I finished Neal Stephenson's Reamde recently, and while there's a lot I could say about it--"interesting use of MMOs in narrative" and "Dickensian level plot coincidences" for starters--what really resonated with me in terms of what's going on in my life right now is a passage on vacations:
"He had never understood vacations, never really taken them. But sometimes he had talked to people who did understand and take them, and the story they seemed to tell had something to do with getting away from one's normal day-to-day concerns, putting all that stuff out of one's mind for a while, and going somewhere new and having experiences. Experiences that were somehow more pure and raw and true--the way small children experienced things--precisely because they were non sequiturs, complete departures from the flow of ordinary life."
(Sidenote: one of the advantages of an e-book is that you can search for passages like that by looking for keywords--I would have had a real problem looking for that passage in the physical version. But on the flip side, I can't tell you what page number that passage is on if you wanted to look it up yourself.)
Now, my trip to Toronto last weekend wasn't a vacation; I was there on business. But it did provide that non sequitor from my ordinary life, and it was enlightening in that regard. In fact, it usually is when I leave for a different place; that's why most of my vacation post series tend to end when I run out of time to do the posts rather than run out of things to say on the subject. Still, we'll try to divvy up the experiences again, and see what happens. First up, then: Dungeons and Dragons.
Given my procivility for geek hobbies, it may be a surprise that I've never played D&D before. Thanks to various videogames, comics, books, TV shows, and podcasts, and player guides, I'm versed in the basic rules and lore, but I've never known enough like-minded people who were in the same place at the same time to play a full session. But when I knew I'd be spending a few days in Toronto, I thought I'd suggest to my office mate, a Torontonian who has also expressed interest in D&D from a Dungeon Master's perspective, that we should give it a go while we were there. And he took that idea and ran with it, getting the people together. And on Saturday night, we got together in his apartment in SW Toronto and played a bit. It was me, another person from our program, two friends of his, and his partner (who served the food--some of the best homemade pizza I've had in ages) formed the party, as a cleric, mage, paladin, rogue, and and dwarf warrior, respectively. He served as DM, and their two little adorable dogs served as entertainment.
It took a long time to get started, largely because none of us had bothered to read the rules he sent out in any detail. It was 4th edition rules, which I understand is an easier game for beginners than 3rd--it mainstreams a lot of the powers and abilities, for example. But it still took a while to figure out the general skills and stats and so forth, and what kind of things we could ask for. The basic scenario was that we were mercenaries hired to guard a town, and it was our first day on the job. I should mention that from here on out, the post's essentially going to be an after action report, or a let's play--essentially, a detailed description of what happened. A little more description and a little less analysis than usual, in other words. This is all to the best of my recollection too--the exact order of events or number of foes may have varied somewhat. Anyway, we reported in, and received our basic standing orders. Our commanding officer berated us for a bit, and our rogue--the member of the team who was there as community service for crimes committed rather than for the promise of gold or glory--attempted to steal any keys he had on his person, which seems like a shame. If nothing else, he was really ruining it for everyone else in that program. He failed in the attempt, and we headed off to the smithy to pick up some better gear.
The smithy was run by a woman who, we were told, was almost as wide as she was tall. Using my insight skill, I determined she was a bit sweet on our paladin, and he flirted her into giving us slightly better gear. Our group had a combined diplomacy skill of about 4, so--spoilers--that's about the last time our attempts to find a nonviolent way to gain advantage would pay off.
On the way back, we head by the bar, because, why not? Once we get there, there seems to be something of a brohaha in action, as we arrive to the sight of a dwarf being thrown through the window. As newly christened guardsmen, we decide it's our responsibility to settle things. So we attempt to intimidate him into standing down, but the dwarf decides to take a swing at us instead. He connects with our wizard, and does a little damage. After our initial attempts to beat him up in non-fatal methods meet with little success, we start stabbing him a bit until he calms sufficiently for us to tie him up. He informs us that he is with another group of mercenaries, and they're antsy about not being paid, and thus are stirring up a fight.
During the course of all this, our lovable rogue has taken it upon himself to sneak into the bar through the other window to get a sense of what's going on inside. Sadly, his stealth is lacking a bit, and the window thuds shut with him inside. Someone notices this movement, and starts moving in on him themselves in a menacing manner.
The four on one fight outside being bravely conquered, the rest of us spill into the bar. There's eight mercenaries there, 4 humans and 5 dwarves. They just finished roughing up the staff, and so it's just them and the barkeep, who's rather handily taking down one of them in the upper right corner. The others--minus the one menacing the rogue--turn to us. No doubt still smarting from her wounds outside, our mage decides to start with immediate decisive action, and shoots a warning fireball at the humans. It's a critical hit, and all four die instantly in a fiery conflaguration. Nothing says "quality law enforcers" like killing people in a bar fight. At this point, I suggest it's time to ask the survivors to surrender, and defer my turn to allow someone with more speech-related skills to give it a go. The rogue is next, so, on the promise that there is more where that came from, he tells the dwarves to drop their weapons.
