In which we play Cal & D.

Saturday morning, I drove over to my friend Cal's house for D&D. Our friend Steve was already there, and our friend Martin was on his way to meet us.

While we waited for Martin to show up, we caught up on our lives, told stupid (and not-so-stupid) jokes, and got ready for the game.

"Hey, I brought you a 4e DM screen," I told Cal, "in case you don't have it, because it's one of the most useful DM screens I've ever used."

"We're not playing 4e," Cal said.

"Are we playing 3.5?" I asked, imagining a five hour encounter where I did little more than grapple.

"No, we're actually going to play a system I made up. It's sort of a hybrid of AD&D, 4e, and some other things. You're not even going to have character sheets." (Later on, we would describe this particular system as Cal & D.)

I was intrigued, and implored him to continue.

"I've adapted a Tomb of Horrors style adventure from Dungeon magazine –"

"You mean when it was still a magazine? Printed on actual paper and everything?"

"Yes," he said. I wondered how he stole it from the museum, and he continued: "We aren't using a battle map or minis, and we're not going to get hung up on a lot of rules. You guys are just going to do your best not to die in the Mud Sorcerer's Tomb."

When Martin arrived, we got our characters. I was a Fire Mage called Hosemi The Corpulent. It was decided that I wore a muu muu, had T-Rex arms, and one of my spells was lighting farts into mighty blasts of flame. Martin was a Gnome Paladin whose name I forget, but was based entirely on the Travelocity Gnome. Steve was some kind of deep earth stone Gnome guy who was essentially a 1st Edition thief.

We met in a tavern (duh) and left with a bunch of lackeys who I called Team Cannon Fodder. On the way to the Tomb, we did a little Roleplaying, and figured out who our characters were. I was kind of like Fat Bastard, leaning toward Neutral/Evil. Steve said he had "a fuckload" of healing potions in his adventurer's kit, as well as two dozen iron spikes. He also loaded up Like A Rock on his iPhone, and used it as his theme music whenever he did anything. Martin's character's goal in life was to save travelers gold pieces – this was especially funny because he was a Paladin of Garl Glittergold, and his battle cry was "GARL THAT GLITTERS IS GOLD!" 

If you are still under the impression that we were taking this very seriously, I offer the following exchange to clarify things:

"Hey," Martin said to Cal, "I want to ride a Dire Badger."

"What??

"Yeah, my mount is a Dire Badger."

"A Dire Badger would eat you, Martin."

"Not this one. We grew up together, so he's my pet."

I Twittered this, and more than one person replied that, if the Dire Badger was domesticated, it wasn't very Dire. I relayed this to the group, and Cal ruled that Twitter was correct, so Martin couldn't have his badger. I, however, got to ride a tiny donkey that was proportional to my size like those little motorcycles the world's fattest twins used to ride on That's Incredible!

We eventually got to the tomb, and sort of, uh, killed a lot of the lackeys in the first few rooms.

I forget exactly what we ordered them to do, but Cal said, "Okay, the lackeys all get together and one of them steps forward. 'We have decided to form a union, so you have to treat all of us the same way.'"

This is when I knew that my character was more Evil and Neutral.

"Okay, I hold my hands out, and engulf that guy in a fireball," I said. "Now I turn to the rest of them and say, 'Would you all still like to be treated equally, or will you do what we fucking told you to do?'"

(This is especially funny to me because I'm 100% a union guy.)

Cal said that they decided to go ahead and walk into the hallway, or whatever it was we wanted them to do.

"Oh, I also collect his ashes, and I draw them into a little football field, paying careful attention to the fifty yard line," I said.

This particular hallway had some sort of evil field of evil in it, so I was able to pass through relatively unharmed, but everyone else took a lot of damage, killing all but one of the lackeys.

"Clever way to get rid of our cannon fodder," I said. Cal smirked.

A little deeper into the dungeon, I took over the mapping duties. Now, I should point out that at this point in our day, the wine had been opened. I don't want to mistake correlation for causation, but my mapping became very detailed, including drawing giant dicks on the various statues.

