“The room is pitch black. You can’t see anything, but you can hear a clicking and shuffling…”
“I’ve got a torch, I’m going to light it. What can I see?”
“And while he’s doing that I’m getting ready to cast magic missile at whatever it is that’s making that noise”
“The room seems to explode in light as your torch comes to life, and after quickly adjusting to the sudden illumination, you see a skeleton, dressed in rusting chain mail, sword in one hand, shield in the other. He charges toward you…”
And that’s how my first game of Dungeons & Dragons started way back in 1983. Okay, so it didn’t actually start like that; the obligatory meeting in a tavern, being hired by a rich merchant to find a fabulous jewel that he needed in order to pay for his daughters dowry (or so he told us gullible adventurers) and the descent into the dark depths of the dungeon in which said item was located all preceded that encounter. But it was my first taste of action in a game. The jolt of excitement that coursed through me, sending nervous shivers down my spine as I made my first combat roll was incredible, it was almost as though my ten year old self had suddenly stumbled across the purpose and meaning of life in that one random die roll that determined my fate on that cold, crisp Sunday afternoon. In that moment of imaginary planetary alignment and stellar conjunction, it all made sense to me and I knew that nothing would ever be the same again. I’d had my first taste of gaming and thus began my life-long, sometimes secret, sometimes not, obsession.
It’s hard to explain the appeal of, and what’s so intriguing and exciting about D&D and RPG’s unless the person you’re explaining it to knows what you’re talking about or has actually played. In which case, you’re already preaching to the armoured, hack’n’slash choir as they know exactly what you’re talking about. Trying to explain it someone who knows nothing about it though, that’s something else entirely, as it doesn’t matter what you say, it always sounds, well, sort of geeky. Which is fine and dandy, if like me, you’re a massive geek and proud to be so. Not so much for most people though, who every single time I’ve attempted to explain the all-encompassing magnificence of the game to them, have usually replied in one of three ways. Sighed, given me that ‘There, there’ look, rolled their eyes and muttered something along the lines of ‘Nerd’. Or, more commonly, they burst into uncontrollable fits of giggles, and when they’ve managed to catch their breath, have stared at me and just said “Really?” That answer, look and laugh when combined, for some reason unknown to science, makes any comeback, or thought of countering with a pithy anecdote almost impossible. And lastly, there’s the response that I haven’t encountered for nearly thirty years, which mainly involved getting punched in the side of the head and being told to “Fuck off”. That was my favourite. Oh yes, I used to love that one best of all.
After constantly repeating the same futile exercise, you’d think I’d just give in, wave the white flag and admit defeat. If Einstein immediately recognised the insanity of repetition and expecting a different outcome, you’d think that after three decades that maybe, just maybe, I’d get it too. And if it was anything other than D&D, I probably would. However, the older that you get, the more you realise that there are very few constants in life, and that , more often than not, even friends don’t number among them. Dungeons and Dragons, punk rock and comics though, they’ve always been there for me, and I for them. Relationships, trends, jobs and all that of boring nine to five crapola, it comes and goes, but D&D is as constant as the North Wind and the anger of Crom. And that’s probably why, in a moment of alcohol induced “clarity”, I decided that I’d find a way of translating my devotion in a way that wouldn’t cause much mirth, merriment and punching among not only my nearest and dearest, but also that ever decreasing minority of my species who I can tolerate in small doses and fractional bursts.
See, I could witter on about the connections to mythology, history and legend, the links to literature and film, the creativity of imagination and how problem solving aids lateral thinking. I could talk about its escapist value and the need to find a way to relieve the increasingly confining and debilitating repression forced on all of us by a system we’re imprisoned by and perpetuate through the enslavement of work. I could do that, but I won’t. Because, it’s all of those things and so much more, but at the end of the day, when you really get down to the nitty gritty, disassemble it, it’s a social thing. Like poker night. Except you don’t lose any money, which means that you don’t piss your other half off and so, you still get laid. And you get to slay monsters, explore far off distant lands, encounter all manner of strange and marvellous creatures and places and bizarre people. You get to kill, main and destroy without fear of recrimination or revenge and without worrying about doing serious gaol time for any misdemeanours or social faux paus you may or may not commit within the game. It’s like playing a video game, but you get to hang out with your friends and avoid becoming a pasty loner afraid of the sun and everything beyond the confines of your bedroom door. You’ll still be pasty and you’ll still be terrified of the daunting power of Sol and all of the nasty, hidden dangers of the outside world, but at least you’ll have friends. Dungeons and Dragons. It gets you laid, helps you make friends and it’s cheaper, less tiresome and far less boring than therapy. Go on, admit it. You want to play, don’t you? Then pull up a chair, grab a D20 and let’s begin.
Oh, and that skeleton? I smashed it’s skull in twain and made a necklace out of its teeth. That’s how I roll…