It’s not happened a ton, but it’s happened more than you’d think. Certainly more than I thought likely. Meeting someone who seems normal and like other people, but then you find out they’re a fellow roleplayer. It’s great, kind of magical and understandably impenetrable to anyone else around, at least at first.
One of my first encounters was the older brother of one of my friends from primary school. Ollie Ballance and I would play with DC Super Heroes and Marvel Secret Wars action figures, with no care about crossing the franchises over. Once or twice we snuck into his older brother’s room and it was weird. It was a bit like a library with the amount of books in there. Who would need so many books? And why are so many hardback and A4? Ollie might have known but to me it all seemed alien, almost wizard-like. I discarded the thoughts and went back to our games.
At News International I probably had my biggest surprise appearance of roleplayers. I had a month of work experience in their library, back when they had one. It was a really interesting place, with journalists grumbling that there used to be a bar in its place and endless rows of rolling shelves. One of the longer stretches of time I had was with the data guys, who had to record on their databases each news article which came in and subjects so it could be easily sorted. My role was a bit different, having to catalogue some of the older court cases against them as all the new ones were already on a spreadsheet but the old ones were in rusty filing cabinets. It was mindless, but it was Excel, which I have a deep love for and I could listen to music.
I’d taken in an RPG to read… probably a D&D Third Edition book thinking of when this was. One of them saw this and started explaining that he and some of the others in the office were big into Paranoia, having played a bunch of games of it over the years. I’d only just got into Paranoia having bought a copy at GenCon UK a year before. I was amazed at hearing anyone acknowledge it out loud, especially in a place like this which was so… Alpha Complex at times. We didn’t really speak of it again, but it broke down the barriers between us and created a shared understanding.
At a colleague’s 50th birthday I was drunkenly confronted by a friend from work who started asking questions about D&D (he meant roleplaying in general, but like a lot of people, he just said D&D). After a few minutes I realised he was trying to ask to join a session and see what it’s like. He was die-curious and approached it like he was angling to join some kind of secret society. I agreed and while he was too shy to initially, he joined one of my weirder community nights running Trophy Dark. In that game I ran for him, having never played an RPG before, one of my writing group who often ran games at those nights, science fiction author Jeff Noon and his friend who’d also never roleplayed before. They all bought in beautifully to the tragic horror of Trophy Dark and it was an amazing session.
At the same workplace I’ve also found other roleplayers starting to come out of the woodwork. Some new hires in my old team, one of whom tried out a newbie night and instantly got hooked. A board game and basketball friend even told me about how he used lockdown to start exploring playing RPGs rather than board games. They started with D&D but quickly moved to Lasers & Feelings and now Breakfast Cult.
It’s been fascinating meeting so many people who are roleplayers and not as painfully ingrained into the online culture or anything. They’re just there, under the surface playing their games or pining to meet a group and start playing again. Who knows where the next one I find will be?