I just finished reading Of Dice & Men by David M. Ewalt. My expectations were that I would read a little history, hear some fun stories about games the author had played and maybe feel a small sense of belonging. And, that I did. But, what I did not expect how strong that sense of belonging would be.
To give a little back story, when I left my first marriage, I discovered that I had spent the previous fourteen years stifling my “nerdy” side. Don’t get me wrong, I loved nerdy things. I lost count of the times that I watched the Star Wars trilogy with my children. (One of my happiest nerd mom moments was when my son announced that Empire Strikes Back was the best movie of the three. But, Jedi is still my favorite. Best and favorite do not mean the same thing.) We watched Star Trek. I loved all things Harry Potter. I had read an occasional comic. Somewhere, in storage, is a Death comic that my brother gave me before I got married the first time. I would love to find it. And, comic book movies, how do I let me count the ways. I even love the bad ones. Something about the over the top, melodramatic costuming of the Batman movies made me very happy. I was in love with the idea of Catwoman. But, not to the point of being what would fall under the category of “nerd.”
Towards of end my marriage and “finding myself” I developed a closer relationship with my younger brother. Doug has always let his nerd flag fly proudly, not caring who would see. Knowing y penchant for comic book movies, he told me that he had one for me to watch. But, first, I had to read a book. It was the novelization of V for Vendetta. I plowed through it, ready for the movie. I gave him the book back, anxious for the slick DVD case emblazed with a stark Guy Fawkes mask in profile alongside Natalie Portman with a shaved head. Instead, he placed the graphic novel in my hands. Slightly disgruntled, I took the book home. Shortly after that, I came back wanting more. He handed me the DVD. Then he handed me the Watchmen graphic novel, then the book. I had, OK have, a celebrity crush on Gerard Butler. This of course meant that I fell in love with 300 as well.
I have never been one for girly movies, chick flicks. Give me an action movie or superheroes any day. But, Anne of Green Gables or a Jane Austen flic, I will pass. So, when I watched 300 in the theater with my brother, his treat, I found myself enthralled in the story. The moments where they managed to lift images from the graphic novel onto the screen left me elated. Leaving the theater left me feeling a little different. That was the first movie that I had been to because I alone wanted to go. Transformers and G.I. Joe followed. I was tumbling down the slippery slope to nerdom.
I started to go to one of the local comic book stores on Saturdays with my brother. Larry, the owner is still one of my favorite people. He used to send out a newsletter. When my grandfather passed away, Larry sent Doug a note sending his condolences. We passed him an imaginary crown and proclaimed him the king of the nerds. One of my favorite things about Larry is that he takes interest in his customers. And, not in the annoying follow you around the store way. Doug had been going there for a long time. So, when he introduced me, Larry asked what books I would be interested in. Doug did not give me a chance to answer. He announced, “Catwoman.” The Gotham City Sirens series had just come out. I was immediately sucked in. I also came in just in time for the Stephanie Brown as Batgirl series, as well. One day, I will have a Gotham Girl tattoo. But, that was not when I first really felt the touch of the nerd gods.
The first time I went to Larry’s Comics & Collectables by myself, something magic happened. No one else was there, and it was very quiet. Larry smiled warmly and said, I have something I think you may want. He lifted himself from his spot on the sofa that sits just inside the store and went to a stack of boxes. He pulled out what I thought was simply a comic, bagged and boarded. (That means it was in a protective plastic bag with a thin piece of cardboard for support.) But, it was much more than that. It was all 4 issues of a miniseries that was released in 1989. It was the modern backstory for Catwoman. He gave me a very good deal on them. And, I left the shop, clutching the bag to my chest feeling as though I could take on the world, all on my own.
Around the same time DC started its run of the Darkest Night series. My brother bought every issue and made sure that I read them ALL. It was like a primer for the DC universe. You met EVERY character, even the not so great ones. I felt so immersed.
My brother was not my only teacher. He was just my first. My now husband, Jerry, grew to be my devout teacher. He took me to my first comic book conventions. Shoot, it was his copy of the Judge Dredd Omnibus that was the reason for my glee when I found out that Karl Urban would be taking on the Helmet of our favorite Judge. (Even more so when he said that the helmet would not be coming off.) The omnibus is four novelizations of the comics. It is far grittier than the feel of the comics, which is much more in line with the movie.
