Thursday, June 30, 2011

I Hit It With My Axe - Part III - My Axe, Your Sword, His Bow and Her Staff

Greetings, Bold Adventurers!

Well, after the events detailed in Part II, I just had to let some friends in on this amazing, new Dungeons & Dragons game that I'd discovered.  I needed to find someone who was appropriately nerdy and open-minded; someone who I felt comfortable broaching the subject with.  After all, D&D was starting to carry some pretty heavy societal baggage around then.  It was even getting lumped in with Satanism and Heavy Metal music, which I was also heavily into.  Er, Metal, that is, not Satanism.  Honest!  Stop looking at me that way! 

The first person I selected to baptize into my unholy order, gaming circle, was my buddy Glen.  Glen was the dude who'd reintroduced me to the joys of Marvel Comics.  It's because of his patient and wise tutelage that the recent movie release of Thor carried with it a modicum of adult appeal.   

One day while we were perusing the latest issue of The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe (looking for new images to trace for our own "original" stable of superheroes), I finally worked up the courage to ask Glen if he wanted to try playing D&D with me.  I did this so sheepishly I might as well have handed him a gold- filigree invitation to a circle jerk.

"So it's like, what?  A board game?" he asked, lingering on a fetching sketch of the obscure Irish Marvel heroine Shamrock (natch!).

"No, no,"  I said.  "It's better then that.  You create a fantasy character like a fighter, a sorcerer or a thief and the Dungeon Master (that's me) guides you though a series of adventures where you fight monsters, explore dungeons, avoid traps and solve riddles."

"Uh huh," he replied, sounding supremely skeptical as he flipped the page to She-Hulk.

"Yeah, and there's no board because all the action takes place in the player's mind," I said, sounding ethereal, fanning my fingers and looking up into the buzzing florescent heavens of our Elementary School classroom.

Instantly I realized, that by quoting directly from the game box, I'd made a major tactical error.  To Glen, I probably sounded like 70's-era hippie stoner magician Doug Henning.  I'm sure the Jazz Hands certainly didn't help. 

I spent the next few days doing D&D damage control, launching into a P.R.blitz that would make the advertising juggernaut for the Transformers sequel look like ads for your local dinner theater's production of "Glee Club Dropouts".  I loaned Glen the issue of Starlog magazine containing the article that first inspired me to check out the game.  I also brought the Basic Set Player's Manual in to school and showed him some of the completed character sheets.

Eventually something clicked with him and he became unabashedly intrigued.  I probably have Larry Elmore's spectacular art to thank, since it had certainly cast a spell on me a few weeks prior.

"Yeah, okay," he reneged.  "I'll try it but I wanna play a fighter."

"Yeah, great!"  I enthused, knowing that the naturally tough and easy-to-play warrior class was a natural  choice for a beginner.

I invited him over to my place the following Saturday and spent the rest of the week designing my first dungeon.  By the time I was finished, my home-brew catacombs were rife with traps, riddles and vile undead (the living-challenged being my favorite monsters at the time).  I set up a table in my basement (Long live the stereotype!), laid out some snackage, and then went to hide my copious notes and graph-paper dungeon schematics behind a rudimentary screen so Glen couldn't see them.

But, crap...I hadn't bothered to buy an actually official cardboard screen!  What to use?
I ended up just using the biggest hardcover book I could find in the house: National Geographic's Romance of the Sea, a coffee table book that could actually double as a coffee table.  I split that sucker open, balanced it precariously agape, and hid my top-secret documentation just behind it.  Excepting that errant pages of the massive tome would slowly infiltrate my personal space and it threatened to collapse every four minutes, the thing worked so well that I ended up using it for years after.

The first few hours that day were spent hammering Glen's character (christened "Valain") into shape.  I was pretty generous with the character's initial statistics, reasoning that adventurers are made of sterner stuff then just the average Medieval turnip-farmer.  
To stress just how dangerous this crypt was, I made it very difficult for Glen's character to persuade any NPC's (that Non-player characters, BTW) to accompany him on this inaugural delve.  The only person willing (and apparently crazy enough) to venture down there with him was another fighter: a twitchy, shifty character named Saren.  Together the unlikely pair managed to drive into the heart of the dungeon, but just as soon as the duo stumbled upon a mother lode of phat lootz and magical items, Saren promptly went missing on his first watch.

And so did the lion's share of the treasure...

Glen was understandably enraged by this turn of events and I was delighted to have incited such a genuine emotional reaction from him.  Through the framework of this amazing game, my ability to weave a compelling  story and Glen's action-altering decisions, I'd managed to create a completely interactive, emotionally provocative visceral experience.  It was a resounding success!

In fact, Glen's character was so pissed off that he immediately began an obsessively thorough recruitment campaign in his home town and all the nearby hamlets.  His goal: to forge a proper adventuring fellowship to seek out and kill Saren post haste.  He eventually found another fighter who seemed curiously predisposed to a revenge mission: a pint-sized, badger-like, hot-headed soldier-for-hire named Gailen who carried a two-handed sword that was bigger then him.  Initially, Glen was decidedly leery about trusting another stranger, but when his new ally soon proved his mettle in combat, a strong bond began to grow between the two.

Soon Aleara, a geeky (but ultimately smokin' hot) sorceress, was added to the mix.  She also provided a key, previously-absent component to the group...brains.  She was adept at interpreting secret writings, solving riddles and negotiating civilly with people without it ending in inevitable eviscerations.

Then, on a trip to the BIG CITY, Valain caught a wily thief named Demetrius as he was attempting to pick his pocket.  Aware of the thief's legendary reputation, Glen offered the foot-pad a spot in his adventuring group.  With execution or imprisonment being his only choice, Demetrius the Rogue reluctantly agreed.  Cursed by a strong streak of honor, Demetrius turned his ample skills towards the noble cause and saw tremendous success.

Just as the group's final charter membership began to coalesce, Valain's old partner Saren turned up like a bad penny.  He accused Valain of abandoning him in the crypt and claimed to have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the missing bling.  During a particularly heated parley, a fracas erupted and Aleara ended up using her 'splody burn magic on Saren's face.

Needless to say that it would be awhile before my old foil would be seen in public again

Next time on "I Hit It With My Axe": a new player player character ushers in my own personal Golden Age of D&D!            

EPIC SNAP  Glen, all smiles before I had to tell him that his character had been robbed completely blind...

EPIC Another decent D&D doc:

FAIL  Gawd, this movie was an insult to all things D&D.  If I recall correctly, Jeremy Irons's "performance" won the "Jack Palance Memorial Scenery Chewing Award" for 2000.  Eeeeesssshhh!

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