Thursday, October 20, 2005

Before I was "cool"

My teenage years were a heady time of situational celibacy and absolute geekdom. Although I hate the term, I was a "Trekkie" (god bless Channel 20 for showing TNG reruns at 7pm and 10pm every night throughout middle and high school), my list of the top 10 films of all time consisted solely of the Star Wars and Indiana Jones trilogies, and for a period of time I played a lot of RPG's (Role Playing Games, for the uninitiated).

My friends and I mainly played two games; Robotech and Dungeons & Dragons. Almost all RPG's are derived from D&D. Robotech is basically D&D but played within the world of the Japanese anime series Macross. Robotech was especially badass because your character operated a giant "mecha warrior" vehicle. The classic mecha was the VF-1 Veritech "Valkyrie." Sweet! I know, this is all terribly geeky stuff but I promise you this is going somewhere. But a bit of technical background first.

How do RPG's work? They're basically board games with no board that rely heavily upon the players' imaginations and the rolls of multi-sided die. A standard die set for any player includes 4, 6, 12, and 20-sided die. One of the persons playing is the Game Master (GM), or Dungeon Master (DM) depending on the game you're playing. He runs the game. The GM is something akin to the Supreme Court of the RPG universe. He narrates the mission/adventure, sets the operating paradigm for the game, interprets and rules upon improvised solutions to problems encountered by the other players, and awards Experience Points to individual players based on their successes and failures throughout the mission.

The other players are characters within the mission. Each person keeps an ongoing character which they build and shape over the course of the missions they play. As your character accrues more Experience Points, he becomes more and more capable of pulling off some of the more outlandish actions you attempt. (The characters will also often take on the ego and bravado the player running him wished he always had in real life. This is why he would be sitting in someone's basement at 10pm on a Friday night playing games instead of out scoring with hot chicks.)

Now, why I have I made you to suffer through more information than any normal person would want to know about RPG's? To illustrate an important point: geeks/dorks are just as capable of all the cruel, petty, and vindictive mind games that any of the Mean Girls, jocks, or other "cool" kids were capable of. You see, there is a very testy relationship between the GM and the players. The GM wields an awful lot of institutional power within the game and can therefore fuck over anyone he chooses. Outcomes are supposed to be decided by the roll of the die but the GM can twist and manipulate the situation however he pleases. Therefore, even the dork hierarchy had its paeans and if you happened to be lowest on the totem pole, you were cooked. Of course if you were such a tool that even the dorks gave you a hard time, you really had no recourse but to sit there and put up with it. I mean, who the hell else was going to hang out with you.

I started thinking about all of this again because a buddy of mine who I used to play Robotech and D&D with, recently emailed me all of sorts of interesting items he'd found on the interent about the old games. You know, reminiscing about the good times. Anyway, today he forwarded me a sort of recap (which if memory serves me is pretty on the money) of one of our old missions. When I read it I couldn't stop laughing. It was hard to believe what huge tools we were and how mean we could be.

To set this up, a kid we used to hang with named John Wells was trying his damndest to get out of some situation. Eddie, the GM, had decided that (just for kicks) there was no chance in hell that John's character was making it out of the game alive. This is a big deal because it takes a long time (and many games) to build up a good working character. If he dies, there's no coming back. You have to start all over again which means you are way behind the 8-ball the next time you play. It sucks. Anyway, here's how it went down:
GM: "You walk into a small dark room. You hear noises but can
barely see anything because it's so dark."
John Wells: "I light my torch"
GM: "You light your torch. All of a sudden a huge Orc is
about to bash you with a spiked club!!!" "Roll 20"
John: 2+ 4 defense against Orcs
GM: 18+Surprise modifier "The orc hits you so hard in your
face that you fall back and hit your head on Phil's armor 60+42 double
damage. You die."
John: Damnit.

What's happened here is that the GM has decided that no matter what gets rolled, he was going to keep piling on the hardships until the character was dead. Poor John. F'd in the A for no other reason than our own amusement. Good times.

You'll notice that I've been VERY gender-specific in my pronoun usage. Everything is "he" because well, no girl would be caught dead hanging out with us. I wonder why.

For more info on the role of RPG's in the lives of losers, check out Episode 15 of the amazing TV show Freaks and Geeks, "Discos and Dragons."


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At 10/20/2005 5:25 PM, Blogger clm said...

ha, i'd totally forgotten about the D&D geeks in middle school, and how they used to spend the time before school and lunch sitting around rolling dice. it was all very mysterious, now i know what they were up to! i remember this one kid whose last name was Blankenship- that always seemed a fitting name for a geeky kid, i suppose he was doomed from birth. although maybe if i googled him i'd find out he's an uber-hipster or something. i should do that.

i always straddled the line between geek and cool kid; my particular modality being an obsession with all things music. luckily for me it's a lot cooler to be a geek these days.


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