Sociological Imagination: Pathfinder


For my Sociology experiment involving C. Wright Mills concept of the Sociological Imagination which I am writing this thesis on, I’ll be writing about the social-interactions that happens within a tabletop roleplaying game, that tabletop roleplaying game in particular is Pathfinder. I’ll be writing on the events of my initiation into the group for a mutual beneficiary to see if this group was really for me and if I was meant for this group. Pathfinder is a tabletop roleplaying game similar to Dungeons and Dragons, it was developed by Paizo and it has a worldwide following with a diverse range of players and fantasy elements which make the game so beloved by those who interact with it and each other. This paper was written in my hopes to research and assimilate to their culture. Tabletop Roleplaying Gamers make up an interesting subculture of some very unique individuals. That on a micro and macro social scale, roleplaying games are the same as a hunter and gatherer society, they hunt monsters, evil-doers, and chaos in their society in order to garner loot and experience points.

Setting: The basement of a lavish household owned and hosted by Brent, playing a tabletop roleplaying game being controlled by Devin as the Dungeon Master or Game Master running the campaign for the offshoot of Dungeons and Dragons, a game known as Pathfinder or what players refer to as “Dungeons and Dragons version 3.75.”

In Game Setting: An underground temple on a tropical island which the characters have been stranded on in game for quite some time, they had recently fixed the lighthouse and are exploring the cavern to see where it leads to unravel the mystery of the island and destroy an obelisk that controls the tides around the island that deters ships from coming to the island, it has many alcoves and is pitch black causing most players to have very little vision unless their characters have darkvision or a source of light, darkvision is an ability in the game which allows them to see in the dark.

Classification goes as follows: Subjects name, age, gender, race, marital status, work. Roleplaying character details.

Unique Classification: Moral Alignment (of roleplaying character.)

Notable research subjects:

  • James/Shamus — Subject
  • Emily/Zander — Subject
  • Todd/Grom — Subject
  • Greg/Falchior — Subject
  • Devin/Dungeon Master — Control
  • Brent/Senn — Control
  • NPCS — Undead Ghouls
  • NPC Boss — Undead Priestess

Detailed Information on Research Subjects

James: 21 years old, male, caucasian, in-a-relationship, works for modest pay at a pizzeria. James is roleplaying Shamus, morally aligned chaotic good character, a human swashbuckling pirate who does not have darkvision.

Emily: 20 years old, female, caucasian, in-a-relationship, stay-at-home mother, has a child with Devin. Roleplaying a Half-Elf Witch named Zander. Zander does not have darkvision. Emily and Zander are unique in this research for Emily is roleplaying a neutral evil character who in-game displays deviant behavior. Emily is a female playing the game which is a minority in the tabletop roleplaying gaming world.

Todd: 45–50 years old, male, Caucasian, divorced, works as a machinist, has children. Roleplaying Grom, a dwarven cleric of a god pertaining only to battle, his character Grom, is also unique for he is morally-aligned chaotic neutral.

Greg: 44 years old, male, caucasian, heterosexual, works as a chef and exposition worker at an upper-end restaurant, working on a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology, single. Roleplaying Falchior, a birdfolk rogue, chaotic neutral alignment.

Brent: 55 years old, caucasian, homosexual, married, wealthy and retired from working as a physician at a unspecified hospital. Roleplaying Senn an Ifrit summoner who has darkvision.

Devin: 21 years old, male, caucasian, heterosexual, works at a skilled labor union job, he is a machinist, is in-a-relationship with Emily who they have a child together. He is the dungeon master or game master who will be running the tabletop roleplaying game.

Record of Events

Part One: My Initiation

The beginning of my observation started with the players having to remake their character sheet for a flaw in Devin, the game master had made at the beginning of the campaign that needed correcting, Emily had to remake her character Zander entirely which the game master, her boyfriend, Devin had to help her remake since she was new to roleplaying games, those who had finished first went upstairs and ate dinner or made an alcoholic beverage to drink, or go outside for talking about life events or past roleplaying experiences while the rest reworked their sheets. I went upstairs with James to make a Bourbon and cola mixed drink. Once our drinks were made we went outside to smoke a cigarette, James implored on my willingness to play and what as, since I was playing I confided to him that I was observing how they played, that I wanted to play a Martial class or class that deals damage through the strength modifiers (strength, constitution, dexterity) oppose to a Caster class which deals damage through the intelligence modifiers (intelligence, wisdom, charisma.) James informed me that Devin was looking for a Martial class character which I was already willing to oblige and James listed off a couple of classes that were martial.

