Sunday, September 19, 2010

I miss gaming...

My first introduction to Dungeons and Dragons came when I was about 13 years old. One of my friend’s cousins was visiting from out of town, and as my small circle of friends sat around complaining of being bored, the cousin suggested we play a game of DnD.

None of us had played before, but after a shaky start as we got our heads around the rules, I absolutely loved it. After the game was over, I was already picturing making a new character and setting up a regular game. There were just so many options…and what really hooked me was the game’s capacity for story-telling and role playing.

At that point in my life, I wanted to be an author, so the attraction was obvious. I could turn all my story ideas into epic campaigns.

I was crushed, however, when my friends decided that DnD was ‘stupid’. No-one else wanted to play another game.

I shouldn’t have been surprised. Why use your imagination and…shudder…do a bit of basic math when you can just play Diablo on the PC?

Of course, I argued. In a video game, everything you do is on rails while in DnD you can do whatever you want… and it’s not all about just killing monsters. In our short game, we’d just gone into a dungeon, kicked some ass and walked out with a bunch of treasure. I tried to get across the storytelling and roleplaying side.

Still, no-one was interested, and for the next five or so years, my DnD experience was just creating characters, reading any supplement I could get my hands on and writing modules that I hoped I’d one day get to play.

Things changed in college.

As part of my English Literature course, we did a module called ‘Beyond Books’ where we studied narratives in alternate forms of media. In other words, we looked at how story worked in movies, video games, etc… and DnD.

The class was made up of about 30 people, so our tutor asked who had played DnD before and then asked the three or four of us who had played to DM a session for the rest.

My heart sank, however, when I saw who my party was made up of. There was one guy who’d complained loudly about having to play a ‘geek game’, and two girls who immediately adopted an ‘I’m bored, this is stupid and I’d rather be texting’ posture. That was three of the four members of my party.

This was not going to go well.

Luckily, the last party member was a friend of mine, named Karen, who was also a drama student. She obviously wasn’t afraid of a little role-playing and wasn’t concerned about looking stupid when speaking in character.

The game started as I expected it would. My three problem players started out with an almost caricatured level of disinterest and boredom. However, as the game progressed I saw their interest level rise….well, not Johnny Bravo’s…in fact it was interesting watching him. On the one hand, DnD is a ‘geek game’ which every fiber of his being was telling him he should complain about as loudly as possible…yet here were two hot cheerleader-types he was desperate to impress who were really getting into it.

Then…the magic happened.

Because we had such limited time, we had to play with pre-rolled characters and the adventure was very simple and straightforward. The characters get approached by a local dignitary to retrieve a stolen family heirloom from a goblin infested cave. It was a very simple, in-and-out quest. Go to the cave, fight some goblins, get the heirloom, return for reward.

Even though there was only fifteen minutes between being assigned a character and playing, Karen developed a pretty intricate back story and personality for her Rogue character on the fly. Her character was pretty much amoral, considered herself one of the greatest thieves of all time and decided the job was beneath her, at least for the offered reward.

She pulled out her +5 roleplaying cloak of awesomeness, and started a heated argument with this local Lord about the payment and I have to admit, I was struggling to keep up.

As we argued (I, as the DM, was obviously playing the Lord), the two cheerleaders start to lean forward in their seats. Just about the time I was calling Karen’s character an insolent cur with ideas above her station and Karen was making threats about how many pretty and expensive things I had around the place…the cheerleader playing the Cleric suddenly noticed that there were five or six elite guards in the room and a fight would probably not go to well.

“Hey.” She said. “You guys need to calm down.”

Karen looked at her, and thinking she was talking about us and not our characters, said “Don’t worry, we’re roleplaying.”

“I know.” Said the cheerleader. “Uhhhh…my character said that.”

Seeing this as an opportunity to pull her into the game, I told her to go ahead and try to defuse the situation.

She started shakily, but by the end I was impressed so much by her speech that I didn’t make her roll a diplomacy check to see if it worked, because it obviously did. She explained that the heirloom obviously meant a lot to the guy, and that retrieving it was very dangerous…and while the amount Karen had quoted was obviously outrageous, maybe an extra fifty gold and permission to keep anything else we find could seal the deal.

After that, the game was amazing. Johnny Bravo remained aloof and uninterested, but what had started as a simple dungeon delve had become and actual story. There was in-party tension because no-one trusted the Rogue, The Cleric, who I thought I’d have to lead by the nose became the defacto party leader (much to the rogue’s displeasure)…and even the other cheerleader, playing an Elven Ranger, got really into it, going so far as to name her bow and add colorful descriptions to every action she made.

Listening to the other tables, I heard things like “I shoot this guy” (roll) “You hit and he dies”…my table was more like:

“Seeing the cleric in trouble, I raise my bow, and with a prayer to my God to guide my hand, my bow sings as the arrow streaks to its target.”

“The arrow punches through the Goblin’s pot-metal helmet and he stands there for a moment, tries to lift his sword, and topples over backwards into a pile of skulls”

After this, playing DnD became a fairly regular thing for the next six months until I graduated (it’s amazing how easy it is to get a party together with two cheerleaders on the roster) and I got to bust out some of the campaigns I’d written over the past few years.

Sadly, after that, my gaming group went its separate ways and with me moving to the US, I haven’t been able to get a group together for nearly ten years.

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