Sunday, June 19, 2011

Role-playing (Part 1)

Quick intro and then I'll get right to the piece. The following was my final submission for my non-fiction writing class. It's nine very short stories that I basically formed together into one long piece. There's even a cool little narrative arc if you piece it altogether (something that came about that to a heavy nudging from my professor). I think that's all the set up there is. I'll post a new section every few days or so until it's done. Technically you should read it it order (for the aforementioned arc), but each story should theoretically stand on its own.




Matt Shafeek The Hardcore Gamer
PAX East / Boston, MA / March 2011

I sit down alongside a table with five other gamers. There's two short, bespecktacled twenty-something year olds, a quiet, heavyset couple, and a tall, lanky gentleman who I soon discover has a slight lisp. I say hello, introduce myself and get everyone's name. It's a polite gesture, even though I'll likely forget each one in minutes. It's just as well, as I'm not here to make friends. I'm here for the glory, the challenge, and of course, the treasure. I'm at the Penny Arcade Expo in Boston, a bi-annual, bi-coastal weekend-long gaming convention. The event is made specifically for gamers like me who dream of dorking out with our brethren in peace. Ten feet away is a man dressed up like Chun-Li, the (female) fighter from the Street Fighter series.

This is my third PAX in what I assume to be a lifetime of yearly attendance. Right now I'm playing Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (4th Edition) in a pre-packaged beginner’s adventure that’s been set up to give people a taste of tabletop role-playing. I used to play the older, presumably less advanced version of AD&D a ton when I was a kid with a lot more free time. For years I was pretty obsessed with it: a world filled with endless adventure, monsters, magic and glory was infinitely more appealing to me than schoolwork, sports, or learning to play the guitar. I could handle an uncomfortable situation with the business end of a bastard sword or a wand of fireballs, instead of sitting through boring history lessons at school, holding my breath as long as possible to keep from falling asleep.

I take a moment to examine my character sheet. I'm playing as Eldeth, a Female Dwarf Fighter (Slayer) / Level 1 / Good. Looking at her stats, I notice her Strength is at an impressive 18, while her Charisma is a lowly 8. I'm quite grateful for both of them, as they tell me exactly who my character is: a socially inept brute. The picture on Eldeth's character sheet shows a short, tatooed, angry looking woman adorned in thick battle armor (that still manages to show off a fair amount of dwarvish cleavage. Va-va-voom!) with a round nose and long, lavishly braided red hair. She is wielding a giant stone axe I couldn't see myself even getting off the ground. A quote under her name reads: "Return Them To The Earth!" which I now plan on saying regularly over the course of our adventure.

I'm joined by a Human Mage (powerful wizards that can cast all manner of spells), two Human Clerics (holy warriors that can heal in battle), a Human Warrior (similar to Eldeth, but lacking her dignified Dwarvish heritage) and an Elvish Rogue (wiley thieves that love to sneak up behind their enemies with a dagger in hand). We each take some time to learn the intracacies of our characters as well as the basic rules of the game for those who haven't played before. The game is played mostly in our collective imaginations, with each player armed with nothing more than a stack of oddly shaped dice (20 sided, 10 sided, 8 sided, 6 sided, and 4 sided, to account for any sort of odds the game might need us to make "checks" against – i.e.: "did your giant stone axe make contact with that fire demon's face?").

Our Dungeon Master - the person who controls the adventure, playing the role of narrator/God - sets the stage, and explains that we're all drinking together in our town’s local tavern getting to know one another. The mayor sees our worthy group and approaches us to explain his desperate situation: apparently a group of vicious kobolds were attacking all the merchants coming through the area, so the town was starving for supplies. Our well-intentioned but naïve cleric (naïveté, mind you, that comes from the player, not a stat) starts to offer our collective help to the mayor, but Eldeth - who I knew was wise beyond her dwarven years - quickly intervenes:

"You ignorant fool! What sort of world do you live in where you offer your services apropos of nothing!?  Mr. Mayor, first we demand to know what sort of reward is being offered for our assistance in this matter. Then we shall discuss our willingness to put our lives on the line and return these kobolds to the Earth!"

There's laughter at the table. The Dungeon Master smirks, rolls a die behind her thick paper barrier and tells the group the mayor promises 25 gold per pair of kobold ears - a good price, perhaps better than we could have gotten without Eldeth's remarks.

We're off to a good start.

[PART 2 - Coming Soon!]

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