NOTE: This is an article that first appeared in the gaming magazine, SHADIS, so contains references most people wonāt understand. Editor MJ helpfully explains all the weird terms marked with an asterisk (*) in his handy sidebar!
Role Playing Game Conventions are a haven for uptight nerds. The kind of people who get creamy over colorful many-sided-dice. People who think that a new list of spells is better than Christmas. Sometimes I get the urge to ruin their day and make them cry. This might seem cruel, but I see myself doing these people a favor. If I don't bring them back to planet Earth they could wind up wandering around in a zombie-like state, spittle dangling from their lips like Tom Hank's deranged character in the movie "Mazes & Monsters".
A few months ago, I went to a role playing convention and decided to play Dungeons & Dragons, a game I hadn't played in years. When I entered the hotel room and saw the Dungeon Master standing on a chair lecturing another player on the overlooked importance of weapon speed factors, I knew I had hit the geek motherlode.
I'm running an official Advanced Dungeons & Dragons game," he informed my fellow adventurers and I, "so this is going to be by the book. Or should I say books." He pointed to the huge stack of hardcover tomes before him. He had not prepared any characters, so I snagged some pseudo-marble dice from another player and rolled up a Cleric*. An ordinary 18 STR, 17 WIS kind of guy*. Then I became paralyzed by the medieval K-Mart that is in the Player's Handbook when I tried to equip my character.
Let me explain: D&D caters to the anal retentive crowd. That means the equipment list was gigantic and contained a myriad of items I didn't think anyone would ever use. It was too tempting. I asked the DM if there were any items we couldn't purchase. "ANYTHING in the Player's Handbook is official!" he said ominously, the spiritual weight of E. Gary Gygax* rested squarely on this man's shoulders.
I purchased some armor, a mace, an annoying 10' pole, and the balance in sheep. There was a big list of livestock that just proved too tempting, and sheep were a bargain. I stipulated on my character sheet that the flock was the physical manifestation of my cleric's god, Mooooo, and that I was to defend them 'till the death. Before we started, the DM looked over my sheet and asked if this was what I really wanted to do. Oh yes, it was.
For some reason, everyone else was very annoyed by the introduction of my Holy Sheep into the adventure. Sheep don't seem to like underground passageways, and they are pretty noisy when you try to sneak up on a band of goblins. One ostensibly "good" character* went as far as pushing an errant sheep off a cliff. As I raised the mighty scepter of Mooooo to slay the infidel, the Dungeon Master reminded him he was supposed to be good and was being disruptive. Then I smote the heretic with my mighty two-handed mace adding injury to insult. As tempers flared, the game descended into a free-for-all*: Magic Missiles let loose, Paladins battled Rangers, and half-orcs and elves held hands in the moonlight.* The Acolyte of Mooooo stood back, patted the remainder of his holy sheep, and realized that they were the best 10 gp* he had ever spent.
MATT PATTERSON mostly plays games on his computer at work.
In case you are unfamiliar with the genre, Dungeons and Dragons is an example of one of these niche-marketed games for pasty faced fatties who would probably be good engineers if they didn't waste all their time pretending to be elves. In D&D, players create "characters" by assigning numerical values to a general set of aspects like strength, wisdom, intellegence, and charisma, and giving them a personality. A character joins a "party" or group of characters, on a "campaign"; which is a journey through a dungeon or adventure generated by the Dungeon Master (aka DM). The DM referees the game by playing the part of all the monsters, traps, magicians, and other characters the party might come up against. A campaign can take hours or days, even weeks and years to complete. All this time could have been spent much more productively playing computer games.
TERMS & REFRENCES:
Cleric: A preistly character. Deities may vary.
"An ordinary 18 STR 17 WIS kind of guy": As mentioned before, a player's characteristics are generated numerically by rolling a set of 3 six sided die for the following categories: Strength, Wisdom, Intelligence, Constitution, Charisma and some other aspect I've wisely forgotten. 18 and 17 are very high numbers, so Matt must have been very lucky or just cheating.
E. Gary Gygax: The guy who wrote the original manuals for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. These arcane, thick, hard-bound tomes cost $20 or more and required a legal degree to make any sense of whatsoever. In fact it's difficult reading any of these texts to ascertain any kind of sense of the game at all.
"One ostensibly "good" character...": One of the few personality guidelines a character has is a moral 'alignment' that you decide on before you begin a campaign. These range from Chaotic Evil to Lawful Good with a number of grey areas in between. This allows the DM to keep you from doing stuff that might go against the grain of your character, like having your 'Defender of the People' rape peasant women. Obviously this rule does not reflect reality.
"Then I smote the heretic with my mighty two-handed mace adding injury to insult. As tempers flared the game descended into a free-for-all...": Once your party has lost its collective trust, members may turn on each other and destroy each other's characters, ending the game prematurely. I'm sure the DM was disappointed he couldn't unleash Tiamat (a high level, multi-headed dragon) to crush the party on level 20.
"...half-orcs and elves held hands...": Everyone knows half-orcs and elves just don't get along.
gp: Gold pieces. The standard monetary unit of D&D. There is no way to translate how much it is worth in modern terms, since characters tended to carry enough gold to destabilize a small European nation.
MJ LOHEED is the warlock whom the film, "WarlockII: The Armageddon" is based upon.