Time to fire up the dice again, tomorrow is Dungeons and Dragons Day. This jolly holiday, which in an amazing coincidence is sponsored by D&D game company Wizards of the Coast, brings together gamers from around the world to huddle in small comic book and collecgible card shops to rattle dice at each other and save the world. Sign up for official play is closed, but you can still gather around and gawk at the players or celebrate in your own home.
Last year my 14-year-old son made the great leap into non-computer-assisted gaming and bought his first set of role-playing game dice.
For the non-geek among you, gaming dice have anywhere from four to 20 sides, will direct every decision James makes for the next six years, and quickly became more important to him than any three relatives. Granted, he's lost them just about every weekend but then he doesn't always pay attention to where his family is, either. Their constant clatter (the dice, not the relatives) brought back fond memories even as I yelled at him to keep it down.
For over 30 years now "Dungeons and Dragons," the game he is starting to dabble in, has provided a rich haven for kids who enjoy the wonders of a dangerously overactive imagination combined with the never-ending delight of arguments about weapons encumbrance.
Players become knights, elves, dwarves, clerics, and other fantasy figures while the kid who controls the game (the Dungeon Master, or DM) tells them exactly what's about to kill them all. Then they describe their reactions and, based on their individual abilities, character classes, moral alignments, birthmark configuration, and the roll of the dice, events transpire.
DM: "The orc swings a massive club at you, with 2d8+7 damage. The princess you've been sent to rescue is screaming and helpless."
James: "I throw the princess at the orc and dive for the gold. Do I get to it before she splatters?"
DM: (dice clatter) "No, she was so mad she grabbed the club away from the hulking man-beast and now she's beating you in the spine with it while he watches and offers pointers."
James: "Can I still reach the gold?"
Rather than staying pent up in their fetid bedrooms playing video games all day and night, kids stay pent up in their fetid bedrooms becoming someone better than themselves, or at least someone easier to draw. Dragons are fought, wars waged, the helpless saved, and treasure earned, all without risk beyond eyestrain and self-inflicted malnutrition. And, since kids from the last three decades are still playing it — you're never too old, no matter what my wife says — D&D is more popular than ever. This is because D&D teaches valuable life lessons, lessons that will serve you well for the rest of your life.
You learn how to recognize honor, nobility, and self-sacrifice in others, and how to capitalize on it.
You learn how easily the arbitrary whim of one person can drastically change your entire financial situation.
You learn how to placate and bribe that person to improve your prospects. Whether it's with a well-timed handful of Cheetos before a devastating battle or a well-timed kick into the rough so your boss can win the golf game, it's important to know how to handle yourself in a greed-based economy.
You learn to never invoke anything bigger than your head.
You learn the all-important phrase, "And in this one D&D game I was in," a phrase guaranteed to quickly end all of your many, many first dates.
You learn the insightful, transcendent state achieved by living on caffeine and sugar for six days without sleeping, a valuable thing to know come the end of the fiscal year.
You learn to turn your imaginary friends into valuable allies.
You learn that when a religious artifact begins emitting light, you should close your eyes. Thousands of people could be saved every year with this simple safety tip.
You form lasting bonds with friends that will last forever, although this can backfire in the middle of a tricky business merger when the opposing representative turns out to be the guy you shoved into a goblin cave back in '84.
You learn the importance of selecting ceremonial robes that are easy to run in while still affording ample concealment.
You learn that, for some people, rules are all that matter. And you learn how to confound those people.
And now my son is learning those vital lessons the same way I did: at 3 in the morning, surrounded by his weight in empty Doritos bags. Now he's rummaging through my old, musty, gaming books, hunting for decades-old tips and storylines he can surprise his friends with. Now his dice bag contains some of my dice, as a way of passing the torch down through the generations.
Not my good dice, of course. I need those. There was this one time, in this game I was in…
If you're interested in the gawking option, or just want to see how the game has developed since your college days, head to Dragon Star Games in Holly Hill, Wild Gate in Deltona, Wizards in St. Augustine, or any of the central Florida Coliseum of Comics locations.