I answered James by saying that I wanted to be a Barbarian martial class, James was very intrigued by this because James is one of my best friends and knows of my hobby for acting as well as my prolific writing, James also knows me from other roleplaying game groups where I get deeply into character. I confided to him that I wanted to be a Half-Orc Barbarian class.

James is the only person I have met before tonight and he advocated on my behalf to join their Dungeons and Dragons group under the circumstance that I observe one game before I am introduced, which I viewed as a win-win situation. We smoked our cigarettes, throwing the butts into a coffee tin full of sand and took a couple sips from our drinks then we went back down to the basement where they were getting ready for the game and waiting on us.

Part 2: The Game of Social-Interaction

On the previous session, they had fixed the lighthouse and were waiting for a rescue ship to come save them. Devin, the game master propositioned the group of adventurers to go into a large cavernous hole in the ground. James protested seeing it as unnecessary and just wanted to get off the island. Devin shot James a harsh glance and reminded James that he was the game master not him. James sometimes runs his own roleplaying games with the group. When it came to making dice rolls to see the success rate of how they would climb down this hole, Todd reminded the party that he had a rope of climbing which they utilized as the climbed down the rope into the cavernous hole in the ground.

When they got into the deep cavernous hole in the ground, most of the party, the aforementioned listed did not have darkvision were basically blind and had to hold torches. The only two who could see was Todd who was a dwarven character and Brent or the Ifrit character. Since James was leading the party through the darkness which was highly unconventional since he couldn’t see a foot in front of him in the game, Todd’s character Grom casted the spell ‘light’ upon James blades so they glew allowing twenty feet of light. They the walked down a cavernous corridor to another area where the room was reminiscent of a tropical sea cave with alcoves in the wall, James’ character Shamus was leading the way into the room. James was ready to play and acted as the party’s leader. Greg was in a very bad mood because he was worried about going to a trade schooling class he had early the next morning so he was mostly inactive later that night. Brent was quiet for the most part, he was very game oriented, considering this was his home and a favored of hobby of his, he was immersed.

Todd was always very comedic, I had pointed out that Dwarves had darkvision yet he was in the rear in the jet-black and James being a human was leading the way with two glowing blades that ruined any element of surprise. Greg’s character was behind James’ character on the map, Greg being a rogue could detect and disarm traps before they went off, James would have been plowing right through them on the map. There was a running joke about Greg’s trap detecting and James who would have already been walking through the traps if there were any, James character had no ability to detect traps which made it even funnier. Greg, who was in-character who had altered his voice to sound like that of a bird, would making squawking sounds and say, “No traps here,” after James would have bumrushed right past them.

They made it to the first room where two ghouls or npc attackers ambushed them, they fought them off, destroying them easily. The cavernous room beheld a temple before it as well as many alcoves. They went to search the alcoves, James rolled a natural twenty which acts as a complete success roll allowing his character Shamus to find a note from a captain who had betrayed his crew and passengers of his ship. The note was lamenting and not all that important however it alluded to what would be found in the cave.

As they journeyed into the temple they found a temple where many ghouls were to be fought and dismantled, there were two ghouls in which were highly-intelligent which Zander (Emily) was able to control under her dominion due to her being apart of the counterculture of Roleplaying game characters who was able to control the undead due to her evil alignment and her evil alignment class being a Witch with spells that allowed her to do so. They noticed a ghoul which gave chase to another cave. Meanwhile outside of the game, Devin was criticizing people for their alienation to the game for not acting in character or acting as their character acted. The alienation was metagaming or deciding plans outside of the game’s context or acting normally while the game was being played despite their developed character’s backstory which was detailed to me before observing. This is a normal thing in roleplaying games and is known as sociological term of groupthink. The ghoul led them to a darker corridor which the party followed, Shamus taking the point position with the rest following as fast as their characters allowed.