He had an impressive collection of traditionally nerdy paraphernalia that I dug through, gleefully. I was starting to feel like I was finally finding my place in the world. Then one day, while going through some things, he stumbled upon his collection of role playing books. I knew nothing of role playing. What little bit of what I knew of Dungeons and Dragons were faint bits of memories of the animated series. He did not just have Dungeons and Dragons. He had several different systems, including DC, Marvel and even Bubble Gum Crisis, an anime series. While he poured out his bag of dice, which I was sure was a move to impress me, I told him that he should really teach me to play some time. While putting everything away, he explained that it is all very complicated. But, maybe one day, we would try.
Fast forward to fall of 2010. My boyfriend starts having a huge nerdgasm. (Not as big as the one when he opened the wedding gift that included an issue of Dr. Doom autographed by Stan Lee. Thank you, again, Tony.) He started to babble, somewhat incoherently. At first, the only words I made out were box, red and dragons. He finally managed to explain that in the 80s (1983 to be exact), D&D had released a basic box set that every little nerd boy, and men, just had to have. He had always wanted one. Well, it was being rereleased. At the time, he was not unaware that it was they current edition (4th edition to be exact) rather than Advanced Dungeons and Dragons that he had cut is teeth on in high school. Shoot, he had not played since high school. For a moment, I am pretty sure that I got a glimpse of that same teenage boy, all giddy with the excitement of fighting dragons, beholders and the like. (I did not know what a beholder was at the time. If you want to know what it is, google it. Eye dare you too.)
Not long after that, he happened to stumble across the box. I think we were at our local Hastings. We have always toyed with the idea of writing stories together. Maybe even a graphic novel. And, creating characters was my favorite part. So, one night, he pulls the box out and tells me that we are going to build my first character. Together we built a fighter named Ophelia. And, I went on my very first adventure. The box comes with an existing campaign. It is intended to introduce people to D&D. So, it is a more simplified set of rules and directions. It was very entertaining. But, we did not play from the box, again.
Fast forward again, this time to almost two years ago. Jerry and I were married. He introduced me to some of his old friends from work Jed and Sherry Martin. We had grown to be quite good friends. The subject of D&D came up, I believe at my birthday party when Jerry was showing off his collection of RPG books to the Martins. It was decided that we should play a game. Sherry graciously, and gleefully agreed to DM. About a month later, we found ourselves gathered around the Martin’s dining room table creating our characters. We had invited Christine, a rather new friend at the time, to join us. Jed’s little brother was going to join us, as well as my then 15-year-old son. At the last minute, it occurred to us that we should invite Stacey, my non-biological little sister. She had recently been introduced to the Martins. This would be a great way to get to know each other. Well, we did not really ask her. We told her to be there the next evening at 8. Jed built her a cleric based on her favorite movie, Ghostbusters. E’gon the Dwarven Cleric was born. Jerry created Bill Killuzall, an Orc Barbarian. He was not the sharpest arrow in the quiver. But, he was strong and likable.
We only got to play a couple of sessions in Sherry’s game. We were playing 3.5, her favorite edition of the game. One thing that I have learned about D&D is that just like in Doctor Who, where everyone has a favorite Doctor, players have a favorite edition. Dungeon Masters, the player that runs the game, have even stronger feelings. (I will gladly play any edition. But, if I am DMing, you can bet your Quaggoth that it will be 5th edition). Life got in the way, making getting games together more difficult. In time, Jed came in and ran us through some games in fourth edition, and added more players. I switched it up from a Human Fighter to a Half-Elf Druid.
I was enthralled by the game. In December of 2015, we made our first road trip as The Tribe. We went all the way to Plano, Texas, 200 miles away, to go to Madness Games & Comics. Stacey had stopped there while on a trip, and could not quit singing its praises. Jerry, Ty and I decided a road trip was in order and went to see the place for ourselves. We could easily see what she had meant. It was our Nerdvana. Within five feet of the door, we had our first purchase in hand. Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw refrigerator magnets. (Ty and I are Hufflepuffs. Jerry is a Ravenclaw. What? You have not been sorted into your Hogwarts houses? Go to Pottermore.com and fix that.)
