Monday, March 10, 2008

Mr. Gygax, this is what I learned.

A few days back, my friend over at Soulkefuffle emailed me a news link which reported that Gary Gygax, the man credited with developing the Dungeons and Dragons tabletop role playing game, had passed away.

Much like Soulkerfuffle, the majority of my wedding party will be made up of friends I have gamed with in the past including (but not limited to) the beautiful and demure Lavanalla, the powerful yet compassionate Severus Thrax, and my kindred spirit Joshua Tasden. Even a few of the wily Calico family of thieves from decades ago will make appearances. Who would have guessed that when all the Frost Giants have been tripped and the burning silos reduced to cool embers, that Bradje would eventually settle down? Not Bradje, that's for sure.

Sparkle Sparkle

But I digress...

Despite generally being viewed by the public as something very "nerdy" or "geeky," the character development and storylines played out in a Dungeons and Dragons campaign can have a very real and positive effect on the participants (unless your DM gets pissed off at one of your good 20-sided dice and throws is off a sixth-story balcony). This is especially true when you get to "game" with the great story tellers, actors, and mathematicians (I'm looking at you, Keflen, king of the number crunchers!!!) who you are extremely good friends with and who honestly know you well.

If you look past the swords and spells and monsters and maidens, you will see the situations and interactions present in tabletop gaming can really be a window into your own soul and personality. For me, the best characters I've ever played were little adaptations and aspects of my "real life" character. To the uninitiated this sounds weird (and nerdy - how can you relate to a 200 year old fireball hurling elf?), but to those who've seriously "role played" before, you know exactly where I'm coming from.

Thanks to the hard work of Mr. Gygax, I know myself a little better. From my time in Eberron, the Forgotten Realms, Ravenloft, serving time on "the wall," etc... I've learned a few things. I'd like to take a few seconds to relate some of them. So without further ado...

Five things I've learned playing D&D:

"Experience" defines us

D&D has an inherent system for advancing characters. As you "do things" like slaying a dragon, negotiate a treaty between rival kingdoms, use skills, etc..., you gain "experience points" which are used to gauge how powerful (what level) you are. The more "experience" you have, the stronger your character is.

In order to truly advance and understand what you're capable of on many levels, however, you need to seek out more "worthwhile" experiences. Killing the same old weak skeletons and zombies day after day does nothing for character - you need to find things which better test you and from which you can learn. Save a princess, fight a dragon, get your masters degree, learn a new language, find a new job, or tell that lich where he can shove his ioun stones!!!

Never back down

Now I'm not saying "never back down" in terms of getting damn near killed mouthing off to the 15th level half orc barbarian when you're a 3rd level gnomish bard and the guy accidentally bumped into you and is apologizing.

What I am saying, however, is when you're staring down the forces of the abyss and all of "humanity" is on the line, that is the time to make your stand, no matter how hopeless it may look. When presented with an ethical judgment, go with your character. Don't steal that cursed sword, don't sign off on that design when you know it's flawed, don't trust that crazy bitch Vincenna, and when your guide turns on you and is about to chop the rope that's dangling you over a miles-deep gorge, flip upside down and shoot him in the face with a fire arrow, then let your halfing friend chop him to bits when you finally catch him.

The decisions you make and the stands you take not only define you to other people, they inherently become part of you and can guide your actions in the future.

Learn from and accept mistakes

So you've made a deal with Baphomet to exchange part of your immortal soul for extreme power? So you've been seduced by the Swanmay and are now 9 months away from parental responsibility? So you've sent one of your friends to the grave (again, but this time permanently damning him to eons of torture) with a not-so-judicious use of a spell called Phantasmal Killer? So you've let some aging human knock your beutiful elven self up? So you've left a path of destroyed towns and burning silos in your wake? I will do everyone I know a favor and not start spouting off real world scenarios that include me jumping off railings, taking years to graduate, buying a Saab, etc...

Deal with it. Running away from problems only makes them worse (ask Bradje). With every mistake comes the opportunity to learn, correct, and make up for your (usually bone-headed) actions, at least on some level. Mistakes, while embarrassing and painful at times, build character - at least you know the consequences of your actions and what not to do next time.

Friends will always be there to help, but will never let you live things down

Sometimes a Frost Giant just needs to be tripped over a ledge to show him who's boss. And sometimes a character needs to be grabbed by said Frost Giant as it's tumbling over the cliff for him to realize that such undertakings may not be most rational plan.

And sometimes a friend steps up and saves you with a column of air at just the right time to prevent you from falling to your untimely demise. Or they take your keys when you really should be operating a motor vehicle. Or drives you to the hospital when you jump off a 15 foot railing and crack your ankle. Or pulls you away from a burning silo before you do more damage.

It's true, your best friends in life will be there for you no matter how many times you muck things up. It is also their right (and comedic privilege) to make sure you never do something so damn stupid again by reminding you of how stupid you were.

You need to take chances/Nothing is ever hopeless

And that's why you roll the dice. All of the armies of the abyss could be closing in on you. A millennium-old vampire and his thralls could be staring you down. The evil god of pestilence and disease could have your brother's soul. You may not think you're qualified for the job. She may not be everything her friend talks her up to be. You may not be everything her friend talks you up to be.

It doesn't matter the situation, you'll never know the outcome unless you take the shot. It could be a calculated shot. It could be from the hip. It could turn out perfectly and the world could be saved. It can strike a protective rune and decimate an ancient elven society.

No matter how much of a long shot, if the outcome could be worth it, you need to let the 20-sider fly.

And now, as a parting word to Mr. Gygax: Thank you. You have not only provided us with access to fun, excitement, and a host of kindred spirits, but also to a lot of character development and "growing up." We are the people we are today in part because of your work.




At March 10, 2008 at 1:05 PM , Blogger robustyoungsoul said...

Seriously, this is one of the best tributes I've read. A perfect combination of the personal and universal. Great work, my friend.

Looking forward to gaming with you for years to come.

At March 10, 2008 at 1:08 PM , Blogger Andy said...

I think Karen misses the Inquisitor stories.

At March 10, 2008 at 3:55 PM , Anonymous Karen said...

And the High Inquisitor's mother.

At March 11, 2008 at 9:31 PM , Blogger Tezrak the Impslayer said...

Hey, you forgot everyone's favorite Dwarf General, Tezrak! Or everyone's favorite Elven Bladesinger martyr Scrymgeour, for that matter. Hmph.

At March 11, 2008 at 10:30 PM , Blogger Andy said...

I couldn't mention Scrymgeour - he died on top of the silo I set fire to...


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