Friday, May 6, 2011

My history with rolling plastic shapes

Last night (or was it two nights ago?) I completed one of the most ridiculous side quests I have ever done in a role playing game. While wandering through a new town in the middle of the night I had been approached by a business woman because it looked like I would be able to take care of something her. She wan in the umbrella business, and there was a problem with her last shipment: they ate people. She wanted me to check her last few clients, rescuing them if need be from their psychotic parasols. I thought it was a joke, but sure enough, I walked boldly into the first house and house and found three things flying around the room that looked like fleshy umbrellas with teeth. It reminded me of all the silly things that had happened during the countless hours I spent rolling dice, drinking beer, and playing pretend with other men.

D&D started for me in late grade school. A friend and I got some books and messed around with a few adventures, never really getting past looking up monsters and fighting them with dice. Most of the game was over my head, and it wasn't until college that I understood what it meant to actually role play a character. I fell into it almost by accident, sitting in with a group that met once a week. There were no store bough modules here, only a DM's handbook, a monsters manual and guy with a screen. It was a custom adventure he had written the framework of himself, filling in the details as he went along based on what the party did. This made it much more fluid, allowed the players to better dictate what was happening, and was often downright hilarious.

Thus started a once a week meeting that lasted for almost all of college. We played the same characters for years, growing more and more attached to them as they grew in power. Rules were bent in the name of keeping things interesting because there was a human being in charge of what was going on. My poor character (Phaedrus) was barely recognizable by the time he was retired. He started out as some sort of dwarven fighter, but had died, been resurrected, modified, demonized, and just plain torn to pieces that no one was quite sure what he was anymore. As a part we did wonderful awful things: took over towns, ran bars, killed giant monsters with lucky rolls that pissed of the DM. There was nearly constant inner party conflict, especially between myself and a couple of the damn mages we toted around. One evening one of them cast a sphere of invulnerability around me; I failed the save and could not get out. The two of them proceed to bat be back and forth with Bigsby's forceful hand like a gerbil in an unfortunate game of handball. I stormed off, got in my car, sped off, hit some ice and took out a light pole.

It was a good night. Thank goodness I was sober.

Years later it was my turn to take the DM role. It was right at the end of things and with a new group, plus the lot of us were fighting the demands of the rest of the goddamn world, so getting together even once a month was a victory in and of itself. I ran a ridiculous high level campaign full of death knights, sphere's of annihilation, liches, death dogs, swarms of gibberlings, and at one point a greater feyr.

Keep in mind that the party consisted of a minotaur, centaur, high level wizard, and a ninja. I had to be creative or they would dominate. None of them had fought one of these before: they are the byproducts of horrific nightmares, usually bound to places where people had suffered and died over long periods of time. Much to my delight, they did not do well. The ninja actually died, bitten in two following some poor decisions and a natural one.

My campaign only lasted a few sessions. I had great plans to take them into the outer planes. They made it as far as Sigil, met the Lady of Pain, traded sexual favor with the minotaur to the guards for safety, and realized that they were no more than pawns in a intraplaner conflict that starred Phaedrus as it's main bad guy (my campaign, my guy can come out of retirement and be cool again). Residents of the prime material plane, while generally weaker than other planer creatures, could not be forcibly returned to their home plane via magic. Other beings, regardless of power, could be dismissed by a powerful enough spell, thus primes were perfect for either espionage work or strait up invading a neighboring plane. My adventure would have taken them to the base of the spire that held Sigil in place, an area where no magic works and gods literally go to hang out and play cards. From there they would become embroiled in the blood war: a never ending battle between the baatzu and tanar'ri (lawful evil and chaotic evil) that could tip the balance of the lower planes and send the entire multiverse spiraling into chaos and death.

This was going to be epic shit, and for all sorts of reasons, it never happened. We all got jobs, got married and had kids. Then Third edition came out and, to put it bluntly, fuck that shit.

This history of role playing in the same room as people is what to this day puts me off of MMO's. First of all they will never match the creativity, depravity and hilarity of a bunch of guys in a dim room making up shit as they went along. And secondly, we understood that the rules of the game were there to form a framework for telling a story and having a good time doing it, not to act as a hard boundary to what can and cannot be done. The ninja I killed with the greater feyr? He came back with only a nasty scar and embarrassing story, plus I turned all of his clothes pick just because. World of Warcraft doesn't care about you having a good time, nor does any other MMO. The rules are the rules, and they are arbitrary and sometimes counterproductive.

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