My name is Matt. I am the Black Hat Baker, and I dress like a Vanaran Monk when I exercise now.
Stand by for nerdiness.
Beyond that, however, it’s also an incredible creative outlet- one that not only lets me be something other than myself, but has helped me discover myself from the outside in: what I like about myself, and what I want to be.
Let me explain.
My first extensive experience with RPGs was as a Victorian Era Scottish doctor named Alaster McAden, in a dark steampunk fantasy game called “Legacies 1891,” which took place through the MMO community of Second Life.
Alaster was a fusion of a bunch of different inspirations- part Indiana Jones, part Warehouse 13, part Buckaroo Banzai. He was self-decribed “cryptoanthropologist” who travelled around the world by peddling his skills as a doctor and surgeon. When he found odd or dangerous artifacts, he would keep and study them in a small museum, before sending them out to more permanent locales with strict instructions on their control and management.
I played Alaster for years- from a ragtag explorer with a mechanical heart, to the avatar of a Celtic storm deity, and farther. He was everything I dreamt of being at the time- suave, cultured, brilliant, seemingly omni-capable. Part of reality DID slip into his character, however- my impatience with processes and with myself. Alaster was brilliant, but when he came upon problems he couldn’t solve, or not solve easily, he became frustrated easily and made rash decisions- often ones that placed himself or others in incredible danger. Trying to kickstart a Celtic eschatology to grant his girlfriend salvation, or torturing a lord of Hell to free his wife from a bargain she made, for example.
Sometimes reading the story of someone else makes us realize traits we aren’t aware we have- until we discover that the character we are reading about is truly us. I’m still very impatient- especially with myself- but I’m at least aware of it now, thanks in part to watching Dr. McAden’s exploits unfold: a truly brilliant man who did some VERY foolish things.
Erik was my first ever character in Pathfinder, a tabletop game similar to Dungeons and Dragons (D&D). He was a Human Tattooed Sorcerer, Martyred Bloodline.
I can feel the looks of confusion and concern burning into the screen at that line, so long story short: he’s a human whose ability to do magic is in his blood, is empowered by his own pain and suffering, and his spells manifest as tattoos on his body.
Erik came by his power source honestly- the apparent sole survivor of a genocide, he spent twenty years hiding his abilities and identity. The years in hiding made him extremely clever, cautious, and disciplined in keeping himself safe.
Consequently, however, he was not the most pleasant character to play. He was distrustful of everything (including himself) and relied on strict self-discipline to keep his powers in check. He had well-founded (but ultimately false) delusions of persecution. He was VERY capable of kindness, heroism, and nobility- but his personality was rather unpleasant and exhausting to play.
Erik was an opportunity for me to play a darker character than Alaster had been. At that point in my life, I was settling into my life in Oregon. My weight loss had changed my lifestyle and outlook enough that I became more sociable- but it also brought energy that I was still getting used to having. I was also still trying to get used to the cultural differences between East and West Coast, and among other things was perhaps demanding more self-reliance than I perhaps should have.
I had already recognized the power of self-discipline- it had helped me transform my body and turn my life around. Here was a character for whom discipline wasn’t a matter of self-transformation- in his mind, it was a matter of life or death. He had little patience for those who acted foolishly, and regularly lashed out at others that didn’t share his estimations of life.
I was left with a character who, while capable of so much good, chose to anchor himself in negativity. Playing Erik showed me that my own endeavors must be balanced- self-discipline is necessary, but I shouldn’t let it wall me off or set me apart from others who mean well.
Han Wu Zhi
Han is my current Pathfinder character, and in a number of ways is the one I draw the most inspiration from. He is a Vanaran Monk, and a devotee of the in-game god Irori.
Translation from nerdspeak: he is a monkeylike humanoid who is a Shaolin Monk and prays to the Buddha.
Han also has a somewhat negative history, but instead tends to be jovial, affable, and fiercely loyal. Rather than his letting his abilities set him apart, his abilities spring from the philosophy of the interconnectedness of all things, and he relies on strict self-discipline (through martial arts, spiritual practice, and asceticism) to guide himself toward perfection.
In some ways, Han is the antithesis to Erik. Both are empowered by their personal drive and self-discipline, but where Erik treats his like the boundaries he needs to keep control, Han’s discipline is because he is stronger and moves father in his goals when he is focused.
Keeping oneself in check versus focusing oneself to go farther.
A lantern to keep the fire inside under control, versus a series of lenses to focus light into a laser.
I have yet to take Han on any adventures, but just thinking about him inspires me. The transition from Erik to Han very much reflects my own changing feelings on self-discipline. It took developing a strong work ethic to make me eat right and exercise regularly. Now that those things are more habitual, I needed a new way to practice discipline- driven less by spite and fear, and more by my own will to be better than I was yesterday. Han’s philosophy reflects what I am now learning about myself in my ongoing path of wellness- that mindlessly burning energy on rage and spite is exhausting, but using it to constantly improve myself is exhilarating.
Some time back, I wrote about how we all need to have heroes: people or characters that make us want to be better, or have characteristics we admire.
If you got nothing else from this little geekout, hopefully you’ll just remember this:
If you can’t find a hero for yourself- don’t be afraid to make up your own, and decide for yourself:
“What would this character do? What makes me admire them,” and possibly most revealingly, “What does this character teach me about myself?”
Besides, it’s hard NOT to feel tough-as-nails wearing a sleeveless hoodie.