Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Mary Rambles About Dungeons and Dragons

Strap in, kiddies! It is time for another Marydote. All this, inspired by this amazing game. D&D has been a journey for me and the state of it reflects my social life in some ways. When I didn't have time for friends or my friends were limited, I didn't play D&D. As one of my friends pointed out, a D&D game is only as good as the bonds between the players out of game. And I think that is true. 

The first time I played Dungeons and Dragons was in 2000 when I was a freshman in college. 3rd Edition just came out but at the time, I had little to no understanding of what that meant. I knew the basic concept of Dungeons and Dragons and it sounded like improv (theater geek here) and video gaming (something I wanted to get more into -- I played at friends' houses but didn't have a console of my own yet) and writing (I've been writing "stories" since I was at least 10, maybe younger). For those reasons, I always wanted to give it a shot. I just didn't know what it entailed or how I "got into" the hobby. Like where did people do it? Did you have to know a password to get in with the cool people like in those 1920s speakeasies?

"Password -- Gary sent me"

Luckily, one of the friends from my dorm happened to be into D&D and he asked me if I wanted to try the new edition. I jumped at the opportunity. And so, I created my first character which I think was a Half-Elf Fighter. I don't really remember. I had no idea what I was doing. And the mechanics came off as scary and mathematical. Nothing ever came from that one shot game but I liked it enough, I looked to play again.

The opportunity arose when I became friends with three seniors who ran the Otaku Club. They invited me to play in their long running D&D game at their apartment. At this point, they were high level so I created my first long running character (not the longest, that would come later). I played an Elven Rogue/Bard named Skyler. Ever since then, I've been partial to rogues. I had a lot of fun with this group and the four players showed me the ropes without growing impatient. I still didn't know what I was doing but I eventually got the hang of it. The campaign concluded right before they graduated when the five of us spent the weekend at Lake Winnipesaukee.

The lake was nice -- so I hear, I wouldn't know I spent the whole weekend indoors gaming, like a true nerd

From there, the following semester, I knew the ropes of D&D enough that I wanted to try running it.  I don't remember the details of the campaign except that my roommate played a character who had a doll that he talked to like it were a real person. Also I had a chaos mage who was quirky and fun. The origins of the game started after September 11th. Not to sound somber but the day after, my roommate and I had a long talk and decided fuck the world, let's make a new one. We drew the map of this world on a card table my roommate owned and it was in this world and with this map I began my stint as a DM.

The people I met through this game, I am still friends with today. Elements of this group would eventually branch off to include non-D&D players and we'd go on real life adventures together. We call ourselves the Michael White Conference

It started with a sign and an evil wizard named Tim...

After my D&D game concluded, I joined the Table Gaming Club more formally. DMing was exhausting. I wanted to play again. After taking a break from D&D, I dabbled in a little White Wolf, GURPS, and Big Eyes, Small Mouth (BESM). But I could never resist the siren's call of Dungeons and Dragons. I joined a new game with people I only knew through other people and what blossomed from that are some of the closest friendships I have ever had and still have even though I do not talk to them as much. Don't get me wrong, I made some important friendships in my non-D&D games too.

For this new long running campaign, I created a halfling rogue/wizard/arcane trickster named Foxthorn. I had a lot of fun with her causing chaos where ever she went. I started with Foxy at a high level so up until this point, I always played strong characters. Even so, Foxy had her own story and character arc. I fell in love with Halflings. I fell in love with rogues. And oh, how much I miss the Chaos Twins. Foxy was friends with another halfling named Bazaliee who I think was a cleric. I do remember one scene in which all the big people argued how they would get an important NPC out of jail, the chaos twins just went in and did it. They came back with said NPC just as the planning by the big people concluded. Foxy told them their lesson was just because they were the size of human children didn't mean they had poor ideas (the two of them were being ignored).

This was them gloating afterwards

The next D&D campaign I played in was with the same DM as the one above and she used the same world, just set in the future.  The world happened to be a different place -- darker even. The elves became increasingly xenophobic and magic got a bad reputation (probably indirectly Foxy's fault no doubt).

Accidentally blowing up an entire city will not come back to bite us. Nope.

This game would be the only time I played the same character from level 1 to level 20 and it was absolutely awesome. This character was a sorcerer/warlock, half-elf because I like being mean to my characters. He had a long, complicated elf name but I shortened it to Rhys. Rhys was the bastard child to an elven cleric and a human who liked to mess around with demons. He was hated by his stepfather for being part smelly human and also hated him even more when his sorcerer abilities began to pop up.

Rhys felt unlucky, which he dealt with with a self-disparaging sense of humor. He and Foxthorn shared the same alignment but it was exhibited differently. While Foxthorn just went by her whims and her gut, Rhys was chaotic good like a revolutionary was chaotic good. He wanted to bring fairness and equality to the world outside of law. He took a detour through evil town doing this but where he ended up at level 20 was as a headmaster at a magic school in which anyone was welcome. He settled on change through education. And I love how Rhys grew as a character. As he grew in power along the D&D grid, so did his character.

I kind of feel Enjolras fits Rhys nicely, except if Enjolras had a sense of humor

That's the thing. Playing Rhys made me long for long campaigns. I find it frustrating as a reader and a writer when characters don't grow and evolve. Same is true for roleplaying. The best GMs I had allowed for this to happen. Not saying I don't like a good one shot. I do. They can be a lot of fun with the right people. I just like that sense of satisfaction a knitter may feel when they finish a sweater when I start at level 1 and end at level 20. To see where they started as a jumble of yarn and see where they end up as a fluffy sweater is wonderful. It is more satisfying than starting at level 10 or 15 and diving right in to the more scary monsters. I want to know their origin and how difficult it was for them to reach this point.