"Why is it that, whenever we play D&D, we become twelve year-olds?" Martin asked.

We were all laughing too hard to reply, but I think I can answer him now: it isn't always about the game. It's never about the system, and it's rarely about "winning" as much as it's about the company and enjoying a few hours respite from the responsibilities and burdens of our real lives. Maybe we all become twelve because that's when most of us started playing, and though the reasons we seek escape have changed, the escape is still welcomed.

RPGs can be all about telling a collaborative story, using our imaginations, challenging our wits, and building heroic epics … but they can also be an excuse to get together with people we like to goof off and leave the Muggle world behind for a few hours, seriousness be damned. Whenever a system holy war comes up, I'd encourage you to think about that, and maybe use it as an escape hatch (so this doesn't happen) and ask yourself how often you have said, "Boy, that was a great system," versus "Boy, I had a really good time playing today."

Shortly after Steve's Gnome triggered a trap and found himself impaled on a gate made of daggers (seriously, who the hell makes a gate out of daggers?!) and our last surviving lackey was turned into frozen hunks of former-lackey, our wives came home. We decided to suspend the adventure, eat dinner, and finish the night with a rousing game of Cranium Pop 5.

We're planning to get together in the near future to finish our assault on Mudhoney's Tomb of Mud and Mudmen featuring Muddy Waters and the Mudskippers (which is what I kept calling it) … and this time I get to be the guy who threatens to punch Cal in the dick if he doesn't show up.

45 thoughts on “In which we play Cal & D.”

  1. I’m in pain. This is hysterical. Every group of pnp gamers eventually needs to have a free-form game like this.
    I once played a Narcoleptic Cynical Sleeping bag as I was dozing off while gaming ensued. I was told later I woke up just in time to affect an Epic Smother after being worn as a loin-cloth by the group’s Meatshield Giant Ape (think Grape Ape…).
    Go Team Cannon Fodder!!!

  2. What’s funny is when you were twittering about playing D&D, my group was also playing D&D.
    We realized weeks ago our group was evil when our rogue asked a girl, who we just dug up from being buried alive, to make him a sandwich.
    Playing our characters as evil has certainly made the story more entertaining.

  3. Absolutely hilarious! It’s stories like this are encouraging me to delve deeper into the depths of gaming! Keep ‘em coming!
    Look me up next time you’re in PDX, I know a great game store that always has something goin’ on.
    Thanks for the great laugh!!

  4. This is why I played GURPS when I was a kid, rather than D&D. My elf drummer whose weapons were poisoned drumsticks (stuck in v. uncomfortable places) was flipping awesome. The D&D kids didn’t like my lack of “true roleplaying”… sigh. :(

  5. You see, I only play free form games. It’s how I learned D&D. I even built my first game as a Fallout Knock-off RPG. I find that when you build the game around the mentality of those who play, you get more fun and less argumentation with the DM. While I wouldn’t say there are LESS rules (sometimes there are more) I like not having to lug around books. Just my character sheet and dice. Sometimes not even that if we really wanna wing it!

  6. They said it was a great time, but Anne told me that when she was getting her pedicure, one of the women who worked there was obnoxiously loud and inconsiderate. I guess the spa made it good, though, and gave her 20% off her service.

  7. Reading this was fun! And it made me even more excited that my youngest (12 in April) will be attending his first gaming convention this weekend and playing his first tabletop RPG (a friend of mine will be running it, so I know he’ll have a fantabulous first experience).
    I think I just squee’d again for him. I honestly do not know who is more excited that he is attending his first gaming con and will be playing a load of games he’s never had the opportunity to play before: my son or me.

  8. Love this, especially the Dire Badger! When we were dating my husband had me playing D&D until the day that my charecter decided to have an Ostrich as a mount and melt down some magic golden shoes into roller skates. Somehow he didn’t think I was taking the game seriously enough.

