Refreshing fantasy

Right now I’m involved in two different Dungeons & Dragons games, which will mark me as a geek among the highest order. Which I’m quite proud of, so save your taunts and your barbs ’cause I will ignore them.

In one game, I am the Dungeon Master; I’ve written previously about that game and it has continued. In fact, we’re meeting again next Monday.

Tonight, though, I played in the other group. In this one, I’m a player, rather than running the game. Right now we have a group of five players, though we may be adding another player in the future.

I’ll spare you most of the details of the game and world, because I’m sure that listening to other folks describe their adventures is only interesting to a small handful of people. But the DM, Lynn,1 has made some interesting choices. He’s using an alternate historical setting, putting us in Europe around 950 C.E., with the additions of standard D&D tropes: magic-users, clerics with spells, elves and dwarves and orcs and goblins. Magic, though, is rare, and controlled by a group that owes ties to the Catholic church; and priests who cast spells and heal by touch are rarer still.

I got involved in the game on the idea that it would be a temporary gig; Lynn was writing a module for sale, and wanted a group to playtest it. So I was handed a character, one I did not create from scratch myself. That being the case, my character began a bit “vanilla” and outside my comfort range, but in playing him I’ve grown to like him and enjoy trying to put myself into his shoes. He’s a straight fighter, a swordsman of vaguely Germanic background, one who values the law and hierarchy and structure, and who gives at least lip service to the demands of the church.

He’s also a bit abrasive and tonight I discovered through play that he’s a bit of a misogynist, which I thought was a logical attitude for the times and considering his background, but led to a funny/awkward moment tonight when it bumped up against the rather modern ideas of our mixed-gender group.

We were investigating the disappearance of a local old maid who had disappeared, a cook who was renowned for her special herbed butter. When we searched her shack, she was gone, but Aoric, my swordsman, realized that the exotic and foreign herbs and spices were probably worth considerable gold coin, and began stuffing them into a bag. The priest, Father Caelin, and the elven nature-worshipper, Galithean, both admonished me for stealing. To which I replied, honestly if defensively, “It’s not stealing. She’s a woman.”

A shocked silence fell over the group. Including the DM.

I looked to the priest, sure he would agree with me (the player for the priest is well-versed in the historical context, much more than I am, surely he’d get it) but he just stared at me, eyes slitted.

“Oh,” I said, “even the priest is giving me the eye. Um, I’m just saving them for the old woman, so we can give them back to her if — I mean when — we find her again.” And if we don’t, I reasoned, I’ll just keep them and sell them.

The priest informed me that even though women couldn’t own land, they could still have posessions. In that moment, I had channeled my inner Jayne, and had found the nugget for my character.

Aoric’s moment of glory came later, when he dealt the death-blow to the Italian mercenary who had been hired to ambush and kidnap the Margrave’s son. It’s the first and so far most satisfying critical hit I’ve rolled since I took up playing again.

But I’d promised not to regale you with tales of the game. The major point I wanted to make, before wandering off into storytelling, was that after each game, whether I’m running the game or playing in it, I am refreshed. I’m laughing, I forget my troubles, I feel as though I’m connecting to the other players, and my mind is always filled with plans and memories. It’s amazing to me how energized I always feel for at least the next day or two.

I like playing, but it’s more than that. I like telling stories, but it’s more than that, too. The accomplishments are minor compared to the rest of my life, but I think being in a small party of like-minded folk, as opposed to being in a social gathering of strangers with nothing in common, is the circumstance under which I flourish. This is my favorite kind of interaction, and it makes me very happy.

1 In the game I DM, we have a player whose name is Lynn and she’s female. In the game I’m a player, the DM’s name is Lynn, and he’s male. I’ve messed up emails by sending them to the wrong Lynn before. It’s mildly embarrassing.