm not going to turn this into a thing on realism and how encumbrance rules should be calculated. But when I was hiking in the Himalayas for a week from village to village I swore that my D&D characters would never again take more than the lightest load possible when they headed uphill. Climbing stairs with a pack for six hours made me understand Sam and Frodo on Cirith Ungol so much more than the words on the page or images on the screen could. Now when I play a tough dwarf who laughs off carrying weapons, armour and three mules' worth of food up an 85 degree slope I don't take what he's laughing off for granted.

A couple more examples of the sorts of things I'll be covering in the column.

My home is Winnipeg, the eastern end of the Canadian prairies. It's a flat flat place and the nearest city (that we don't make fun of for being full of hicks) is an 8 hour drive away. So when I set an Unknown Armies campaign on the Eastern seaboard of the US, I completely messed up the feel.

I knew New York from movies. So did my players. New York was fine. Probably not like the real thing but enough like the movies that it didn't matter. But when things were happening in Baltimore or DC things like travel time and what they saw out the window on their road trips had no bearing on reality whatsoever.

I didn't get how close to each other the small towns were and how the interstate system sort of bypasses a lot of that and on and on. I just described it like a 2 hour trip out in Winnipeg, past a whole lot of nothing between cities. It didn't wreck anyone's suspension of disbelief too much, but now that I've visited the area I cringe looking back at the game.

On the other hand, one of my usual players set a game in Mexico just after he'd gotten back from a vacation. It was a great time. We were playing gringos who vaguely knew what Mexico was like. He had just been there so he knew his locales. He knew how the resorts worked where we were trying to kidnap our drug-runner. He'd been to the grotty bars where tourists don't go and felt out of place. The game was filled with details that you can get when you've actually seen something and been there that don't make it into sourcebooks.

Now, I'm not saying "You can only GM places you have been!" or anything like that. I'm saying that there are lots of places in the real world to plunder for our gaming enjoyment.

There isn't an overall system that I'm using to decide what each column will be about. I'll be telling you about my naive assumptions that have been changed by going to far off lands and hopefully you'll get inspired to dust off your adventuring boots. Each of the future columns will open with one of my stories from the road, and then we'll look at where to find the good gaming stuff in it.

One of the stereotypes is that gamers don't get out much besides the odd road-trip to a con or whatever. Ideally I'd love the forums down below to turn into discussions of gaming and travel. This being the internet I realize that might not happen, but let me dream.

Till next time, when we go underground.

J Unrau
Hungry J Propaganda: www.djs5.com/hjp/

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