|Role Playing in Northern California|
By Jim Anuszczyk,
(Publishers Note:- As with all of our country guides, the opinions in this article are those of the author). This piece was written as a response to the article "Roleplaying in Blighty" , published in issue 2 of Critical Miss.
U.S.? Holy Smoke! The Unites States spans 3,500 miles from east to west. Two oceans, several mountain ranges, deserts, forests, vast swamps, plains a thousand miles across, hundreds of millions of people, countless cities. Yikes! The very idea of writing a single article that covers role playing in the US makes me slightly ill.
So, anyway, how about a bit smaller, more specific region, one which I happen to be very well acquainted with, Northern California. Why Northern California you say? Simple. I was born and raised here, Sacramento to be exact. Another reason? Most of you weren't. In fact, I suspect that your players will be quite bewildered when their next mission briefing says "Sacramento California". Quite likely they'll all have visions of surfers and rednecks. Lastly, Northern California is roughly the same size as England.
So, your next question might be... Why the hell would we listen to you? Well, do you remember the paperback "Dungeons & Dragons" book by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson with the blue cover that TSR published in 1978? I do. That's when I started playing RPGs. I haven't stopped since, despite all the "Oh, he'll grow out of it." comments I got over the years.
California has been depicted in the movies and media as though it has a split personality, both urban and rural. The reason for this is simple. It's true. Southern California is a very different place from Northern. We make fun of the southern Californians as often everyone else.
Disclaimer: Every cliche and stereotype you've heard about Californians is true. That is, for about .001% of the population. If you look hard and long, you can find surfers, hippies, cowboys, rednecks, gang bangers, stoners, valley girls, silicon valley meganerds, Hell's Angels, etc. However, if you don't actively search, you're not likely to find any of them.
Clothes We Don't Wear / Food We Don't Eat
I only know one person who wears burkenstocks. I only know one family of hard core vegans who live on an organic farm and raise vegetables. With those two exceptions, I don't know anyone who consistently works out, eats tofu, drinks more fruit juice than soda, or thinks salad is a meal. In short, the earthy, fitness conscious, California hippy is much more myth than reality. Oh, and we get just as stressed out as everybody else. Californians may not be quite as tense as New Yorkers, but, then again, no one is.
One Sad Truth
If I could explain it I would. I don't know if it's as bad everywhere in the U.S. as it is here, but, Californians love S.U.V.s (sport utility vehicles). Even worse, it's definitely the bigger the better. The new Ford Expedition is hilarious. It's huge! At least one out of every ten cars in the city of Sacramento is either an S.U.V. or a truck. Naturally, though they're all four wheel drive and raised way off the ground, none of them are ever muddy. I imagine if you suggested to one of the yuppies that the car they drive almost exclusively on the freeway was built to go off-road, they would likely stare at you in horror at the very idea of scratching the paint or getting mud on the Eddie Bauer designer interior. Oh brother... That raises the next point of interest.
Cars, Cars, and More Cars
Everyone here owns a car. Ok, that's an exaggeration, but everyone I know owns a car. The thing is, Sacramento is very spread out. The suburb I grew up in is twenty miles from the city and it's not the furthest away. There are many towns in the area scattered over hundred mile diameter with Sacto in the middle. Without a car, it's pretty tough to get around.
There's a fairly weak mass transit system here consisting of a few miles of light rail track and a ton of busses. People do use them, but not most people.
True Story: I once had the pleasure of gaming with a bunch of guys I met in a game store. The DM's house was in South Sacramento, about fifteen miles from my apartment. Another player, who didn't own a car at the time, lived very close to me. I was told he was going to miss a game, so I didn't pick him up. He showed up at the game about a half an hour late and stated he had taken the bus. We were astounded! Right then and there, we insisted the DM give him an experience point bonus for having such dedication to the game (which he did). That should give you some idea of how popular and common using mass transit is.
Things We Don't Say
Just like the stereotypes mentioned above, you can always find a few folks who use these words, but mostly they're only good for laughs. "Dude" "Bogus" Any surf lingo for that matter
Things We Do Say Far Too Often
"Like" (I'm not sure why, we just do.) "Cool" "Sweet" "Totally" "It's all good."
The Lay of the Land
The geography is probably the coolest thing about Northern California. Drive two hours to the east and you're high up in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Two hours to the west takes you to the Pacific Ocean and the city of San Francisco. So, in the winter, snow is less than two hours away. The ocean and a large metropolis is no further. However, don't fool yourself into thinking that there are surfers here. That's Southern California. Oh, there are a few brave souls who surf the coast, but they're always in wet suits. The ocean here is cold! It may not be the North Sea, but it's too cold for me. Between the two extremes is a huge valley full of rivers, lakes, and rolling grassy hills.
It's A Dry Heat
How does 112+ Fahrenheit sound? Summer's here are HOT! Yesterday, May 22nd, the high temperature was 103+. It'll get worse this summer. There are those who say "It's a dry heat." My only response is... "So the hell what! IT'S HOT!!!!!!!!" Unlike England, our rolling grassy hills are baked dead brown in the summer. Oh, they're kind of greenish in the winter, but by mid-spring, they're just dry weeds with scattered oak trees.
Oaths / Pledges / Anthems
Yep, it's true. When we were kids, we had to pledge allegiance to the flag every morning. It was a joke then. I'm sure it's still a joke now. National Anthem? Ball games, that's about it.
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Copyright © 2000 Jim Anuszczyk