A Brief Prelude
Transcribed from my RP Discord…
Me: Our decisions will have consequences and I am both terrified and excited for what comes next.
My GM: This has given me an idea.
Me: Did… did our decisions not have consequences before?
My GM: There are now new consequences.
Me: Oh no.
My GM: There were… less circumstances in the final encounter. Now there are more. Be brave. Be bold.
Me, internally and externally: %$#@.
A Brief History of Me and the Tabletops
Tabletops are where I explore my identities. Tabletops are where I take stock of who I am and what I have done. On the weeks where I felt more dejected, the promise of my alter ego’s adventure was usually more than enough to get me through. Because they never gave up. They may have died, but they never gave up.
I cannot tell you the names of every single PC (playable characters) I have ever played, but I can tell you at least one story about each. I can tell you every thought going through my head as I Random Number Generator-ed my avatar into existence even if I can’t remember the stat blocks. I can tell you the type of person that I was and the exact moment I stopped being that person and moved on. Sometimes, it was the dice telling me that this wasn’t meant to be. Sometimes, it was the dungeon’s master decree. Sometimes, it was me in a moment of quiet revelation. That last one happened a lot in my Starfinder campaign from when my first Skittermander PC sacrificed himself for refusing to rat out his crew and this type of pensive self-sacrifice happened often.
There is a fundamental difference between the tabletop and the video game screen. I’m the type to become attached to any characters that represent me. I’m obsessed with this idea of the “persona,” the masks we wear and present to others. The visage we project in attempt to give us strength. We become Shepherd. We become our Guardian. But those PCs adhere to the rules of a distant realm, a developer with static options.
On the tabletop, there are rules, but those rules are easier to bend and break. The book is just a reference, and the world is collaborative and if you ask nicely enough, there can be some concessions, a trade off, a discussion. The lack of a graphic cards means that it also exists solely in our heads. You are your character: their voice, their conscience, their guide…until you’re not.
And like in any fiction, there is a point where the character becomes a separate entity from you, still closely entangled, but not quite the same anymore.
Some Time, Right Before The End…
After two and a half long years, my Starfinder campaign has reached the last act, the final confrontation with the Big Bag, the Grand Maw, intent on devouring this universe and leaving nothingness in its wake. In the moments before the final encounter kicks off, my character makes an uncharacteristic call for divine consultation. See, Pasatsat Multo (loving called Alt-Satsat) is a Maraquoi Witchwarper. The maraquoi are a species of macqueue looking alien with large bug eyes. The witchwarpers are spellcasters trained in piercing the veil of infinite realities, able to manipulate the environment and peer into the countless realities.
Alt-Satsat, as the name hinted at, is the alternate reality version of Satsat Mutlo, a Maraquoi Operative, who joined up with the Advent Calamity as a means to gain access to certain places he could not alone and had once listened to Baku’s 18 hour long podcast (a nod to Old Man Henderson). When news of a potential way to combat the Grand Maw by ascending to godhood presented himself, Satsat (and by extension me), took after his inspiration and took the gamble to try and become something greater. He (and I) knew that his specialized skill set of stabbing things would not be enough in the final battle. He had to become more, and alas he failed, and instead blazed a trail for Pasatsat to follow.
Alt-Satsat’s reality was consumed by the Grand Maw. Under Alt-Baku (who through vague narrative choices managed to survive up until the end of days), he trained his compound eyes to each of the realities the Grand Maw consumed, and has been bringing fragments of the doomed worlds to combat the evil that exists in this one. This world has a chance, ever so slightly, to be saved, and Alt-Satsat wants to take it.
Pasatsat Multo knows that gods are real in his universe, but he has not worshiped any. He has never really felt the need to, even when faced with oblivion. Still, in this moment of uncertainty, he calls out and instead finds me.
He asks, “Are you Ibra?”
Ibra is the god of balance, and I’m neither godly or balanced, I reply. No, I’m you. Or rather, a version of you.
He is confused, as he has the right to be.
“I do know why you’re here though. Like the previous version of yourself, you seek knowledge on how these things end,” I reply, “and funnily enough, I don’t know how things will end either.”
Alt-Satsats simmers, “how exactly is that funny?”
“Because you exist because I am so uncertain myself. You, Witchwarper, represent everything I wish I had. The ability to understand how the myriads of every which way unfolds, to see the alternate outcomes just before they happen, to change reality in the smallest ways. You’re a metaphor for catastrophic thinking, for seeing the worst outcomes, the greatest fears come to past, and you’re a metaphor for the deep breath that prevents me before spiraling out. Roleplaying you has given me such a strange courage. The bravery to ask a question and be ready for whatever the response is. To watch the waveform collapse. To remember to take stock of the moment and not just the written past and nebulous future. It’s funny, because even with the ability to see beyond the veil, the only thing certainty in your uncertainty and your only response is to push forward because that’s the only response that works.”
There is a pause. He chuckles, “I guess that is funny… But still, I want to know if there’s any respite for me and companions in the future.”
I break the bad news, “you were actually supposed to have a Beach Episode, but the Advent Calamity decided to beat the evil pirate instead.”
“What’s a beach episode?”
“For you, a chance to rest in some hot springs with your compatriots.”
“I think I’m glad I fought beside them. I think I’m glad I’m fighting beside them. I am certain of this.”
Take a (Deep) Breath
The conversation with myself in my head ends, and I’m back at the tabletop with my best friends. I remember to take a deep breath before confirming that Alt-Satsat got his divine pep talk and is ready for the next session: the final boss.
I laugh to myself because it’s funny how I sometimes forget to breathe. I get so caught up with all the variables, all of the pathways, all of the what-if’s and could-have-been’s, and sometimes forget the most natural thing: to breathe, to feel the air enter and exit the body, give the brain a chance to rest from parsing out an endless count of binary tree branches.
My PCs tend to be representations of my anxieties at a particular time, a test case for how to deal with anxiousness in the sandbox of a game. And Alt-Satsat is just the latest character to help process all the catastrophic thinking I was running in my head yesteryear. And I don’t know how the game or life will end, but I guess I do know one thing I’m certain about.
Our decisions will have consequences and I am both terrified and excited for what comes next.