It’s a rainy Saturday. The Nutty Irishman in Farmingdale is getting busy. I walk a few doors down on Main Street to Empire Gaming, a new comic book store. Someone at the front desk points to a small room.
There’s a man at one end with an army of miniature characters on the table in front of him, some maps, all sorts of books filled with numbers and charts and a chainmail bag full of dice—6 sided, 20-sided, all different colors and shapes. He’s my dungeon master and he’s been one since 1979. He’s about to help me enter the world of the table-top role-playing game, Dungeons & Dragons.
“You’ve all been hired by the good king of Benchleydale to put a stop to the rampaging giants who’ve torn the land of men asunder,” he tells me. “Your mission: Infiltrate the Hill Giant Fortress, exterminate the giants and their allies, find out why they’ve become militant, and find out who (or what) is behind all this mayhem.”
But before I depart on this noble journey I have to create my D&D persona—Demetria the Spell Caster.
“Does your character wear a hooded cloak, or a robe perhaps?” says my DM. “If so, what color? Let your imagination run wild.”
“I’ll take a purple hooded cloak!” I answer.
Now it’s time to roll the dice and equip myself for the journey ahead. My DM makes some recommendations.
“But what would I need 50 feet of rope for?” I ask him.
“Perhaps you’re in a cave and you need something to scale the wall.”
“Can I have a pony?”
“Yes, you can have a pony. But remember that pony has to eat.”
Now I have to bring my character to life in the form of a 1.5-inch pewter miniature. I search the Internet till I find one that looks like me. A few days later it arrives, a little silver statue I have to turn into Demetria. I put a layer of primer on it, then some color. Brown for the staff she holds in her left hand and blue for the crystal ball she holds in her right. Hair: brown. Hooded cloak: purple. A final layer of acrylic glaze and she’s good to go.
I plan to pick up a player’s handbook, but before I know it, Sunday comes around and it’s game time.
I walk past The Nutty Irishman again, wonder if I should do a few shots first, then continue on to Empire Gaming, where my Dungeon Master sits behind a cardboard wall. There are 11 others with me—Cidhella the Barbarian, Dusk the Assassin, Lauranna the Thief, Bert the Bard, to name a few—seated around the table. In front of us is a hand-drawn map of Benchleydale, a Tolkien-esque land under attack.
Celtic music is playing low in the background. We all place our miniature selves in front of us and a can of Pringles begins circulating the room. We trade items. As a spellcaster I cannot use weapons or certain instruments. Unfortunately I have a bunch of them so I make a trade. An instrument of the Bards for a potion of clairvoyance and a potion or clairaudience.
I really wish I read the handbook.
We pick our first stop on the map—a refugee camp of survivors. We listen to their stories as relayed to us by the DM. We continue to the town of Snowbite, where trolls attack us. Two mini trolls are put on the table. It’s time for battle. Fighters up front. Magic users in the back.
“Does anyone have any spells we can use first?” someone asks. “I have burning hands!” shouts another. With that, she gestures with her hands and the DM rolls the dice, to determine the success of the attack.
“You hit him,” he says. “Roll again.”
She rolls a good number. The troll is weakened. Someone else has a flask of oil. He rubs it on the imaginary troll’s head and someone else sets it on fire.
God, I wish I read the handbook.
“The troll is dead,” says the Dungeon Master. The others are soon vanquished in similar fashion.
We move farther along the map, and find a sea serpent in Loot Lake, guarding hundreds of treasure chests at the bottom. We start retrieving them. Lauranna the Thief cracks one open with a roll of the dice and finds gems inside. She attempts to open the second but it has a trap. She rolls to deactivate the trap. It doesn’t work. She is stuck by a poison needle.
Thankfully, Burt the Bard, a few feet away, has a Slow Poison spell to hamper the effects. Lauranna rolls the dice to see how sick she is. The DM tells her she won’t make it through the night.
We move on to a fishing village to find an antidote to cure her. I, Demetria, am the spokesperson. I go to one of the villagers and ask, through the DM, if there is a healer around town. He asks me what happened and he wants details.
Do I give him details?
“I don’t know if I should be telling you that—are you bad or good?” I ask, breaking character. We make up a story, which I fumble a little bit. I said Lauranna was hurt by poisonous trolls. I was supposed to say she was hurt by trolls with poisonous arrows. There is no such thing as poisonous trolls. The DM, speaking as the villager, questions my answer. Then another member of our party comes to my rescue.
“I jump up and hold a knife to his throat and say, ‘Get me a doctor!’” yells Odin, sitting across from me.
I really, really need that handbook.
We get the antidote, and return to the lake. We now have a lobster claw apparatus to pick the chests out of the water and crush them open to avoid traps. Some contain body parts of a dead general. We need to find out what happened to him.
Luckily, we have someone with a Reanimate the Dead spell on hand. The general comes to life and speaks through the DM. He was killed by someone named Dr. Pain for disobeying orders. We’re getting closer.
It’s now time to find the evil doctor who the general tells us is in the Hell Giant Fortress. We get on our way, but the session comes to a close. We’ve played a solid four hours and moved about six inches on the map, but the journey isn’t over.
“We meet again in two weeks,” says the DM.
But for now the imaginary world disappears and everyone leaves, scattering in different directions, going back to the land of mere mortals.
I stepped onto the street and wondered if I actually did have those shots, after all. And when I got home, I ordered that handbook.