In honor of my characters birthdays, I thought I would write about:
How Roanoke came to be – the long version
Many years ago, a couple of yeas after graduating from college, I was working at a Walden Books in a mall. In college, John and I had done a lot of roleplaying. Now we were a couple and living in New York, north of the city, but now, it was hard for us to find people to play with. So I did what any sensible person would do.
I kept an eagle eye on the D&D shelf in the bookstore.
A brief aside: Wizards of the Coast, the company that owned D&D, had sent the store a bookshelf to hold their books—not those silly cardboard things you see in stores nowadays. This thing was solid. I still have it. The bookstore let me take it home as a wedding present. I still have it today. It is in the boys room. But I digress.
Whenever anyone came to look at the D&D books, I would go introduce myself and see if they were interested in getting together for a game. One of the people I spoke to thus was a teenage boy, about 13 or 14. We got to talking and eventually, John and I got together with him and one of his friends to play a roleplaying game. The young man liked the game, but his friend became absolutely obsessed with it. (I was obsessed with it, too. It was that kind of game.)
That friend was a young man named Mark Whipple.
Now Mark did not read well. He had read very few books in his life. But when he caught on that if he read the books John was stealing stuff from for his game, he would do better in the game, he started reading! He read Roger Zelazny’s entire Amber series. At that point, he was hooked on reading, and he started reading all sorts of stuff.
At some point, John said to this young man that if he went to St. John’s, the college John and I had attended, we would visit every other weekend and run a game.
Mark did. This young man who had not been a reader attended a school that was 95% reading, and we visited almost every weekend while he was there. (We still have a number of good friends, including our kids’ godfather whom we met during that period.)
The game John was running was not an easy game. If roleplaying games had settings like video games, this one was set on hard. It was not a rules bound game, like D&D. You had free reign of action, and the ability to try to do anything you wished—but so did your adversaries. And, with John running the game, the adversaries were clever and vivid. It was like living in your favorite novel! John made Mark really work for his successes. But Mark refused to be daunted
Now, you are probably wondering what does this story have to do with Roanoke Academy for the Sorcerous Arts?
The answer is: nearly everything.
Many years later, Harry Potter came a long, and I made up a simple set of rules so we could play a Harry Potter roleplaying game with my sons. Nothing much came of it, but Mark called me one day and asked if he could see the rules. He wanted to run a game for a friend’s birthday party.
Come fall of 2010, we hadn’t seen Mark much for a few years, as we had been absorbed in child raising, but he contacted us and another friend one day and said: “How would you like to play in my Harry Potter game.”
To my eternal shame, I responded with a shrug, “I’m not really interested. I don’t really need to roleplay any more but okay.”
The game required that I make up a character. I had just been watching the Jackie Chan cartoons and reading Rick Riordan’s Kane Chronicles. I was impressed with Jade Chan and Sadie Kane—the way they full force into adventure. I decided I wanted to play a girl like that, more active than my usual somewhat cautious characters.
I made up a character I intended to be brave who was also bookish. (I wanted to be in Ravenclaw, but Mark put us all in Gryffindor) Back then Rachel wore glasses. I drew a picture of her that first day, based on a picture of an anime girl with glasses I printed from the Internet. I also drew her familiar, a cat.
I decided my character, who I named Rachel on some odd whim, because it wasn’t a name I had ever thought about before, would be from the Wizarding world and from an aristocratic family. Kind of the opposite of Harry Potter. As to her last name, I had just read a romance book in which the family of the main character went back two thousand years. I thought this was hilarious, the idea of being able to trace your family back so far. The family in the book was the Griffins.
I asked Mark if I could play a character with the last name Griffin. He got this odd slight smile and said he actually had a Griffin family already. My character could be part of that family. The mother was part Korean. I could chose to look like her or not. I thought that sounded like a great Idea.
I said yes and gave her the middle name of one of the two characters that had inspired me.
She became: Rachel Jade Griffin
Another brief aside: I gave Rachel flyaway hair for two reasons. One, I have that kind of hair. It is always escaping from whatever I tie it up with. Hair in my face is just fact of life. Two, in Regency romance novels , nearly every heroine has messy hair. It is like a shorthand way of telling the reader that the character is intelligent., that she’s rebelling against the perfect standards of her world and values something other than her looks. It was, therefore, a huge surprise to me a reviewer or two said “Rachel has messy hair! This is copying Harry Potter!!” — As if Harry Potter were the only person in the history of mankind with messy hair. I can only assume that these folks don’t read romance novels. Or Middle Grade books for girls. Or know any real people.
Mark had learned a lot over the years. He could now run basically the same kind of game—with great freedom of action and where the characters are as vivid as real people—that John had drawn him into decades before.
In fact, he was now really good at it.
The game was set at Hogwarts 25 years after the end of the Harry Potter books. Following my example when I designed the rules for my kids, Mark peopled the school with every character he liked from books and stories. So 18 year old Dr. Doom was in charge of Slytherin and the one of roommates of the girl characters was Lucy Pevensey, whose familiar was a tiny Lion named Aslan.
Mark also did a few other amazingly clever things. He used my rules for designing the characters and Hogwarts, but for the greater universe—and there was a greater universe because most of the characters he stole to put into the school came from other worlds—he used the Phage Diceless Amber rules. Diceless Amber had included a mechanic for having your world guarded. My husband, in an earlier game, had declared that these guardians were great beings that the advanced power allowed you to assign to worlds. Mark took it one step farther and made them guardian angels.
The first couple of months we didn’t play much, as Mark had crunch time at work. But in December of 2010, something unexpected changed everything.
In a scene which appears in the first book, the other two player characters (Sigfried Smith and Anastasia Romanov, Princess of Magical Australia) were invited to join the DA – Dumbledore’s Army. By some glitch, no one told Rachel that she could also go. So, as happened in the book, she didn’t. She went to an abandoned hallway to practice her spells instead.
“You’re not in the scene,” Mark said casually, “I’ll run what happens to you by email.”
So we ran a scene by email—Rachel talking to Gaius who invited her to the Knights of Walpurgis (a name I thought Mark invented. If I had known that it was Rowling’s original name for the Death Eaters, I would have changed it!)
What happened to me was exactly what had happened to Mark when he played that first game with us at the age of 13.
I fell totally and absolutely in love with the game—to the point that it took over my life.
Next time: Part Two: The difficult, difficult life of Game Rachel