Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Magnetic DnD

I’m on a mountain!

But that’s not important right now. What is important is how people who are in the subculture of fantasy RPGs (especially DnD) tend to find one another. I’ve been thinking about this a lot as I look over the lakes of the Adirondack. Despite the fact that they are relatively rare and rarely within my natural social group of shared humor and interest, we always end up in a basement playing DnD together. It’s magnetic. It’s probably magical.

When I worked at Busch Gardens, I saw a man lumbering about Germany. Something drew me to this man, despite the fact that he was formidably large, much older, and had a big, bushy beard.

Actually I think the beard is what drew me to him in the first place. I’m not sure how, but some people wear beards like they wish they were a dwarf or a wizard, and other people wear them like they think it’s rugged or hip. I could tell that this man thought an axe would compliment his beard nicely.

I spent many days trying to attract his attention, but I have none of the physical features that clue people into my subgenre interest. I held myself like an elf, stroked my chin like a wizard’s beard grew there, but he did not notice.

Then, one day, I saw him on break at the same time I was. I steeled myself, took a deep breath, and sat down across the table from him and his fried chicken meal.

He looked up, eyes suspicious under eyebrows as bushy as his beard. Fried breading collected in the wiry hairs, and I immediately felt I was in a tavern asking a dwarf if he has heard rumors of a man in black.

“If I said a warhammer deals 1d10 damage,” I said, and trailed off, uncertain.

“I’d say you play 4.0,” he said, and smiled. Not only did he acknowledge me, but he even managed to scoff that I played the newer version of Dungeons and Dragons over the more traditional 3.5.

I still don’t know how I found the courage to do this, or why I thought introducing myself with that particular line was suave. Though it turned out fantastically, improbably well, and created one of the fondest memories I hold, that was a pretty high risk for a low chance of finding another player. I think the subconscious radio waves each player gives off gave me the confidence to approach him.

Two years later, my freshman year of college, I saw posters along my dorm wall. “Do YOU Want to Be a Wizard?” They asked, with a montage of wizards from every major fantasy production within the past twenty years.

I did.

So I went to the suggested meeting with my Manfriend, and we prepared to become wizards. The host turned out to be a tall, thin guy wearing a shirt listing fantasy RPG tropes. We were already excited.

He gave an invigorating discussion about wizards through history—from medicine men to the properties of meditation. He talked about herbs and their evolution to pharmacies. He basically told us to find the wizard within all of us.

I was charged. And I was also convinced he, too, was a member of our subgenre. Manfriend and I tried to saunter up to him afterwards, but he slipped between our fingers. A nervous freshman, I was afraid to ask him outright. I did much investigation and found out he was an RA on the floor below me. In the dead of night, I wrote a message on his door.

“If you have any information about DnD here at this school, please contact me.” I left my email but no name.

Two days later he responded: “Mystery person—I am starting a game here next semester and trying to get a tabletop gaming club started. Let me know if you would like to be updated or included in the game.”

Would I ever!

And thus I started playing DnD at my college, and Manfriend and I immersed ourselves in the pre-collected group of players—including, but not limited to, an employee at the local video game shop, a regional head of the Wizards of the Coast tabletop gaming organization, a brewer of mead, and two men with magnificent beards.

With the tabletop gaming club’s debut, I started pulling my other likely friends in. “Just one game,” I’d say as I helped them roll a character. I got fifteen people who had never thought they’d roll a dice playing even after I stopped bribing them.

With each person I grew more confident, until finally whenever I saw a triforce belt, a picture of a sword, even an offhand reference to fantasy humor, I blurt “I play Dungeons and Dragons!” just to check. Unfortunately this method is less accurate.

To try to capture the magic, I’ve created a chart that pinpoints some of the cues I get to approach a person. The closer the proximity to DND and larger the font, the greater the likelihood they’ve played. 

(click to enlarge) credit to Jordan, Curt, and David for suggesting things they pick up on when identifying a player.

I've added a Stumble button somewhere here on the bottom, so if you think I'm cool, Stumble me! You can also follow me to get a gentle reminder when I've updated.