The attempt is a critical fail, which means the dwarves are so incensed at the death of their fallen cousins that they summon their pet wolf to attack us as well. Thus, it is on. Our paladin rushes into the middle of the room, and swipes at Dwarf 3. And, not wanting to be left out of the action, I unleash a lance of faith at Dwarf 4, still on its way to the Rogue. It misses, but the side effect grants an attack bonus to a character of my choosing--I pick our dwarf. Said dwarf fighter swings at Dwarf 4, and whittles its health a bit. Then it's the dwarves' turn. Two attack the paladin, both doing damage. Not only that, but the wolf leaps across a table, and launches itself onto the paladin's leg. The other dwarf--the one I'll never forget, the one whose name is now inscribed on my very being--attacks me, scoring a critical hit that demolishes half my health.
That's round 1.
Back at the top of the order, our wizard teleports over to the back of a dwarf now caught between her and the paladin, and unleashes a magic missile. Dwarf 3 is further injured. I take a swipe at my new hated foe, Dwarf 2, and miss, but I use minor action to heal up the paladin. Selfless of me to heal him before myself, I know. Not to be outdone on the healing game, the paladin uses his turn to unleash his paladin's strike, which hurts 4, and heals me, which was nice of him. Our rogue manuevers himself so that Dwarf 4 is caught between him and our fighter. Using roguish backstabbing techniques, he does extra damage, parting the dwarf from this mortal coil. Our dwarf puts herself into place to take out dwarf 2, but misses. He is a crafty but cowardly being. The foes then take their turns. The wolf continues to crunch on the paladin, but Dwarf 3 misses its attack on the same. Dwarf 2 goes after the dwarf fighter, and scores a substantial wound against her. The bastard. I employ my divine avatar ability to turn the critical hit into a regular hit, which mitigates some of the damage.
That's round 2.
Our wizard attempts to pacify the wolf with her nature skills, but fails. I attempt to hit Dwarf 2 with my healing strike, but fail. I am not having much luck with the whole "hitting opponents" thing. But as a secondary effect of the strike, I can heal a party member, so I heal up the fighter. I may not be succeeding at the damage dealing part, but I'm doing pretty solid as support and axillary. Our paladin attempts to pacify the wolf with a sword through the chest, and he finds that method more effective; the wolf dies. Our rogue runs over to Dwarf 2, now caught like Dwarf 4 between him and our dwarf fighter. He does his backstab thing again to great effect, and my greatest enemy goes down. I take a moment to spit on his body. At this point, I realize I've forgot to mention Dwarf 1 at all. Assume he was around with the paladin, okay? That works. At this point, the two remaining dwarves realize this fight isn't really going their way. So they attempt to run. One, rather confused, attempts to flee the scene by passing by each and every one of us, and eventually dies by Dwarf Axe. That's the end of Dwarf 3. Only Dwarf 1 remains. He stabs our dwarf, and wounds her slightly, and starts eying the door.
That's round 3.
At this point, we've realized that peaceful resolution isn't really our forte, and that our fight was taking sufficiently long that we probably won't get a chance to do much else, so we start flinging our once-a-day attacks around on the last dwarf like there's some sort of... temporal sale that allows us to use once-a-day attacks once a minute. Okay, it's a bad simile. Our wizard shoots it with poisoned arrows, so on the unlikely event that it survives this round, Dwarf 1 will die at the end of its turn in due course. I use my own special attack, Beacon of Hope. It misses, because dice hate me, but its splash effects heal everyone in the party back up to full. The Rogue runs in and stabs at 1, and the Paladin takes a swipe. The Dwarf Fighter finishes it off with a brute strike, and we have a nice bonding moment over our 4 on 1 killing of this dwarf.
At this point, the barkeep and dwarf 5 have long since resolved their differences, and are just watching us. He explains that the dwarf still alive was fighting over his bar tab of one silver piece, and the others, being unpaid mercenaries, took the opportunity to vent some steam. He looks at the ashes, bodies, and rubble around his bar, and gives us each a gold piece for our efforts. I imagine he's not too happy about the damage, but I also imagine that he kind of just wants these maniacs to leave. I take my hated Dwarf's mace and replace my own with it, to remember him by. And I pay the other dwarf's bar tab, because I'm complicated. We further strip the corpses and come up with 80 gold. According to our DM, our wizard also comes across a magic scabbard that grants a bonus to daggers sheathed in it, and she helpfully passes it on to our rogue. We pick up our dwarf hostage, still waiting outside, and take the dwarf the bartender subdued back to be processed. Then we return to the sergeant, where no doubt further reward will be showered on us for ending a bar fight by killing eight people.
End scene, since at this point, 2 and a half hours had gone by.
It was actually a lot of fun to do the game--we got a bit of a sense of how combat worked, and, more importantly, how we could work together to take down a greater number of foes. I've really got to hand it to our DM for creating a positive first time experience, which was especially impressive since it was his first time playing too. I'm pretty sure he gave us that sheath because he wanted us to have a reward after such a long fight, too. And I imagine the whole thing must have been a lot of work from his end, and that there were dozens and dozens of things we never got to. In fact, as you may have noticed, we never actually got to the quest part of things--we just barely made it through what was supposed to be the tutorial fight. Or to put it another way:
"Did we just spend two and a half hours on four rounds of combat in a tutorial fight?"
"Yeah! And we kicked its ass!"
And then we played a round of the card game Gloom. But that's another story entirely.
EDIT: Almost forgot to add the picture. Here's the bar, after the slaughter.