Here within these pages are the characters that I have played, inhabited, lived with, bled with, and in a few circumstances, nearly died with. Over a gaming career spanning nearly twenty years (my God, has it been that long already?!), I have been many different women - sometimes a carefree space pilot, other times a serious and lonely Knight, a revenge-driven sorcerer, or an evil baroness. They all had one thing common - they were great fun to play.

Strangely enough, the majority of them turned out drastically different than I would have guessed at the start of the campaign. For example, Nasami started out as a bodyguard through and through. But as time went on, she became equal parts scholar and warrior, with a profound faith and unquestionable honor. On the other hand, Rhiannon began life as a weirdness magnet lush, who later demonstrated a frightening capacity for illegal activities as the need arose.

The longer I played, the more in-depth my characters became, and I stumbled upon a fundamental gaming truth - by being willing to spend points on things that served no real advantage for the character, I made them so much more real. I mean, why else would I drop points on buying a Knowledge skill of twentieth-century video games for a futuristic hacker?

People have asked me why I role-play. I call it justifiable multiple personality disorder - for a few hours, I step into another personality, and enter worlds where I can be anything and do anything. Besides, I spend all day and night being ME, which is why, in a lot of respects, I strive to play characters who are NOT like me. Sure, there's a bit of Michelle in all of them (Christian is my fanatical side and deep distrust of organizied religion turned around on me, Maureen is that hedonist risk-taker that's not-so-hidden in me, and Tiriana is just insanity personified), but take me out of conventional social mores, put me in a world where such behavior is acceptable, and suddenly the facets of my personality are on display for all to see.

There have been other characters I have played over the years in smaller campaigns or in one-shot games, but these ten are by far the most memorable.

I have been and always will be a misfit, all-intelligence-and-no-wisdom, socially graceless geek. It's like there's a part of me that got frozen at 15. Don't know why. I was reading the New York Times at age five (comprehension by about age ten). Read dictionaries and encyclopedias for fun. Had an IQ of 135 by age twelve. In short, I was an ideal gamer.

I got into gaming while attending a private Lutheran school (how's THAT for irony?!), learning to play Advanced Dungeons & Dragons with some boys in my class in 5th grade. Then I started reading those really neat Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books (I still remember one, Deathtrap Dungeon, that really rocked). Then I really got into AD&D. Then Dragonlance. Then Ravenloft. My mom was thrilled I had friends, even if I was going to a *gasp* BOY'S house.

Then I got into college. Spent a year as an antisocial misfit. Got into Spelljammer. Then Dark Sun. Then Tales from the Floating Vagabond. Then Toon. Then Magic: The Gathering (which makes for wonderful GM inspiration, at which I totally rock). I met DOZENS of people, and we thought nothing of hanging out half the night gaming, then spending the other half of the night at the Cage or DV8 or the clubs in Tucson. We'd party, we'd talk about gaming, we'd grouse about classes, we stressed about relationships and school and family problems. And we became very good friends.

Finished college in four years, moved on to graduate school. Got into Legend of the Five Rings. Then Shadowrun. Then 7th Sea. Then Star Wars. Then Mutant Chronicles. Then Champions. As a result of THIS phase, met my ex-boyfriend-twice-removed, my ex-boyfriend, and my husband. (And dated them in that order.) I met my best friends that now, seven years later, are the closest thing to family I have besides my actual family. I call them before I call my folks when things get rough.

I learned to dream up, write, and tell a killer story.

I learned how to put my over-active imagination to use.

I learned it's okay to pretend to be someone else, as long as you know who you really are at the end of the day.

I learned that by acting like a hero, I became more of one in real life.

I learned that even the most buff characters are still deficient in other areas, just like me.

I learned that the reference materials I found for certain games led me to developing a keen interest in those subjects on their own merits.

I learned that a steady influx of Doritos, pizza, chocolate, and cotton candy does not a balanced diet make.

I also learned that caffeine in large enough quantities made me so frappin' hyper that I was a living example of what a Rifts Juicer acted like.

I learned that gaming drunk, while vastly entertaining at times, leads to some REALLY stupid gaming decisions (like charging into battle in-character waving a donut and shouting at the enemy, because in real life I was holding a donut).

I learned that there is no such thing as a perfect gaming group, so tensions sometimes really get out of hand... like 'standing on opposite sides of the living room screaming at the top of your lungs' out of hand.

I learned that when characters get dumped or dead, their players often take it so personally that it wrecks relationships in real life.

I learned that just because people are good gamers, they're not always good people.

Come to think of it, I think I got more of an education in my eighteen years of gaming than I have in my twelve years of college and graduate school.
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