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."
"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.