If you know me, you are aware of this. If you are one of the people who read this but who doesn’t actually know me in real life…well, first of all thank you. I look at you as a level 2 reader. You’re more valuable than those people who read because I might, in the course of a casual conversation, say something along the lines of “It’s like I said that time on my blog…” and then stare at you, searching your eyes for recognition of the reference I am making and thus a sad sort of validation.
Second of all, even if you don’t know me, you probably have sniffed out my nerdom on your own. I’m not ashamed of it. I wear it as a badge of pride.
I like comic books and science stuff. I was into video games before it was cool. I was the first person I knew who had a modem, a 300 baud for my Commodore 64 (the best personal computer ever built). This meant I could transfer 30 characters per second across a phone line. A screen of text would take a minute. One time in seventh grade I was made fun of by a girl and her friends because she called me on the phone and, in the middle of the call, I told her I had to go because my computer was getting a call. It totally was, but the idea of such a thing being possible seemed ridiculous to her and her friends, so they thought I was lying because I didn’t want to talk on the phone. There are about three strata of nerd in that story.
I like Dungeons and Dragons.
When I was in third grade me and two other kids (Jason and Brian) got selected to, once a week, leave math class and go to play Dungeons and Dragons with some 8th graders. I literally have no idea how this came about. Looking back on it, it seems ludicrous. I firmly believe that you can learn a lot from the team storytelling exercise that Dungeons and Dragons essentially is and you certainly have to use math and probability to actually play but…I mean, holy shit. This was the 80s and at a Catholic school, but me and my friends got an hour a week, school time, to go to the teachers’ lounge, unsupervised, and play D&D. Whoever signed off of it should be given a high five for pure audaciousness.
Anyway, I loved the game. It is pure imagination harnessed. A good Dungeon Master, the person who makes up and runs the game, has to be flexible and creative. You aren’t playing against the other people, you are helping them create the story of the game. I’ve played some variation almost ever since. First my parents would take me once a week to Love’s Hobby Shop where I played in a game there. Then I recruited neighborhood kids and ran my own game. Later came all of the giant multiplayer online games like Everquest and World of Warcraft which are D&D in digital form. I put in a lot of hours in both of them. I currently play an online D&D game that has been going, with the same group of people, since summer of 2008. I grew up playing 1st and 2nd edition and am currently a big fan of 4th edition. That means something to you if you play the game.
I got the boys Ravenloft, which is a version of the game distilled down to a boardgame format, for Christmas. We played a few times and the boys really loved it. They asked if we could play the “real” version and of course I was thrilled.
I took a little while to come up with the adventure. This involves drawing all the maps, designing all the areas, writing the script and generally figuring out the framework of the story. We rolled up everyone’s characters, a process that was a lot of fun but, in one notable case, took forever.
T1 is smart and practical. He understood that the party needed somebody tough to absorb damaged and so settled on a giant hulk of a character. He is a damage sponge and walks the earth with the huge battle axe. His mom made a half-elf rogue so she could deal damage from far away, pick locks and generally be sneaky. I made a cleric, because I knew we would need someone to keep the party alive and going. T2 made about 100 characters, switching whenever anything caught his fancy. Creating a Dungeons and Dragons character is probably more accurate at assessing personality than Myers-Briggs.
I finally got T2 settled on a character. We made him a wizard, which appealed to him because he liked being able to shoot fire out of his hands. What really sold him, however, is that we made him a magic powered robot. I showed him a picture of what his character would look like and he said, “Yes. That is me. We are done.”
He had some adjustments he wanted to make, however.
“When I cast Magic Missile,” he asked, referring to a wizard’s bread and butter damage spell, “instead of from my hands, can I shoot them from my eyes? Because I am a robot.”
I allowed as that was completely fine with me.
“My primary function is battle,” he explained. “My secondary function is I can make maps and the paper for the maps comes out of my mouth. Because I am a robot. Third, I want to be able to make sandwiches.”
This was stated with deadly seriousness and was also completely okay with me. They were reasonable requests and, after all, who doesn’t like a good sandwich?
We played for about an hour and a half on Saturday. The party spent the first chunk of time exploring their hometown, which I based on our neighborhood. After Mayor Starbuck gave them their task, they headed out into the woods where they got into their first battle.
T1 was analytical. He figured out the fight and pretty quickly determined the tactics needed. He took charge, pointing out what everyone should be doing and moving himself around to best take advantage of his skills.
C wanted to know the “why” of everything. “Why do I need to roll a 15 as opposed to something else?” “How do you know what they are going to do?” My answer of, “because I said so” was deemed acceptable for the first time ever, so that was nice.
T2 was most interested in aesthetic matters.
“In my imagination,” he said, “these goblins have a big masks on.”
“In my imagination I am very loud because I am made of metal.”
“In my imagination I have these things that stick out of my arms, like armor but not armor that are all sort of metal like and the have pointy ends.”
We had fun. They won the fight and we deemed it a good place to stop for the night. We really could have played longer, but C and I were heading out for the evening.
She and I left. T2 went to work.
By the next day he had his entire game planned out.
“My game is not called Dungeons and Dragons,” he explained. “It’s called Dungeons and Monsters.”
Then he pointed at me with a gun finger and raised an eyebrow as if to say, “How amazingly clever am I?”
“What do we do in Dungeons and Monsters?” I asked.
“I’ll tell you later,” he said.
On Sundays, T2 takes art. C and I take him to his class, which is about 50 minutes away. It’s a good program and, as a bonus, C and I get to spend a couple of hours, kid free, in a particularly cool area of town. We have brunch and wander around. This weekend I shocked and amused her because when we went to one of those cupcake stores I ate two of them when normally I don’t eat any. I’m wickedly unpredictable.
When we picked up T2 after class he explained that he had used the time they have for free drawing to draw maps for his game. He had also figured out the plot. Which he then explained to us. Non-stop. For the next, I kid you not, fifty minutes.
He had designed a Dragon Castle, which was a castle where the dragons lived and not a castle made from dragons. The front yard had a big black dragon in it. On the walls were two catapults that covered the yard in the areas where the dragon wasn’t, and 7 archers. If you killed the archers four more would come. If you got to the front door you realized you needed a key. The key was in a pond. Also in the pond were four dragons, so good luck with that. The really big dragons, including the boss, were inside the castle. There were five of them, all very powerful. The boss was in the back and if he saw you, you basically just died. Also inside the castle were 17 crossbows that would shoot you automatically.
Occasionally I would say “uh-huh” or “okay” or “sounds good” but other than that, it was all him. He allowed as that our little party didn’t have a chance to avoid being killed and that maybe we should wait until we were level two.
C saw where this was going five minutes in and went to sleep. I was driving and couldn’t escape.
Not, I admit, that I was inclined to anyway. He’s going to take over my Dungeon Master job someday.