Coupling: Sarah & Matt

How many times have you watched a movie or/and television show to see that one person in the relationship is viewed as either ‘nerdy’ or ‘geeky’ and the other ‘normal’? Oh, that lonely geek wishing for love and understanding from the so-called normal person.

In these interviews we are more on the side of celebrating the couples who share the beloved hobby of tabletop role-play. Some got the other into the hobby, others met through it, some still play, others don’t, some role-play together and some rarely do so but share a mutual love of games.

Why touch on this? Because sharing something you love with someone you love is how we can share time with one another. It’s a conversation piece, a way of bonding and possibly further understanding one another.

Seth and I often role-play together. There are a lot of ways in which both are different, but this is a hobby that we both share and love for the same or different reasons. I tend to be curious about how other couples view the hobby.

In this series we interviewed different couples and how they manage to separate their love for each other and the love for the game.

Because love is never having to say you’re sorry or explaining to your beloved in front of the party how to be a better GM.


Sarah Newhouse is new to tabletop and RPG gaming, but old friends with video games, sci-fi and fantasy literature and media, and medieval western European history. She is currently the Director of the Archives and Library at a Philadelphia maritime museum and enjoys tea, knitting, punk and garage rock, gardening, and cats.

Matt Shoemaker is a lifelong gamer who enjoys integrating and exploring uses of gaming for education and how people interact through gaming.  He is currently an academic librarian at Temple University focusing on digital scholarship and is also the director of archives and a co-producer on the Dungeons and Dragons: A Documentary project.

How long have you been playing games individually?

Sarah: I've been playing video games pretty much all of my life and have always gravitated towards fantasy and sci-fi RPGs, from Legend of the Red Dragon to Elder Scrolls & Mass Effect. I only started table top gaming a few years ago, when I met Matt (but before we started dating -- we've been friends for a while).

Matt: Growing up less than an hour from Lake Geneva in the 80s meant that D&D was all around me.  I've been playing RPGs for almost 30 years now, pretty much the same amount of time I've been playing video games.  I've gotten more into board games in the past 5ish years, but rpgs have been the one constant for most of my gaming life.


How long have you been playing games together?

Sarah & Matt: Since we met, more or less -- so, about 3 years? We started playing together through a work-related thing (using games to introduce kids to archival documents and other historical materials) and that expanded into some one-off campaigns for various RPGs and some board games with friends.


What are your favorite systems?

Sarah: I've only played about 5 systems (let's see...D&D 4.0 and 5, Lamentations of the Flame Princess, Numenera, and Corporation) and none of them more than once. At this point, I think the atmosphere is more important to me than the system -- if I'm having fun and my friends are having fun then I don't care if the combat rules are unbalanced. Although I will say that playing D&D 4.0 was less fun, but I think that was a combination of the complicated combat mechanics and the fact that I was stepping into an ongoing game with veteran, male gamers who had been playing together for 20 years. Meeting those guys was the best thing about that campaign -- they were incredibly patient and not at all condescending about explaining to me for the 2nd and 3rd times why my assassin couldn't do X because she wasn't correctly placed respective to whatever we were killing. I'm actually amazed I'm still playing D&D at all given how hard those rules were for me to quickly grasp and how much pressure I put on myself to understand everything immediately.

Matt: D&D will also be #1 in my heart since it has been such a big part of my personal history.  I've been really enjoying the 5e rules, though I will never pass up a chance to play 1st edition or OD&D.  The more I have been playing the more I have been getting into systems that are a bit lighter on the mechanics as it allows you to focus more easily on roleplaying aspects, I find it makes it more simple to introduce new players, and can really help cut down on rules lawyering.  Particularly if you are playing with people you are not as familiar with at, say, a convention or running a table for the D&D Adventurer's League at your FLGS.  My current favorite go-to system for lighter rules comes from the OSR; Lamentations of the Flame Princess.  Though the setting is off putting to some, I really like the mix of fantasy and history (which really appeals to the archivist in me).  As a GM, though, I can tone the setting up or down some based on what I know about the players which helps.  I have also been enjoying the Fate mechanics lately, and will always have a soft spot for the now more or less defunct skirmish version of the Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game that helped me get through grad school sanely.   I haven't had a chance to play it yet, but I have been dying to run or participate in a game using the 1st edition Bunnies and Burrows rules I have.


Do any of you GM/DM?

Sarah: I don't. Don't feel like I'm familiar enough with any system to do it and I'm not sure if I have the personality. Will leave that to the knowledgeable extroverts (or more extroverted introverts) for now.

Matt: I GM more than I play.  I've had to since I was a kid since if I didn't my friends at the time would not have picked up the DM screen and I would rarely have been able to play.  Though I definitely like to get some time in as a player as well, I am glad I have run games as much as I have.  It has really helped with organizational skills, and though I didn't realize it at the time it also helped with a lot of the project management techniques that I know use regularly on the job.  It's also great to see your players having a good time in the world you are helping to run them through.


How is the dynamic GM/DM vs player?

Sarah: As a player, I like a GM who is more focused on the story flowing organically and on role playing than on hitting all the beats in her or his script. A perfect game, for me, is one where the GM just builds the scaffolding and then the players get to climb on it, fall off it, and find new ways to move through it. The GM is there is make sure they don't actually break the structure and to remind them what its parameters are.

