The Dice Storm
Taking the Plunge at the Worldwide Dungeons & Dragons Game Day
Every week The Stranger receives thousands of press releases hyping events throughout the Northwest. Some of these events are thrilling (Arcade Fire at the Paramount!), others are insignificant (new Blizzard flavor at Dairy Queen!). And every once in a while comes that rare press release hyping an event to which we wouldn't send our worst enemy. Until now.
Meet Cienna Madrid, Stranger contributor and now, officially, Our Worst Enemy™. Throughout the coming months, Cienna will attend those events to which The Stranger would only send Our Worst Enemy™, and report back from the wreckage. Why Cienna? Why not? She's tall, thin, pretty, and hilarious when she suffers. Now please welcome the premiere installment of Our Worst Enemy™.
Do my sideburns remind you of Wolverine?" Craig called from his bathroom.
It was Saturday, November 5, the official Worldwide Dungeons & Dragons Game Day. And we were running late.
"Sure," I said. "You look great. Can we go?"
Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) is one of the most popular role-playing games in the world—according to its maker, Wizards of the Coast, over 4.6 million people play each month. Craig and I would be spending our Saturday night learning the basics of D&D. We had been arguing all morning about whether or not costumes would be expected.
"We're not leaving the house until you have a costume," Craig said. "I want us to be taken seriously. Where's my Pegasus brooch?"
I am terrible at role-playing. Sexy barmaid, caring friend... my real forte is sitting in corners and quietly passing judgment on others. "I don't need a costume."
Craig stopped grooming his brand-new chops to study me critically. "Fine," he said. "If anyone asks, we'll just tell them that you are a large, aggressive vagina."
Since its debut 31 years ago, D&D has become infamous for its wide fan base of social delinquents who interact by posing as heroes that are brave, strong, and clever enough to conquer ghastly fiends such as the Mind Flayer and Umber Hulk. This translates into vaginas healed over from disuse, penises ignored in favor of 20-sided dice, and just one... more... magic... missile!
Game Day was being held in a windowless, womb-shaped room in the Science Fiction Museum. When we arrived, we were singled out at the door despite our costumes and presented with copies of the newly printed (ohmygodyes!) Dungeons & Dragons for Dummies.
The place was packed. Rows of man-cleavage rimmed the small tables like scalloped doilies. Men slightly dominated the space, although the female/dragon ratio was fairly balanced. As a nod to the traditional geek stereotype, every male I met either worked in the computer/gaming industry or was 14 years old. However, conversations were liberally marked with 10-dollar vocabulary words, and everyone I talked to was friendly, helpful, and surprisingly extroverted, regardless of their alignment (the powers of Good vs. Evil).
"It's not a game about winning," emphasized Charles Ryan, brand manager of role-playing games at Wizards of the Coast. "It's about characters overcoming challenges as a team."
D&D is a game that relies heavily on imagination. Characters are represented by thumb-sized gaming pieces that move around on simple-to-ornate playing boards. There are very nearly 20,000 dice in the game. These are used to evaluate the success of every move made (in a fight, for instance, a high enough number must be rolled to defeat your opponent). Nearly every other factor is created and guided by players and their Dungeon Master, who acts as the mouthpiece and executioner of the storyline.
"The only limitations of the game," explained Charles, "are those specific to your character. The role of the Dungeon Master is to weave a story that challenges the group."
In the basic game—the one Craig and I would be learning on—characters and adventures come prepackaged. As players gain experience, they craft their own characters with unique skills sets, as well as invent their own adventures. The key, Charles revealed, is having the creativity and enthusiasm to make the game enrapturing for hours. Or years.
In the so-called "real world," my abs are the consistency of melted butter. I avoid both the Olympic Games and live theater because I find it painful to watch people fail. Thus far, I have been content to live life as a cheerful coward, and yet despite these glaringly unheroic traits, I was suddenly transformed into Redgar, the Half-Naked Human Fighting Machine (alignment: Good).
Redgar is a brick of muscle with hair, known for his dexterity with the deadly two-handed broadsword. His strength is fighting; his weakness is crossword puzzles. In battle, when his enemy cries out for mercy, he carves out his tongue and bitch-slaps them with it. His hobbies include wenching and flexing.
Craig became Eberk, the Dwarf Cleric. Eberk's duty is to protect others (me) during battle. Oh, and he carries a war hammer or something.
We were soon to discover that a baron in a far-off land had been attacked by lizard beasts, and his baron's ring, the symbol of his power, had been stolen. The baron was offering a huge reward, and maybe a daughter or something, for its return.
"Um, so... what do I do?" I asked the Rogue next to me. There were no fewer than 15 dice in front of me.
"You can do anything," answered Seraleus, an eavesdropping sorcerer behind me. Seraleus was a girl.
"Can I crush my enemies and drink deep of their life force while laughing and toasting my allies?" I asked her.
"Sure!" she replied.
"Can I live forever?"
"Of course! If you die, you can be resurrected!"
"Can I have sex?"
"Um... sure," she said, "If it's intrinsic to your character, or if you need to, I guess."
She stared at me. I sensed that I had shredded our delicate web of magical realism. I was no longer Redgar the Brave, but simply Cienna, the Large, Aggressive Vagina.
Still, my vagina wanted answers.
"What would happen then?"
"Well, your Dungeon Master would inform you of the outcome. I'm not sure if you'd need to roll or not, or how it would affect your sleep regimen—you get a daily allotment of spells and stuff before you need to recharge, so it might impact your performance the following day. But elves and witches don't really need sleep, so I suppose they could conceivably have more sex than other characters without any adverse effects."
I rolled my first die and we embarked upon our maiden D&D adventure. In the end, our troupe defeated an ogre or something and recovered the baron's ring, for which we were rewarded with pretend riches beyond our fake wildest dreams. It was fantastic. Six hours flew by. The coconut punch was divine. I came to terms with the fact that I am a warrior trapped inside the body of a judgmental vagina.
After our victory, Craig and I table-hopped and eavesdropped on the more intricately woven scenarios unfolding. It was amazing to see strangers bond over memories of adventures that technically never happened. Despite all of the illusions in the room, there were no personal illusions of grandeur—although I suppose it would be difficult to act pretentious while wearing gold-plated, 20-sided die earrings, or T-shirts that read, "Clerics Are Lame."
As we left the Science Fiction Museum, Craig beautifully summed up our experience with the highest praise possibly paid to D&D: "Had I discovered this game in adolescence," he said, "it probably would have spared me from many a Saturday night spent masturbating alone in my parent's basement."