The room that the ghoul led them to was a darkened chamber where unbeknownst to the players but the Dungeon Master Devin allowed me to know during a cigarette break during the dramaturgy inside a dramaturgy that they were about to face the Ghoulified High Priestess of the temple as well as a horde of her minions. We came back inside so I could continue my observational report. James or Shamus had stumbled upon the ghouls in which the High Priestess Ghoul had paralyzed him, which the rest of the party had to acclimate to Shamus or James’ goals and means to get as many kills as possible. When a character is paralyzed they may make declarative actions such as talking but cannot move.

Zander and her two ghouls were the first on the scene against four ghouls and the boss character, a ghoulish high priestess. Zander in an expert maneuver that showed the women are truly equal to men in a Feminist perspective, she saved Shamus from being brutally murdered in the doorway by having her ghouls move him then block the doorway to fight the ghouls who stood there while the rest of the party caught up. One of those ghouls was the treacherous Captain who had betrayed those aboard his ship to feed into this cult of undead on this island.

Todd used his character Grom to unparalyze Shamus or James’ character as the ghouls fought to the death while the party assembled. As this battle between ghouls came to a close, the High Priestess revealed herself before cloaking herself in darkness which none could see through giving the roleplaying characters a 50% chance to hit of what they normally would. The opposing ghouls put up a serious fight, Brent used his character Seen to cast a spell creating spiderwebs to make them stationary in their spots on the drawn out map while Grom then channeled clerical energy to dispose of two of the zombies while Shamus took point to fight the ghouls in the dark.

The High Priestess Ghoul used control on Greg’s character, Falchior making him come into the darkness next to her. She then used fear to make Brent’s character feared which caused him to run. James’ character Shamus was also affected but as an auxiliary action, Emily’s character Zander used her Witch’s hair as another limb to stop Shamus from entering the darkness so he would no longer be under the spell. James’ character Shamus fired an arrow into the dark which missed. Zander then used hot hands to burn up the webs causing massive damage to both Greg’s character Falchior and the Ghoulish High Priestess. The battle was won when James’ character Shamus fired an arrow into the dark killing the High Priestess, a first for the roleplaying group on many levels.

Part 3: Afterwards

Despite meeting these people for the first time, they highly-enjoyed my company and have initiated me as a member in their group. Not only was I apart of their group, I was in the ingroup for I feel a certain loyalty and kinship towards them. Afterwards, I drove Devin, Emily, and James home where we talked about the definite possibility of me joining their group. I felt at home, no longer alienated from groups of people but somewhere I had truly belonged. In social-conventions I had to innovate a persona to fit-in but in this group, I am truly me despite the fact that I may roleplay a mad scientist fiend-blooded humanoid or a barbarian half-orc. Here is where I truly belong in this ideal type of milieu of friends and companions. They are ideal that they share the same interests and as of this last caveat of this report has been written I have spent much quality time with each of them and am considered to be a son to someone Foucault would have defended the perspective from. Brent is a very moral and honorable man who I view as a type of role-model for his work in physical science for I aspire to be a social scientist which is nothing compared to saving the physical well-being of lives, I hope my work saves the mental well-being of lives. That although this game is a cult-classic that it is outside the norm but is highly-appreciated much like the fandoms of Star Wars, Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, as well as Otaku cultured obsessive fandoms. Nerd culture is a deviant subculture in Western society, think of the bullying people receive for high-intellects without the “imaginary concept of cool” at their disposal during their most primal years of high school. I for one am one of them, many others as well and that brings this rebellious yet socially-innovative group together. However, it is for some reason still apart of the deviant norm, it is a harmless activity where imagination thrives and only fantastical people die. Some players welcome death for it means a redrafting of their character sheet, others dread it for the attachment they have to their character. This has been my Observational Sociological Thesis on the social-interactions of those who play tabletop roleplaying games and how through imagination and catharsis, it brings people together as individuals aspiring for a common goal: fun, fellowship, and friendship.

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