  9. You’re lucky, stacye. My DM won’t let us play anything less than “heroic.” Look, just because my Euphoric Ardent was a morally ambiguous prostitute doesn’t mean she was EVIL.

  10. Wil, you are so correct about the system having a lesser importance. During the 80’s I played in a MArvel the RPG game (a truly awful system where with a good die roll Aunt May could lift a 747.) but the GM made the world come alive and had a terrific feel for the characters. I had a blast! (nothing like running for cover when an associate says, ‘Lord Doom the failure was not your fault.’)

  11. I’ve grown out of dungeon crawls a long time ago but as a one off in a group similar to yours, I’d love to do one, ideally based on FATE/FUDGE.
    If only all “my character did this” stories were as well told as yours…

  12. We had a long conversation about the concept of Evil, and how it isn't absolute. for example, Martin's Gnome decided that a guy was Evil because he was trying to give away gold … so he had to kill him.
    From a certain point of view, it makes perfect sense.

  13. LOL…after a busy day of work and doing my )!(@)@(#)@ taxes…thank you good sir for some much need laughs! Giant dicks on statues…(genius!)…and I had to re-read one passage a few times to realize that you said “lighting farts” instead of “Lightning Farts” which I thought sounded like a spell that would certainly clear the room in a jiffy. ;)

  14. I have to say that as I’ve just started playing D&D, I quite enjoy reading this. We are a bit loose with the rules as well when we play, typically no minis or maps. But its all about the fun times. This right here is the reason I play.

  15. Oh dear. Here I’ve just lectured my students on the evils of cell phones when their classmates are trying to concentrate on writing essays, and I read this and burst into uncontrollable giggles. Sorry guys, i just became 12. Resume writing.

  16. I too have wondered about the 12-year-old-boy syndrome (aka: laugh hysterically at anything that contains the words “balls” or “duty”). I think it must be intrinsic to the game since a number of us in our company have only been playing for the past few years and most of us are women. I like to think it’s an indication of the high intellectual caliber of the group and we subconsciously feel it’s our duty to keep our higher brains from functioning.
    Heh. Doody.
    P.S. I feel Martin’s pain. My DM continually refused to let me get a pygmy Owlbear as a pet.

  17. Your D&D game sounds suspiciously like my Tuesday night game! It somehow became game canon that my rogue was in fact a… let’s just say ‘streetwalker’ (because he sucked at being a thief or assassin) – who met the halfling with the pink dreadlocks when he hired the rogue and made him wear a sheep costume. (It doesn’t help that rogues have such moves as ‘nimble positioning’ and ‘bump and run’.)

  18. “Sucked” at being a thief or assassin? Or did he “blow”? *snerk*
    Oh, that reminds me, talk about 12 yrs old… “ass” “ass” “in” – hours of amusement! ;)

  19. I play that kinda roleplaying with my 4 yr old daughter. She has no patience for paper or even dice most of the time, but she loves to tell me what her characters do in the situations they find themselves in. :) Also, it works out logistically, as we can have a mini-session as I’m walking her home from preschool.

  20. Wow, I envy a D&D game like this. I cant remember the last time I played just a “fun” game of D&D… Curse of being the DM I guess; always feels like serious business. Ah well, thank you again Wil for the great story and it’s good to see you didn’t get punched in the dick… Never a good trade off for a gaming night.

  21. Oh well, seems like boys never get too old to draw giant dicks and think that’s funny… I sit next to two boys in school and 99% of the flowers and elephants which are drawn on my worksheets were born as dicks… xD
    Anyhow, I think it’s really important to have those moments in which you can escape from your real life and just lean back and have a fun time. These are the moments which make life living.