On the trip with The Tribe, we stumbled upon their Christmas sale. So, we spent more than we intended. But, the most important purchase at my husband’s urging was a copy of the current Dungeon Master’s Guide. I even picked up a matching set of dice. It was decided that since we had people comfortable in third and 4th editions, that I would try to learn enough about the current (fifth) edition to run games.
I found myself pouring over the fifth edition books. They took bits and pieces of lore and myths that I had been exposed to in the world of science fiction, fantasy and history and created the basis to create your own worlds. Or, if you want to adhere strictly to the history of the game, you could use the D&D world that already existed. It reminded me of a live action “Choose Your Own Adventure” style book. There are even modules for stories for a DM to pick up, review and play. (It is not that easy. But, the creation is done for you.) I spent hours watching videos of people playing D&D online. I am lucky that I am the only person at my office. And, since I really listen to the videos rather than watching them, I managed to watch somewhere around 80 episodes of Critical Role at work. I am now caught up and watch them live streamed once a week. (Critical Role is an ongoing weekly tabletop gaming-based web series. As the name suggests, it’s a Dungeons & Dragons campaign, albeit with a slight twist: the dungeon master and players are all well-known voiceover artists. tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/webvideo/) Jerry introduced me to Acquisitions Incorporated, which lead to “The C-Team” and Dice, Camera, Action. I was fully immersed.
I had created the beginning of a fairy tale based game that I will one day complete the building of. Also, I am running The Tribe through a Haunted House game that I put together. It is room after room of D&D creatures, movie references and a few rooms specific to player frustrations in the real world. (We still have not finished or I would tell you more. I wouldn’t want to ruin the surprises.) But, we have not played it in a while. A member of the group wanted to run a Shadowrun game, so, we jumped on it. What is Shadowrun, you ask. Well, to paraphrase Of Dice & Men, Conan the Barbarian meets Blade Runner. It is fantastic.
Currently, I am running a weekly game with six other women. We are traversing The Underdark in Out of the Abyss, a prebuilt D&D adventure. One day, we will do a podcast of a game. These ladies are a lot of fun. I think the best part is that they put so much emphasis on character development. I mean currently they are wondering around miserable in character. But, as players, they are having a blast.
Our local game store had a Free PGD Day celebration, recently. I was daring and played in a Vampire the Masquerade game. I am so hooked. The regular game starts in a few weeks. Excited does not cover it.
Anyway, the point of me writing this is to say that playing Dungeons and Dragons makes me feel at home. It is my happy place. My brain makes sense of the dice and all the numbers. The idea that the game can represent real life in ways that allow a player to work through emotions a character where their actions have unpleasant results. But, they stay at the table at the end of the game.
“I want to try to charm the elf out of his pants.”
“Wait, are you trying to get him to give you his pants or have sex with you?”
“Which ever works.”
(That is from the Shadowrun game. But, you get the point.) If a player has had a bad day, I may throw an extra Kobold or two their way. It is up to them if they want to slay or charm them. But, it creates a small distraction for just a few hours a week.
As a Dungeon Master, it gives me a few hours where I get to ignore the stress of life, as well. More so than the players. I ask my players that except for posting about the game and texts or calls from family, they stay off their phones. It helps with the game and life.
It also creates friendships. Remember the people from the first game I played? They are some of my very best friends, now.
Back to the book…
Because of conversations with my husband, I knew names in the book. I understood references. Now, I know that David Arneson is to D&D as Bill Finger is to Batman. (OK, that might be a little generalized. But, still.) Much like Magic the Gathering, it draws together groups of people that you would never expect to see in the same place. Even Magic the Gathering is in the book. It is a lot of history. If you love the game and want to know it’s origins, READ THIS BOOK.
If you love someone that loves the game, and you are trying to “get it,” it is a great source. Not only does it tell how the game is played, without being overwhelming, it explains why we love the game.
The author intertwines the history of the game, his own history in real life and stories from games he has played. It is quite lovely and an easy read. I highly, highly, highly recommend it. I am tempted to buy a copy to pass around.
(If you are in Abilene, Texas, our public library owns a copy. But, I am about to return it and a friend already has it on her hold list.)