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Thursday, October 21, 2004

How I spent D & D Day

Last Saturday was a celebration of the 30th anniversary of the making of Dungeons and Dragons, the flagship of fantasy roleplaying games. Our FLGS had all sorts of activities to honor the occasion, including a campaign tournament in the store manager's homebrewed campaign setting. Calling it "homebrewed', belies the excellent quality of the adventures. However. The campaign used D&D 3.5e rules.

The contest had two rounds and cost five dollars to enter. In the first round, the same one-shot adventure was conducted by five tables with five PCs and one DM each, using the same pre-generated characters at each table. After a four hour session, the DM had to decide on which player was the best role-player during the game (as well as an alternate choice). The five best players from each table (or their seconds if the first choice could not continue) would meet at one table with the team of DMs and the main DMM to do another final one-shot with a new set of characters. The best role-player from this round won the tournament and $70 worth of RPG swag from the store.

I thought it was a great opportunity to finally get a real taste of convention style roleplay with competent gamers, but I almost missed the whole thing. When I got to the store, it seemed like all the seats were full. Disappointed, I thought I would wait for one of the "baby" intro games that were running every couple of hours, just to get more experience with D20. Being a HackMaster devotee, I'm not too familiar with the system.

Providentially, one of the scheduled contestants was a no-show and one of my buddies on the store staff got me that person's seat. I managed to get the alternate's prize for that round and the primary couldn't stay to continue. So I got to be in the big final game. I didn't make the top three in the final round but I did get to go the distance. One of the reasons, that I didn't get into the winners circle is that before the final round was because the DMs required a D20 3.5 Rules Quiz, the results of which would be used if the final accounting was too close to call. As I said, I am not very familiar with the system -- I only got 3 out of 10 right. According to the DMs of both rounds, everyone played so well that it was really too close to call.

Everyone indeed played very well and the DMs had prepared some really fun adventures.. I realized that one of my weak areas was getting into character. It turns out, dear readers, that while I am a real ham in print, it is really hard for me just to produce character flavor on demand. I really have to be inspired to do it and I was pretty nervous at the time. So both my characters were rather recalcitrant and task-focused no matter what the character sheet said.

In the main event, all the PCs were men from mid-twenties to mid-forties, but two of us had to play female characters. My character was a gorgeous elven female rogue (thief for all you HM folks), not more than a century old which like a teenager for elves. It seemed like my character was the designated jailbait for the adventure but she was aligned NG and was given a full covering adventure uniform, which I appreciated (modest fellow that I am -- as a Christian, I'm the sort of guy that likes to go the beach and dress up women with my mind). The real spice to this character was that she was equipped with psionic powers that were to be kept a secret from the other players. To use them, I send to send the DM team instructions by secret notes, which proved to be tremendous fun for both me and the DMs, who scurried like excited squirrels around anything I sent their way. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed playing a thief and one with secret psionics. My next character will be a thief type female elf character, maybe a Bard to get the special goodie powers. Also, I enjoyed the D20 system itself a lot more than I thought. The rules set made the action proceed smoothly and didn't stick out much to interfere with play. Fortunately, the DMs did not feel absolutely bound to the rules but made accommodations to what they thought was creative roleplaying.

Tolkein wrote fantasy to be adapted to the great traditions of Scandinavian Mythoi that formed the culture of the ancient British. The head DM formed the last adventure to be adapted to Chris Carter's 'X-files'. All the characters were recruited by an official special investigations arm of the kingdom, including receiving special uniforms and badges. We were the kingdom's MIB (Munchkins in Black), whose purpose was to investigate strange phenomena. We were sent out on a case that involved investigating dissected livestock and strange crop circles. There was even a player character who kept insisting that we faced proof positive of "extraplanar" forces and who had the nickname "Spooky" and another player character who was a former constable and who was constantly raising skeptical questions about such creatures.

There were, to be honest, some real "Kodak moments" which are bound to give some moral pause. At one point, our team was trying to rescue a family trapped in a dungeon that was scheduled to by tortured for some purpose or another. While setting the mother and daughter free we were interrupted by screaming and the sudden appearance of a beautiful naked women from the room where the screaming was coming from. She was so striking, that every character had to make a saving throw to resist the magic of being charmed including the female characters. One of our comrades was seduced, and lost a level of experience being kissed by the creature. At this time, my character psionic projected a charm person effect that made the creature break off her seduction and turn to free the father who was being tortured on a rack. One free, the man and his family escaped and the naked woman displayed her true nature by unfolding her leather-like bat wings of a demon succubus (as I suspected). This lead to a melee with all the characters. My character tried to tumble into a sneak attack position and wound tangled up on the floor between the monster's legs. Fortunately for her, the demon focused all her energies on attacking the other characters in the room so that my elf remained undisturbed until her next initiative round. On my next turn then, my character jumped up with a dagger and performed a "C-section" on the creature (which I said in part to avoid peoples" imaginations from speculating on other even worse prospects). This turned out to be a decisive blow as I rolled a Nat 20 twice and maxxed my two allowed hit diced. This caused her to give up the fight and disappear. The DM bent the rules both in allowing the charm effect to work and not penalizing me from attacking from a prove position from the floor.

As I recall, I did the most logical thing I thought to do under the circumstances but there is no doubt the whole thing presents an image both titillating and disturbing, an image I had to concentrate hard to set aside during worship the next day. It seems to me that such moments are almost inevitable if a Christian plays with the average roleplayer. This remains controversial but not in the sense that I case think of any necessary defeaters for participating in general with roleplaying games. Another aspect though is that there were many other things I could think of doing on a Saturday that would have been far better than killing an afternoon in fantasy land, even though there was a lot of fun to be had in the trip.

One thing I did do was try to bring Jesus into the game with me, not in the sense of anything explicitly Christian, like telling a goblin about the "four spiritual laws", but just in the sense that I was being conscious of my identification with Christ and the trust in the real effect on the Holy Spirit in my life, my character, and my consciousness, hoping in trust that the fruit of the Spirit would be palpable to the other players through their characters' interactions with my character. I asked God before each game, almost spontaneously, to simply help me to play well, a prayer which He seemed to answer without magic.

Dungeons and Dragons day served to give a real paradigm experience of roleplaying games at their very best, which will be very useful grist for my further reflection about the hobby.

The Gnu