Thursday, February 18, 2016

A Trap & Know Alignment Spell on an Old Dining Room Table

I was 39 years old. I was at a friend's house party in 2009 in a hippie neighborhood where I used to live. The friend had been cleaning up and sorting through his stuff and had laid out a pile of books on his old, battered dining room table with the idea that his friends would take away something he was tired of but would be new and fun to someone else.  One book turned out to be a weird litmus test- the 1983 red Mentzer Basic D&D book with the Larry Elmore dragon leering on the cover.

As I mentioned before, my impressionable young self had imprinted on the 1977 Dr. J. Eric Holmes blue Basic D&D book with its polyhedral dice shortage apologies ("Please cut out these lame paper chits and put them in a styrofoam cup until you can send in this coupon and get dice from TSR nine months later") and erudite, evocative tone - something like:  "...tunnels beneath the sorcerer Zenopus' tower leading to the disused catacombs or all the way to the pirate-infested sea, mingling with the foundations of the older, pre-human city..."

So I never had any affection or interest or nostalgia for the 1983 red book or box.   But of course the overwhelming majority of people don't know or care about 1977 vs. 1979 vs. 1981 vs. 1983 or Holmes vs. Cook vs. Mentzer.  Most of the people at the party, and people around the city, if they had any ideas about the lurid red book at all, would think "Comic books or something", "Whiff of geek" and "Dungeons & Dragons - Wasn't that a cartoon show in the '80s?" 

Plastic beer cup in hand, I stood in the doorway between the kitchen and dining room.  Over people's shoulders, around their hairdos, I caught glimpses of people digging around the pile of books on the table. 

Zebulon [as you might guess, not his real name] saw the book, did a double-take, smiled broadly, exclaimed like he had been surprised by bumping into a long-lost friend: "Aw, cool!  D&D!  I haven't seen this in forever!"

Alberich [not his real name either, and not usually a callous or bad guy] wheeled around and very loudly began to rip on his friend Zebulon and on the book-redistributing party host [also his friend] for liking D&D, role-playing games, etc.  The rant went on and on at high intensity and volume.  The monologue wasn't gentle ribbing or funny or clever observations (which were Alberich's usual speciality).  Something was swirling around here, below the murky surface.  It was fascinating to watch.

Here's a D&D metaphor:  The red book was a trap, which sprung a Know Alignment spell on people who stopped to look at it.  If you want a less D&D-oriented metaphor it was a litmus test.  Zebulon was revealed to me as D&D positive - someone who knows and likes some kind of D&D.  Alberich was revealed as a person who can recognize D&D materials and vehemently, publicly rejects them and everything about them.  He had the fervor of someone who played before, maybe was into the game, but then wanted to utterly disassociate the elements of himself which reveal a past, discarded persona, a vulnerable, uncool, self-judged childish part of himself.

The Know Alignment spell-spewing red book had an interesting and useful effect- I could see who hated D&D, who didn't know or care about it, and which of my friends might be receptive to the idea of playing D&D again, maybe after a decades-long hiatus like mine. Later at the party, Alberich, Zebulon and I talked amicably about subjects that had nothing to do with D&D.  Alb's outburst was never mentioned, and we're all still cordial.

So anyway, I invited Zebulon and his artist wife Isobel to play D&D with me and my wife, in a game helmed by me.  I hadn't played, much less DMed for 25 years. Do you predict an impending trainwreck?  What dramas unfolded will be told in the next post.

No comments:

Post a Comment