Having been recently reminded of a box of D&D books buried somewhere at my friend’s house, I suggested to my friend Jim that we play the time honored RPG again, if only for nostalgia’s sake.
Among the wide assortment of hobbies at which he wasn’t very good, Jim was a natural DM. He was inspired to start DMing in the 3rd grade when he saw some older kids playing the game in the library, rolling these mystical pieces of dice and shouting things like “Natural 20!” Jim tried to play with us making up his own rules, rules like “if you went off-mission, you’d be eaten by a dragon that shot lasers from its eyes.”
Eventually, he conned his into mother buying him the Dungeon Master’s Guide, because it would enhance his reading comprehension skills. We lived next door, and shared a love of all things containing swords and/or sorcery, so it was only natural that we started playing.
When I mentioned playing again after so many years, Jim was more than happy to DM, even though we weren’t pimply-faced teenagers anymore. His only request was that I call up the guys we used to play with in high school.
I called Thomas first. His parents came from the East Coast, where Thomas had spent most of his education in private schools. He was sorely out of touch with his African heritage and the other black kids regarded him as an outsider, but perhaps that was because he grew a ponytail and wore a cloak during his senior year.
Thomas was always a mage, even when it made no sense. When we graduated from slaying orcs to tabletop Robotech, he still described himself as a powerful elderly Gandalf-esque character complete with a long white beard and flowing white robes. It was during one of our Robotech sessions, after his first character was pulled by his robes into a jet intake and he was working on a new character, that we learned exactly how deep Thomas’ disconnection to with his heritage was. Jim prompted Thomas to pick a name for his pilot, and Thomas replied, “White Power.” We were dumbfounded. Jim just stared at him for a few moments, and then diligently transcribed it into the tome of records without saying a word. I later asked Thomas straight up if he knew what white power was, just to see if wasn’t some ironic joke. He said, “It’s what I call the fire of my rockets. White Power. Pretty cool, huh?” I sighed.
The second person I called was Tennyson, which was in fact his first name, and no reflection of his ability as a poet, much to the chagrin of his mother, an English major. Tennyson had a disease that kept his torso from growing to a normal length and caused him to have a massive hunchback. The kids in high school were particularly unforgiving and he suffered all sorts of terrible nicknames including: Tennis Shoe, Tetanus and Penny-son. I once overheard a wood-shop instructor call him Penishead.
Luckily, Tennyson brought more to a night of gaming than a butt to fill a chair, and I’m not talking about his personality. His mom realized that he had trouble making friends and helped him bribe friends by giving him pizza money. This ensured that he always had friends to play with and our bellies were always full of pepperoni pizza on game nights.
So, when his 60 year old mother passed him a twenty from through the driver’s side window on the day of the game after they pulled up to my apartment, I wasn’t surprised at all. 20 years later, Tennyson still understood the reality of his tenuous friendships.
The only problem with playing at my house was that I was currently sharing the space with my father. Normally he just ignored me, but tonight he was sitting in the living room with the TV blasting Univision and asking me why Raquel didn’t just leave that bastard Marco.
Why he was watching the Spanish language station was a mystery and would stay that way. My father and I had established a delicate balance. He watched TV, I spent my time on the computer. We acknowledged each other’s existence only when it was necessary, especially when he went off his meds and started reliving his career as an Army mess Sergeant. Aside from having to peel potatoes it was peaceful most of the time, but recently my father had started taking an interest in stuff well out of his area of expertise.
I was nervous as soon as my friends started to arrive.
Jim set up the DM screen and stacked the dog-eared books on each side creating a fort of sorts. He motioned for me to move closer, and, nodding at Marion Sr., asked me if it was going to be cool. We were still on edge with regards to the man who had busted up one of our late night D&D sessions by making us do pushups in out in our driveway at 3am.
Jim seemed apprehensive as he passed me a character sheet covered in scotch tape you could write on and then erase. He had also marked important character details with a highlighter and made tiny notes about what dice needed to be rolled here and there, and what modifiers needed to be added under which condition.
Damn, I’d forgotten how much math was involved.
“Whatcha gonna play?” Jim turned and asked Tennyson.
The answer was a little too immediate, “Female half-elf paladin.” Jim didn’t argue, Tennyson often ignored the rules. Arguing with him was usually pointless and always infuriating.
Jim glanced at the character sheet I’d been filling out while the others had been talking, “A dwarf fighter, eh?”
“Yeah, his name is Glamdir.”
“That’s a stupid name,” the voice of my father shouted over a rerun of Alcanzar Una Estrella.
I didn’t even turn around when I shouted “What would you call a dwarf then, Dad?” There was a bit of a pause then suddenly he was behind me. How did he sneak up on me all the time? I swear he was a rogue in another life.
“I sure as hell wouldn’t call him-what was that– Glammer?”