Anyways, after the Rhys adventure, I didn't play much D&D or not any games that lasted more than five sessions. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed those games very much too.  I also played a couple long running non-D&D games for instance. I admire the creativity my friends in college have. One of my good friends ran a Naruto themed adventure using GURPS. We played two generations of that game. Another friend ran an absolutely amazing long running game set in the Gundam universe -- that had two iterations and an unfinished third. I felt satisfied by those games. I will probably dedicate a separate entry to just those two games -- when games based on beloved series are actually better than the original.

Although to be completely honest, I'm not a fan of Gundam but I am a fan of FU Gundam

After college, I would not pick up a d20 again until I made it to Germany when the controversial 4th Edition came out. This was the USO gaming group I mentioned a couple posts ago. We mostly stuck to one shots and small adventures. Also, 4th Edition ... well... actually, 4th Edition went with the people I played with. I never got really close to any of them, however, I could settle with them.

It also ties into how I treat games in general. I'll play anything as long as you don't treat me like an idiot when I'm learning the rules (that will usually turn me off to a game). I'm not difficult to entertain and I very rarely say no. Sometimes I do get into moods in which I just feel ... contrary (quote the nursery rhyme and you die). But those are rare times and are usually tied to a lack of sleep/being burned out.  The same can be true about movies and TV. I can be entertained by bad/corny things just like I can be entertained by amazing things -- I'm just entertained for different reasons. Only exception is books. If a book is bad, I will stop reading it (seriously, don't bring up Divergent. Just don't).

Having said that, I did not hate 4th Edition as a roleplaying system. I found it interesting and I could find ways to have fun with it at least. However, it just did not feel like D&D. I would call it a good roleplaying system but a cheap version of D&D, like those imitation Disney DVDs you pick up at gas stations and supermarkets. You know it is not the Little Mermaid but it still will shut the kids up for an hour.

Look! A princess blondes can look up to!

I still created an interesting character using 4th that I called Spica. She was a Tiefling Warlock with the Star-pact. She had a creepy obsession with the stars and who she called the star people. The DM took liberties and said her patron, "has gray skin, black bug-eyes, and a huge head with spindly arms." She would have been a character I would have loved to expand and could continue playing her with 4th Edition rules just fine. But the game with her ended after only a couple sessions.

Still, I longed for old D&D (old for my standards as I never played 1st or 2nd edition). When I moved to my next duty station and literally had no time to play a game, I bought the Pathfinder sourcebook just because I missed old D&D so much and it was there at the NEX begging for a home. I know, that probably sounds like a junkie getting his hands on paint thinner or cough syrup but I missed that kind of creative social interaction. It also didn't help I had practically no social life after my initial roommates moved out of the house.

After I got out of the Army, I didn't roleplay for a while. Most of it had to do with the fact that I said good-bye to my only familial and friendly connections and moved down to Virginia for work. I knew no one. I knew the guy who hired me, that's it. And outside of work, I had no one to really talk with. I'm not a very extroverted person and I do have social anxiety issues. As a result, I fell into the internet which probably wasn't a good thing.

Finally, a cousin recommended me I checked it out and found several roleplaying focused meet-ups in the area. I joined one and I met this one guy who wanted to run a long-running game with 4th. Most of the players flaked but we formed a friendship and it was through him, I met a wonderful group of people. We played Firefly Cortex Plus that lasted several months. That hit the roleplaying spot hard. He also ran many incredible single adventures here and there.

I found my group.

After Firefly concluded, another of my friends in the group decided he wanted to run Dungeon World which he eventually changed to 5th Edition D&D for as soon as the PHB came out. I became excited for D&D again. He worked super hard on his world -- seriously, it is amazing, professional level amazing. I hadn't seen so much thought in a setting since Foxthorn/Rhys universe or FU Gundam. After reading the D&D PHB for 5th edition, I've realized just how much I missed D&D. 5th Edition felt like a return to form -- getting the old coke back after trying the new coke. My enthusiasm for the up-coming game was at such a level, the night before, I suddenly became 5 again and the next day, Christmas.

Merry Geekmas

Of course, the DM happened to be one of the most enthusiastic I have ever played with and that kind of enthusiasm is contagious. So his on top of mine just caused... many mini-explosions going on in the inside. I had written off D&D, the first tabletop roleplaying system I ever played, but 5th Edition revived it. It feels like D&D and it is much easier to learn and not as crunchy but still crunchy enough.

I also dig my character a lot. Her name is Shara Hayashi'kami and she's an elf that grew up outside the elven lands. I had the basic concept for her for a while. I went through a period about a year ago in which I was obsessed with everything Ancient and Medieval Welsh -- especially bards and their history. I even wrote a short story about Welsh Bards during the Middle Ages. I just like the idea of a bard whose focus is not just music to entertain the peoples, but those whose sole purpose is to record history of their people and their stories. I wanted to play that kind of bard.

Then, when I read through the setting, I saw how elves were dying out and thought how awesome would it be to have a bard who has more of a reason to preserve the lore. These thoughts gave birth to Shara. Her family's duty is to protect the lore of the elves. As for her personality, she went through many different iterations. I thought of making her a guy. Then androgynous. Then, I settled on female and I wanted to give her traits that are common on swashbuckling types. I wanted her to be witty and the type who just likes to poke people to get them going. She's a little roguish and does not take anything too seriously.

In our first session, I love playing her. We started at level one (well, if you started with a magical item and level two if you started with none) and seriously, after the session wrapped, I felt this is what D&D is supposed to be. Just like this is how friendship is supposed to be.

I am so excited for the next game and the many that will continue after that.  D&D is back, bitches!


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