It’s a half truth when I say that I’ve been only roleplaying since 2009. I got my start roleplaying in the weird and hodgepodge world of online roleplaying; a land of instant chats, journals and forum posts. Hours of late nights staring at text prompts and pondering what my characters would do next. Freeform RP, the most pure and honest form of roleplaying! Well, according to some.

Mary Sue - Dice

Dice or, as they are known in some circles,
“The Devil’s Plot Device”

I don’t buy the argument that the the biggest difference between freeform and structured RPGs is dice. It’s an easy comparison to make, but it doesn’t really say anything intelligent about the divide. All it does is set up the “roleplay and rollplay” puns that make freeform supporters feel clever until a tabletop support points out that Amber exists and the already weak debate breaks down into mudslinging.

The biggest difference I’ve found is the freedom for a female player to play whatever she wants without fear of repercussions. This might not mean much in the male domained ends of the RPG community, but it was a game changer for me.

A large part of the problem in Freeform RPG lies with the concept of “Mary Sue”. For those not familiar with the term, “Mary Sue” is a term from fan fiction that refers to an character based on an idealized version of the author. Mary Sue is promoted to Starfleet Captain, discovers that Force is strong with her and is sorted into all of the Hogwarts’ houses before her lunch date with that sexy boy who’s been staring at her in biology class.

Mary Sue is also a label tossed on every female character that rubs someone the wrong way. Too many flaws or too little flaws? Mary Sue. Too much success, to the point of being perfect, or too little success, to the point of ridiculous angst? Of course a Mary Sue! Too strong a character, too weak a character, a name that was just a bit too exotic…

Needless to say, I was paranoid about playing female characters in Freeform RP for the longest time. I tended to gravitate towards male characters as if playing a guy made me a better person and storyteller somehow. When I did play female characters, I ate accusations of playing a “Sue”. There was no escaping it.

Mary Sue - Streets of Fire

Really, Tabletop RPGs are about playing the cast of Streets of Fire in varying scenarios. This includes the ladies.

A couple of friends invited me to a tabletop game in 2009 and I discovered something marvelous: women gamers not ashamed to play badass ladies and who didn’t ponder if their characters were legit or not. They were too busy having a good time. It took me awhile to get used to the idea of playing a woman who chewed scenery, was larger than life and wasn’t a carefully-designed-to-be-as-inoffensive-as-possible, but I eventually got over myself.

The nature of Tabletop RPGs solves most of the Sue problem. Ideally, everyone is playing a character who’s over the top already. The character sheets and stats keeps the PCs mostly in line with each other, if not the rest of the world. The dice randomly determine success or failure. You can have a character who’s had a ridiculously bad go at it, but the assumption is that you had bad luck with dice rather than created a character for self wallowing. And, if you have a winning streak, the whole party cheers with you. That party support makes all the difference. You don’t have to be afraid of a stranger judging you for playing your gender “wrong”.

I miss some of those old Freeform games I was in, but I doubt I would ever make the switch back. A Tabletop session might only be a few hours every other week or once a month, but it’s worth the wait for a few hours of gaming glory instead of hanging out in a chat room and being ignored for daring to play a woman in a roleplaying game.

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