No, he was not going to win this argument. “Dad, Dwarven names were taken from Norse mythology, they don’t have names like us.” I was confident that my emphatic statement would send him back to his Spanish teen dramas with his tail between his legs. It didn’t.
“When I was in Korea, we had a Staff Sergeant named Wyskowski who was 4’9″. He was tough as nails and once head-butted a communist so hard that he thought he was General McArthur and invaded Inchon all by himself. Now that’s a strong American name.”
I was annoyed. “Dad, I am not going to play a Polish Dwarf named Wyskowski!”
My father looked at my character sheet. “How do you do this Satanist crap anyway?” he asked.
I briefly explained the basics of D&D. He seemed bored until I mentioned killing monsters. To my surprise, fifteen minutes later, with Jim’s expert guidance, my father had created Wyskowski the Dwarven fighter.
Pizza arrived, signaling the start of our game. Jim began the exact same way he did in high school. “You wake up in the Brown Goblet Inn,” he said. “The room is 30 by 20 feet it has a low ceiling and smoke from the kitchen wafts through the air. What do you do?”
“Are there any hot barmaids?” Tennyson asked.
“I guess,” answered Jim. He knew where this going, but was powerless to stop it.
“I ask them if they want to have sex with me.”
Jim sighed, “No, none of the hot barmaids want to have lesbian sex with a half-elf paladin.”
“Not even the ugly ones?” In response, Jim squinted his eyes and held his head in his palm as if he had a headache. (It was such a common expression; I’m sure someone has coined a term for it on the Internet. Maybe headhand? Nah, I’ll think of something.)
Jim refused to roleplay a sex scene, especially with Tennyson. “You don’t have any money to pay for a barmaid to sleep with you, not even an ugly one,” Jim said. “Plus, what sort of paladin hires a prostitute?”
That seemed to send Tennyson deep into thought. I imagined if the house was quieter, I could have heard the gears that powered his brain whirring away.
I took the opportunity that the silence presented to get the story started, “I ask the bartender if there’s any work for adventurers to be had in this city.”
Jim explained that there was a lake to the north where the water was undrinkable because of the poisonous slimes that goblins kept there as pets. He assured us that if we were to reclaim the lake, we’d be rewarded handsomely by the local magistrate.
Tennyson perked up, “Enough to pay for a barmaid to have sex with me?”
Jim rolled his eyes but otherwise ignored Tennyson’s question.
“I stand up and shout ‘Does anyone want go with me to the lake and kill the goblin menace?'” I said.
Thomas’ mage, Raistminster, offered his skills as an evoker and Tennyson agreed under the stipulation that his half-elf paladin, Fergy, would get laid after, or perhaps during, the mission.
“How about you, Mr. Cox?” Jim asked my father.
“That’s Wyskowski to you,” he said. My dad was obviously taking this very seriously. “I’d like to stab the dwarf with the girl’s name who just interrupted my drinking.”
“Dad, you can’t do that…” I trailed off, trying to come up with a reason why my father shouldn’t commit filicide.
“Roll a twenty sided die,” Jim instructed.
Dad looked perplexedly at the pile of green plastic shards before him. Jim started explaining the different polyhedral dice before finally giving up and passing him the correct one.
“Hit!” Jim shouted with some glee. “Roll for damage.” Ugh, the die read “12.”
Jim shook his head. “Suddenly, the dwarf who had been shouting for allegiance to defeat the goblin menace has fallen to the floor, a giant battle axe sticking in his back.”
“Can I take his stuff?” Tennyson asked.
“For fuck’s sake,” I said in frustration as I got up from the table. “Dad, you killed me.”
But Marion Cox Sr. was not paying attention to me. Instead, he actually seemed to be enjoying himself. “I am leading this squad now. You maggots better get your shit together or you’ll wind up here like this sissy egg-sucking dwarf. Now, we have some commies to kill, who here is with me?”
Tennyson and Thomas glanced nervously at me, and then at my father who looked like he was ready to punch both of them in the teeth if they didn’t listen to him.
“I’m in,” said Thomas. Tennyson quickly agreed.
“Fine,” I said, standing up from the table. Maybe I was too old for this anyway. Nothing was going to return me to my high school days, and the truth is that I probably misremembered how awesome they were anyway. Dad seemed to be having a good time ordering people around; who was I to deny him the simple joys of bossing around my socially inept friends?
Later that night, the band assembled by the dwarf Wyskowski defeated the goblins, but not before he transformed the two least dangerous people in Springfield into trained killers. It didn’t end with the goblins though. He somehow convinced the party to burn a Halfling village to the ground for harboring the enemy, and ended the session by proclaiming himself Wyskowski, King of the Savages.
I suppose that next session I’ll be playing Charlie Sheen the Elven ranger sent out to end his madness.
Marion Cox didn’t waste his entire evening; he earned 100xp for filling out his W4 form.