Sunday, February 9, 2014

Swamp Zombies, Killer Trees And Life

Words are a precious commodity this weekend. I'm going into today's writing somewhat drained already.

This is the part of the blog entry where a less honest person would pretend the responsibilities of adult life had beaten them flat. I'd probably write about my arduous week in the widget yards, pounding together doodads on the factory line to be shipped off to the rust belt's vast thingamajib assembly hubs. How little Mabel and tiny Wallace had fallen afoul of the grippe and gotten a bad case of the Fenville Mumps or some such story. Maybe my long-suffering wife, Ethel, had lost her job as sub-junior attorney at Dewey, Cheatum and Howe and been forced to queue up at the dole or we'd all starve to death in this harsh and frozen northern winter. Last week was a long road of pain and tears and that's why I haven't really written much this weekend.

Nope.

I'm not married, don't have any kids I'm aware of and I've got a relatively stress-free job I enjoy. Instead...

I played Dungeons and Dragons for roughly 18 hours straight, beginning Friday night and ending sometime in the tiny hours of this morning. It was one of those sessions like you had back when you were in school, and capable of sustaining yourself on nothing but Mountain Dew, Doritos and sheer youthful exuberance, and the knowledge that you were doing something your parents would probably disapprove of, if only on the grounds that members of the gender appropriate to your personal preferences and sunlight should be involved somehow, even on a tangential basis.

Such marathons are better as an adult, and for two primary reasons: one, they are very, very rare, since the friends you are most likely to do this with and the most likely to have the stamina to make it are also the ones who have adult responsibilities. Aligning the schedules of four or five such people is like awaiting the Great Conjunction in the Dark Crystal: sometimes the orrery swings into place with a massive click, resulting in joyous celebration and weekend-long gaming...and most of the rest of the time it doesn't. The clock arms swish past each other and everyone goes on their way with a raft of apologies and excuses.

The other reason is simply that, as adults, your perspective changes. Gaming as an adolescent is often a wish fulfillment exercise. You're still in the phase of your life where playing make-believe is an exercise in trying out new clothes, figuring out what you want to become, finding what you want in life. You are not just Grondorr the Orc Barbarian, you are you in Grondorr's clothes, playing at being an adult, albeit through a sweaty junk-food fueled lens.

There's always a sense that making your way in the fantasy world is paralleling how you will make your way in the adult world. So, when your best buddy Joe backstabs your orc and sells his magic axe to the elves in exchange for a life-time supply of potions of heroism, you tend to take it somewhat personally. When the GM makes you trek through the Fetid Jungles Of Arquorr and you contract dysentery and turn into a swamp-zombie, you take that personally as well. Failure is something to be avoided, because success is important to you at that stage in life. This is why most of our early gaming experiences are of having that one fiftieth level character who couldn't die, who hobnobbed with gods and dragons and whose sole personality trait involved his ability to cleave things in twain.

As adults, we've either already found our place in life or at least know what direction in which that place lies--whether or not we can actually get there at the moment. There's a certain amount of comfort level we all have as adults with pretend failure--we tend to revel in it more. We game for the story, the ability to try out a new set of clothes, let the randomness of the rules come up with its own narrative.

In this session, set in a remixed version of the classic X2 Castle Amber module, I played a trash-talking rogue, handsome and witty, fast on his feet and with a rapier as sharp as his tongue. The first day out, I was trampled to death by a stampeding treant, got resurrected and then skewered the next day after insulting the captain of the guard's hairdo. Instead of resurrection, I was reincarnated and came back as an orc. Then I passed out after being exposed to magic gas and woke up with angel wings.

From handsome swashbuckler to flying orc in less than a day. That's the beauty of Dungeons & Dragons.

As a kid, I think violence would've happened at the table after the first death. As an adult, I view gaming as an exercise in narrative-building. Most of these events were not the result of planning. The GM mostly let the chips lie as they fell. The course of the session was determined by dice and on-the-spot decisions by the group. The fact that everything comes together in a way which creates a compelling (albeit completely insane) story is the magic of the hobby.

In other words, I'm probably not writing much today because I feel like I've already written a few dozen pages. What's that echo you hear? A dry well? Yeah, it might just be that.

I've been making good progress on the book. Cutting off all sources of internet distractions first thing in the morning is working wonders. I'll probably crank out a few words today and call it good. I don't believe I have much in the way of social obligations this coming weekend, so I can scent the telltale whiff of a few chapters getting written. Hopefully I won't get crunched by a panic-stricken tree while doing it.

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