May was a big month, you guys. I turned 27, and the Universe gifted me my favorite geeky things in droves. My weird obsessions collided when Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson (who I already knew from World’s Strongest Man, duh) took over the role of The Mountain on Game of Thrones. American Ninja Warrior and Heroes of Cosplay are all up in my DVR. I even got to lend my voice to another anime dub. But my biggest bit of geekery this month came when I made a decision that surprised even me. I boldly went where many geeks have gone before…and joined a Dungeons and Dragons game.
Half of you just scoffed, “You made it to 27 without playing D&D? What kind of a geek are you?” One that’s still learning the ropes, I guess. When I was just a wee geek, I wasn’t really aware of all that the world of nerddom had to offer (we’ve already established that it took me until this year to finally watch the original Star Wars trilogy). But there’s really no excuse – the game turns 40 this year. Clearly there’s been ample time for me to get with the program. In retrospect, I should have warmed up to this game way, way earlier. It’s all about fantasy, role-play, and commitment to a character; I have a degree in drama, and consistently wish Mr. Tumnus was real – the fit couldn’t be more perfect. So when a good friend of mine, the Dungeon Master for this particular quest, invited me to fill the spot of an outgoing player, I agreed. “What’s there to know?” I figured. I got the gist – get some sparkly dice, make up a cool character, have a little fun.
Then stuff got complex. My friend, the DM, sent me some of the backstory for the world of the game we’d be playing in. I struggled to find something familiar as I skimmed the email full of words like “corelings” and “wards” and “jongulars.” As best I could tell, the game would take place in a kind of post-apocalyptic world with nights full of people-eating demons that can only be kept at bay by special protectors who use ancient runes to repel them. So pretty much what I did to get by in pre-calculus back in the day. “Ah, whatever, I’ll just wing it,” I thought. Should’ve rolled a perception check on that one, Meaghan – rude awakenings were soon to follow.
I sat in on the following week’s game to just get a better feel for the characters and style of game-play. My fellow D&Ders soon got down to business and started adventuring – traveling between cities, learning more about the demon corelings’ behavior, and asking probing questions about the extended absence of one of their mentors in the game. On one of their quests outside the safety of the city walls, they came to an inn. The DM turned to me and said, “Hey, why don’t you play the inkeeper? Just for fun.” I was totally down, and soon established myself as a deeply-religious, no-nonsense lady who was not up for any shenanigans. When two flirty teenagers snuck into the same room, I did what any self-respecting innkeeper would do – I kicked them out of my fine establishment, and told them to go sleep in the barn. Bad move.
One of my fellow players immediately bristled. “No, you can’t do that. You would never do that,” he said, breaking character. “It’s after sunset, so the corelings are out. You can’t just make us go outside. It isn’t safe.” The others wholeheartedly agreed, looking to the DM for confirmation. I felt my face glow red with embarrassment. I was just trying to be funny, but clearly I had messed up. What was this about? I was used to the rules of improv theatre – you and your scene partners established the rules of the world together, and whatever they said, went. But D&D isn’t improv, y’all – there are mutually accepted rules, and you have to abide by them…especially if you’re the new kid at the table.
So I took a new approach. I just shut up and watched for the rest of the evening, then met with the DM for lunch on Sunday to create a character that jives perfectly with the existing world of game-play. Her name is Sable, and I start playing her next Tuesday. The geeky world can teach you all sorts of things – how to train your mind to think like Portal wants you to, how to survive a zombie apocalypse, how to defend the corners of geekdom that are dearest to your heart. I’m excited to learn what else D&D has to teach me. But first, I’ve got a set of dice to buy.