So you know that old yarn, “When I was a kid, we had a stick and a rock to play with, and that’s the way we liked it. Now get off my lawn!” Well, it’s kind of true.
When I was fifteen (around 1979 - I know, shut up), I played Dungeons and Dragons with some of my ultra nerdy classmates. Our DM (Dungeon Master) was a Vietnam Vet who was a bit older than the rest of us. And yeah, the DM title sounds really dodgy in modern parlance, but the DM is just the person who invents the setting for the game and makes sure everyone has fun. Most DMs nowadays call themselves GMs (Game Masters) to avoid confusion with the kinky stuff.
In the 1970s, we played with pencil and paper and dice (no calculators, mobile phones or ebooks back then). One of the other teen players was the first boy I ever kissed (if you don't count 2nd grade). The games lasted into the early morning, and after every game we'd all go to an all-night Big Boy diner and get milkshakes and french fries. We were total nerds and it was awesome.
Around 2005-ish, my ten-year-old son told me he’d heard about D & D. I was psyched! I found a gaming store and bought a bunch of D and D minis and bought a D & D 3.5 book and ran a one shot for my son. I thought it was a lot of fun. He began playing with friends.
This year for my birthday I asked my son (now aged 22) to run a one-shot campaign for me, for old time's sake. So yesterday he drove over with two gaming friends, set up a Pathfinder game, set up Skype so we could play with another gaming friend currently in Dallas, and ran a one-shot. It was utterly hilarious and tremendous fun. My sides hurt today from the laughing workout.
I spent a long time rolling a level 3 character in the Pathfinder system: a woman called Gunnar who was basically a young Viking with two pet rats, a fishing kit and an unreasonable fear of snakes. (Because Gunnar and snakes as in Norse Mythology/Sagas, right? Of course right.)
The plot of the story was basically that the players were prisoners in a mysterious castle; we break out and discover the castle is sitting on top of a mine that is being fought over by orcs, dastardly humans and faceless gruesome demon creatures and we’re caught in the middle. Just a typical day. The fellow prisoners were: 1. an incredibly stupid, easily angered orc who needed pants 2) a two-headed twelve-foot ogre with two heads (one wizard and one barbarian), and 3) an evil gnome living in a pocket dimension inside a mailbox, where he kept slaves to help him raise swarms of war weasels. And he had a ballista that could fire out the door of the mailbox. And the mailbox was sitting on the shoulder of the giant two-headed ogre… and… so… yeah…
…this is the problem with trying to describe a tabletop role-playing game to RPG civilians… it sounds completely ridiculous and approaches the yawn-inducing tedium of “I had the weirdest dream last night…”
Ultimately the real pleasure of D&D and similar games is the opportunity to just “play” the way you could as a kid. If the idea of "play" makes you uncomfortable, think of it as improvisational theater where you don’t have to be funny. (Take an acting class; improv is tough!) But there are enough rules to help you if you get stuck for ideas. And the encounter is run by a stage director, (the GM) and if she’s good, she’ll help you get through any rough spots while throwing you opportunities for something interesting..
With entertainment like Game of Thrones and Iron Man, nerd fantasy, sci-fi and comic book culture has finally become cool. And although I really enjoy video games, it really warms my heart that people are starting to play tabletop games again. With pencils and paper and dice. And discussion. And laughing.
Now I’m eager to play again, although not with my son and his friends. They’re all terrific, but I don’t want to play with kids. I need to find nerds my own age to fight dragons. Because the kids with their rock and roll.
I drew the sketches shown during and after the game last night depicting some of the hilarious action and non-game-related jokes that came up. Yeah, they seem like the work of a madman. But that's why it's fun.
Now get off my lawn!