Sometimes stories are more important than reality. Who does not enjoy the magic of being completely absorbed in a good book, a movie or even a TV show? For me, this enchantment happens through the characters, their motivations, their joy and suffering, their development. Sure, the plot should be interesting too, but apart from history and literature, what has always fascinated me most were people: how do they live, what do they believe in, how do they interact with others? This is why I fell in love with roleplays, in particular those in realistic historical settings.
What are roleplays?
These are interactive games that are played by a group of individuals, each of them impersonating a fictional character in any imaginable environment. These characters interact, experience adventures or just live their lives, making friends, loosing loved ones or developing new skills. Imagine inventing a story together with friends and playing the protagonists. It all happens in a shared fantasy: A process of creation that is comparable to improvisational theatre – but with rules and without costumes.
One person, the storyteller or game-master/mistress, is leading the group by describing the setting, playing other personages that the player-characters interact with and supervising the process. This job can also involve inventing the background and plot, much like the work of a novelist.
Although role-plays developed in the 70s inspired by „The Lord of the Rings“, there are now plenty of interesting settings either fictional or more realistic: high fantasy, science fiction, steampunk, horror, detective, historical… whatever you fancy! Many roleplays involve some sort of „magical“ background that allows for sorcery or supernatural powers of the protagonists.
Although this sounds like something children would do, a well-developed roleplay can be the most challenging and creative past-time for grown-ups, not only allowing them to live-out exciting adventures, but also inspiring them to discovers arts, history, science and whatever you need to make a world interesting.
By the way: Computer role-plays function quite differently than a group of friends sitting around a table or meeting via Zoom. Whilst the focus of computer-gaming is mostly on action, „normal“ roleplays encourage interaction between the characters. At least, this is how we play them.
Here is the link to an interesting podcast from the British economist and journalist Tim Harford. It basically explains how roleplays were vastly demonised in the early years and therefore what roleplays are not.
I got hooked by a friend who invited me to join his Ars Magica campaign in the early 90s and my first character – a witch in medieval England – is still vivant in me. Since then, I’ve played many more interesting personages and became an active creator in the scene. Mostly due my tango activities and my co-player’s relocation I later stopped playing for a few (very sad) years and rediscovered role-plays in 2020.
My focus as a creator and storyteller is on:
• Shaping a rich background based on a specific historical period and cultural setting. My specialties are the renaissance, the 19th century and pre-christian oriental cultures.
• Developing realistic protagonists that come to life through genuine motivations and fears. I am inspired by literature, movies and history.
• Infusing stories with supernatural components drawn from religion and mythology. As a staunch atheist, I am particularly interested in the parallelisms between Christian, Hebrew, Sumerian and Egyptian legends. Quite recently, I fell in love with Greek mythology.
• Creating moral and ethical dilemmas for the player characters by confronting their needs and wants with fundamental questions about life and humanity. My games are meant for grown-ups who find pleasure in exploring real character development.
• Triggering enthusiastic engagement through convincing descriptions and logical as well as exciting plots.
Past or present projects
Activities as an organiser
Soon after my initiation, I became active in our local roleplaying-club organising conventions for players from all over Germany who either traveled to my hometown Saarbrücken or joined us in the medieval castle Altleinigen for a life-roleplay. (This is a special variant of roleplays in which the the players actually dress up at their characters and act like in a theatre play. The photo shows me in a life-roleplay.) Such work prepared me for organising tango events and holidays in later years.
The Venice Campaign
The first roleplay in which I acted as a storyteller developed into one of the longest running Vampire campaigns ever. Set in 19th century Venice, a group of newly made vampires got involved in politics and drawn into a mythological fight against their loss of humanity. We started the journey in 1830, with Venice being part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and stopped playing in 1914 just after the start of the first world war. In real-life our game lasted from 1994 to 2013 and in my head, it has never stopped. Not only the player’s characters, but also the hundreds of personages that I have created for this campaign – often inspired by historical personages – are only waiting to be re-animated.
Castel di Romena
A historical castle in 15th century Tuscany, Lorenzo de Medici as a boy, the exciting discoveries and politics of the renaissance, spiced with a world of magic and faeries, of the godly and infernal powers… This was the setting in which Andreas Wichter and I situated our Ars Magica campaign that was played for more than 15 years with group of dedicated friends who helped us fill the „covenant“ with life. Speaking of: just for the „home“ of the group, we developed a set of approximately 200 personages, from the lowliest servant to the mightiest mage. Each had an extensive background-story that allowed us to enact them in a realistic and convincing manner, expressing their quirks as well as their dreams so that the group could relate to them. I have incorporated much of this background into my newest project and have recently led a group in a weekend-long adventure set in this world.
Work as a translator and author
In 1997, I was hired by Mario Truant to translate the 3rd edition of „Ars Magica – The art of magic“ and the sourcebook „Hedge Magic“ from English into German. This was great fun, but also hard work that kept me busy for almost a year. In 1987, Andreas and I published our „Castel di Romena“ background in the quarterly magazine „Fantastic Adventure“.
The straight way lost – Adventuring Between Heaven and Hell in a Fantastic Renaissance Italy
In 2020 I was hired by a dear friend to develop an adventure for the most successful role-play game ever: Dungeons & Dragons.
The setting is very different from the typical fantasy adventures that characterise D&D since the 70s:
Our story is based on the ancient tale of a voyage into the dark and back again to be found in all classical and medieval sagas: It is the year 1492 in the city-state of Florence. Savonarola, the charismatic prior of San Marco is fighting to rid society of the decay that has infiltrated it under the reign of Lorenzo de Medici. The adventurers are drawn into political intrigue and set out to find a cure for the evil that has befallen home. Their journey will lead them into the realm of the mysterious fey queen of the Apennine, but only after following the footsteps of Dante Alighieri through the inferno, purgatorio and paradiso, the heroes can return to face the tyrant and help create a better world.
A drama in seven acts that will inspire a dedicated group for many months or even years of exciting and intelligent game. I am proud to be the creator and lead author of this amazing project. Find out more about it here.
Illustration below by Mark Smylie.