  22. This brought a tear to my eye. It is amazing how sometimes I get so frustrated with my life and get angry and surly and then realize that it is because I am lacking interaction with the people I care for.
    My D&D group hasn’t met up in close to six months and I miss the dynamic of the characters and those that play them.
    Here are a few quotes from previous games that’ll hopefully make you laugh.
    From WoD: Vampire
    “Everyone’s falling on me with their claws out.”
    “It’s like dating Edward Scissorhands!!”
    Renee and Ali
    “He’s all about instant gratification.”
    “YES! He wants to be shot… RIGHT NOW!”
    Renee and Ali
    “Does your character have striking looks?”
    “She doesn’t, but she’ll strike you until you think she’s pretty.”
    Mel and Ali
    “You see a man staring lustfully at him and he’s daydreaming.”
    “Add sparkles and you’ve got TWILIGHT.”
    Mel and Ali
    From D&D
    “I’m gonna throw one of the concubines at the guard.”
    “What’s the range increment on a bitch?”
    JonB and Drew
    Serenity
    “‘Does this smell like atmo?’ And then I hit the airlock.”
    Ali
    There are so many more. I actually write down the funny things my friends say and put them up monthly on my website.
    http://cranialspasm.com/category/quotes-from-pals/

  23. This is awesome. One of the reasons I kind of stopped playing D&D was that I was afraid of playing with new people. My gaming group used a players handbook, a DM’s guide, a monster manual, a few dice, and some xeroxed character sheets. There was never a module, any body else’s story, or any figurines. The rules were more what you might call “guidelines”, and the DM could do whatever he wanted to and we could customize rules to suit us. All the published D&D stuff was just a framework on which we built our games. And I got to play an elf with a split personality who was a chaotic neutral thief, a chaotic evil assassin, and a lawful good monk, depending on certain environmental triggers.

  24. Some friends and I are currently going through a 3e campaign that’s really laid back (we have character sheets, but we were given an automatic 18 for one of our attributes, were given max starting gold, max hp per level until we hit level 5, etc. No map or minis, either.) I’ve been tasked with writing up the session notes, which I’ve been posting for all to read. So far, we’ve only had three sessions (last night was our third night), but once the campaign is over I’m going to put everything together in a single document and post it on scribd. The first three nights session notes weigh in at around 5,000 words. Here’s a link to the tag on my site, if anyone is interested:
    http://livingwithanerd.com/tag/personal-campaign/
    Note: I had only met the DM prior to this game starting…the other two players knew each other, but I had never met them prior.

  25. “”Are we playing 3.5?” I asked, imagining a five hour encounter where I did little more than grapple.”
    You can have your 4e minis boardgame, and I’ll keep my Descent and my Pathfinder RPG.

  26. How do people find groups to play with? I just recently put it out there to a guy (man, he is older than me, which means ‘older than 42′) I meet every month at an SF meetup. I told him I’d have time during which weeknights I can play, one of which coincided with one of his group. We know each other, we’ve seen each other for over a year now, what the fuck does it take? As an asperger, I feel comfortable around nerds, dorks and geeks. I socialize with them and all but still there is that last nearly invisible divide. If it wasn’t for my autistic son, I would hardly play at all. Even though I’m surrounded by geeks who play these games. If it wasn’t for my autistic son (bless him) I wouldn’t have played Magic the Gathering yet. I even got my 6yo non-autistic daughter to play.
    What. Does. It. Take.
    I’ve been going to a wargaming club once or twice a month (as far as taking care of the kids allows) for over half a year now. I faithfully go to the monthly SF meetup, skipped only once in over a year.
    If the problem is that I, try as a might, don’t seem to fit in the (admittingly very few) social conventions of even nerds, I don’t know what to do. Just being nice, friendly, social and even conversational clearly doesn’t cut it. I’m about to give up and retreat again to the internet and for the rest of it play those games with no-one but my awesome kids. Or is a year of hanging out with like-minded people too short to be admitted into the inner circle?
    And now I’ve finished writing this, I realize this is harder on me than I let on.