Matt: GMing, I tend to view the setting as under my control but it's more of the players' world.  I can only present them with things and they shape it as they and the dice see fit.  It's a collaborative relationship, and making sure everyone understands the context of the scene is important to me for the players.  The last thing I want to do is frustrate someone due to mechanical or story nitpicks because of miscommunication.


How do you make it clear that you are not playing favorites when players know or find out you’re a couple?

Sarah: I don't think this is an issue? It's not like he's slipping me extra XP under the table or we're teaming up together for no good, character-based reason. I hope that if anyone was uncomfortable they'd just say something to either of us. Maybe it helps that in the two groups we play with, significant others have either played before (before I showed up) or are currently playing with us. The one exception to this is that he might be a little more patient with my not understanding something or needing to stop to ask the table, "wait, why did everyone just gasp when he said '10 hasted trolls?'"

Matt: As Sarah mentioned this really hasn't been an issue.  There have been other significant others at the table, sometimes both as players and sometimes one running the game while the other plays.  We're all adults, and I would like to think if any of the other players felt we were being unfair they would call us out on it.  I will say that when I am running games that Sarah is playing in I am even more concerned that she is having a good time.  Hopefully this makes me a better GM for those games.


What are your feelings when someone expresses romantic interest in your significant other’s character in game? If this is okay- how do you let your players know this?

Sarah: This hasn't happened yet, but how I felt about it would depend on the person, the situation, etc. I am 90% sure it would be ok, unless we started playing with some new, weird player who couldn't separate game from reality. And then there would be a discussion.

Matt: If this came up, as it has not yet, it would depend on context.  If it made sense in the game I don't think it would be odd at all.  If they were all creepy about it with out of character actions as well it might be a different story.  So far we have only really played with people one or both of us know outside of gaming so it hasn't been an issue.  We are hoping to hit some conventions this season though, and I could see it potentially coming up at the table with people we don't know.  We'll have to cross that bridge if we ever come to it.


What games do you enjoy playing together the most?

Sarah & Matt : We're both really enjoying the D&D 5e campaign that Matt is running. We've had some really creative encounters and have a good party dynamic. We've also played done a couple of collaborative video games together, and spending hours on the couch in pajamas with snacks and beers is one of our favorite ways to pass a Sunday.

How often do you discuss games with each other?

Sarah & Matt: Daily? I mean, it's a hobby we have in common, so we discuss it in the car, over dinner, etc. I (Sarah) also ask him a lot of questions that I'd be embarrassed to ask in front of a group.


Are you able to separate personal feelings when gaming?

Sarah: Probably? Again, hasn't been an issue.

Matt: This has been just fine.  There has not been a time when I, as game master, have wanted to fudge a roll for one of Sarah's characters just because we are dating.


What do you feel like you've learned the most about your significant other by role-playing together?

Sarah: Is this the embarrassing praise section of the interview? Well, I'm continually impressed by how creative and smart he is, both on the fly and when constructing campaigns and characters. I love watching our friends respond positively to hilarious/fun/terrifying stuff that comes out of his brain.

Matt: Being a GM in games with Sarah as a player has taught me a lot about how she likes to interact with others.  It has given me more insight into her sense of humor, how she likes to solve problems and her creativity.  It's also been great just to find another way for us both to warm up to new people and get to know them in a comfortable environment which gaming has helped.


What games do you recommend couples playing if they wanted to start gaming together?

Sarah: Doesn't matter what game, as long as it's something you both are interested in. And if you're not having fun, just stop and move on to something else.

Matt: I think it depends on the relationship.  If one person likes to teach and the other is ok with that it can help if someone knows the rules at least a bit to help the other through.  If one partner knows the rules very well and it is totally new to the other than I think just picking something else with a setting you both like and learning it together is the way to go.  Additionally, you should think of who else you want to play with.  If you want to play with others, then take a look at the communities of each system and see what type of players you want to interact with.  Certain games seem to attract more of one type of player than others do, so pick something you think your dynamic will fit in with.

Do you have any advice for couples who want to game together? What has been your most memorable role-play moment so far?

Sarah: <soapbox> Heterosexual couples who want to play together, if the dude is the one with experience, for the love of god, please be patient and not a gatekeeping asshole. I've been a woman nerd on the internet for a long time, so -- while obviously Matt is a quality human being and my generic fears about gaming with dudes were entirely unfounded with him & his friends -- the fear of the mansplaining, gatekeeping, sexist male gamer is always there. Don't be that guy. The same goes for any gamer in a relationship with someone who identifies with a group that's historically underrepresented in American gaming culture -- if you want to get them into it, you have to acknowledge and address how it might be challenging for them to do this thing that you love. </soapbox>

Most memorable moment was, for me, Matt running this encounter with a rakshasa that the other players are still talking about months later because it was just that fun and interesting.  

Matt: You need to be patient with each other and just have fun with it.  That's why you are doing this in the first place, right?  Gaming together can be a great way to spend a time with each other and friends so make sure you are both enjoying yourselves.  I agree with Sarah on that rakshasa encounter.  It took a lot of set up, pre-written notes to pass around, and other prep to set up a good amount of confusion with illusions to keep the players guessing and it payed off.  Was great to see the smile on Sarah's and the other player's faces and the mix of role playing and mechanics come together for a good experience for all