  27. “What. Does. It. Take.”
    Good question. To paraphrase a pirate’s favourite Captain, “You can do nothing wrong, and still lose.”
    I expect the usual answer would be continue to put yourself in the right places, continue to have patience and hope for luck. Funny, it sort of sounds like the recipe for finding a significant other, which I suppose it kinda is. (which also may explain your unexpected level of frustration)
    You’re also looking “late” in life, when groups like this have likely been mainly formed in earlier stages, so there are going to be less opportunities for you to break into “inner circle[s].”
    Also, later in life there is a lot of dick punching going on, that is, the gamers who want to get together with their friends can’t even do that as often as they’d like (due to real-life stuff) so the likelihood that they’ll be seeking new friends/playgroups is even less likely.
    So, yeah, you’re kinda trying to steal treasure from an awake and annoyed dragon at this point. It ain’t going to be easy without a good deal of luck or in-the-right-place-at-the-right-timeness.
    Here’s what I would do. I would focus on the awesomeness that is your relationship with your children, accept the fact that finding a peergroup is more difficult than you initially thought, but to keep at it, because you never know when you’ll be in that right place at that right time.
    Given that, you will have enjoyed the most important aspect of your life (your kids), and should that peer group ever emerge, then you’ll have a serendipitous opportunity that will also enrich your life.
    Good luck!

  28. “(seriously, who the hell makes a gate out of daggers?!)”
    Yeah, I know. And who the hell thought of this gate made of water that I’ve heard so much about?

  29. Wil, it’s Martin. And I was playing Glinbiddle Hodgemalkin, Gnome Champion of Garl Glittergold. Feel my gnomish wrath!
    And, Cal only *thinks* I’m not riding a dire badger. I am riding one. Except, remember, we left all of our mounts outside, along with Hosemi’s food train.

  30. Oh, and sorry for the double-post, but I should point out that Cal only made me play a gnome because months later he’s still mad that I made him play an Elf Fighter/Magic-User in my run through 1st Edition “Expedition to the Barrier Peaks.”

  31. I feel better. The evening before the comment, I went to the meetup. As I said, I like socializing but it puts a real stress on me. Compare it to long-distance runners, who love the running but can’t do it all the time because long-distance running is not a natural human ability that you can do all day everyday.
    Tonight my ex told me my daughter is not doing as well in school as she normally does. Turns out she feels I spend more time with my son than with her. This isn’t true but I know why she feels it. My son and I give of very few non-verbal signals and to a ‘normal’ person, that can be disquieting, especially to a 6yo that doesn’t understand it. So my energy will go there now. It will be a bigger effort for me than for others but I need and want to do it (seriously, it takes making a checklist for me – like a long-distance runner making a training schedule – asperger has good sides but it also kicks you in the head often)
    A less important note: I tried it all when I was a teen. When I was 18, I found a group but they were 90 miles away. That was the lenght I was prepared to go through, going there once a month. Beyond that, nothing even though I went to open days of 2 clubs. It’s never been for lack of trying. There is an upside to always have been a lonely geek (not to mention an outsider even among the outsiders): I can actually play as 2 different players in a game against myself, completely following independent strategies where neither parts play with knowledge of the other. Of course I have complete knowwledge of both sides but I can play them as if it wasn’t the case. It’s a skill coming from having mainly yourself to play against :-D

  32. we play a version alot like this… we even make up our own magical items ie. Orange hiking boots of disquise and wand of Sumon Tribble Horde… (which is basicly a charm person where EVERYONE has to save even the caster… eventually you have to save v. suffication… if, of course, inside)

  33. Wil,
    Did you see the D&D episode of Community this week?
    I enjoyed it, but I’m not a D&Der, so I wondered how someone who was would like it.

  34. I don’t think it’s just D&D that turns everyone into a twelve year old. But, now that you mention it, I used to think it was just WoW. Maybe RPGs and especially MMORPGs do it-any time you’re with a large group of nerds really.
    Me: “Can I hit the skeleton with the flat of my sword?”
    George: “Wtf?”
    Nate: “She’s trying to do blunt damage with a slashing weapon.”
    George: “F that, I rip the skeleton’s arms off. There, he’s disarmed.”
    Me: /facepalm
    Yeah…

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