In which I gain a level in Nerd Dad

The boy, who remember is eight and was never provided with a sibling, is forever crafting games that he wants his mother and I to play with him. They are damn near always some sort of Pokémon pastiche of one kind or another; “We create characters, and assign them powers, and then we battle!” only battle basically means that all of the moves he’s made up for his characters destroy all of our characters automatically. He, uh, hasn’t quite mastered the concept of game balance just yet.

“We should really get you into Dungeons and Dragons,” I said to him the other day, not expecting anything to come of what I meant as an idle comment.

Yeah, that backfired. He’s been talking about it for a solid week, and I’ve been kind of tossing around ideas for quickie adventures I might be able to run for him and my wife, and then I happened to be at Target tonight, as one does, and came across the D&D Essentials Kit, which frankly has far too much crap in it for just $24.99. There’s a rulebook (not really necessary, as I have the 5E hardcovers,) the adventure itself, some dice, a bunch of character sheets on nice paper (nonetheless, easily photocopied for backups,) a DM screen, and a bunch of little cards for status reminders and quests and magical items and other shit like this. An early look through the adventure reveals that what it actually is is a bunch of mini-quests set in the same area, so it’s going to be possible to do a bunch of shorter sessions that will be better suited to the attention span of an eight-year-old than the marathon gaming sessions I remember from high school and college.

I’m actually looking forward to this. I kind of feel bad not buying it from The Griffon, but that’s the nature of impulse buys, and I’m sure it’s gonna trigger spending a crapton of money on other stuff, and also holy crap have the nerds won the universe. You can get D&D stuff at Target. That’s kind of mind-blowing.

RIP, Sarah Bird, the Griffon Lady

It’s been kind of a rough week.

Yesterday was … day nine, I think, of this school year? And there were three fights, two of which involved at least one of my students and both of which I was involved in breaking up. They are the first fights of the year that I’m aware of; in general, this building seems substantially less violent than others I have worked in, but breaking up two hallway fights in the space of two class periods is not a situation I care to repeat anytime soon, and you can likely imagine the condition the kids were in by the end of the day. It was bloody miserable.

Today, the power went out for the back half of the day, throwing basically every aspect of the building into … well, not chaos, as honestly I feel like everyone involved dealt with the problem as well as could be hoped for, but we lost just about everything– wifi, phones, half of the toilets, a number of the sinks, all of the drinking fountains, and oh hey it turns out that every calculator in the world being solar powered isn’t a great thing if you deliberately picked the room with one window and all the light you have is from that one window and the one light wired to the emergency generator. So, no, not chaos, but a whole lot of scrambling was going on.

And then, during my team plan at the end of the day, while attempting to find an article about ILEARN testing that two of us thought was on the Tribune website somewhere, I discovered Sarah Bird passed away this weekend, and I found myself unexpectedly somewhat overcome with emotion and having to take a moment.

It’s funny, how the passing of relative strangers can hit us hard sometimes. I have been shopping at the Griffon for something in the neighborhood of thirty years– I don’t remember the two original stores, as I started playing D&D in fifth grade, which would have been somewhere around 1988. Virtually every RPG rulebook I own was purchased there, and a bunch of our board games, as after a while I developed a rule that anything that could be bought at the Griffon would be bought at the Griffon, and I probably grace their doors somewhere in the neighborhood of once or twice a year. I am not a regular customer, per se, but I am certainly a long-time customer, and the fact that the same two people had run the store for the entire time is sort of hard to miss.

I’ve had several pleasant conversations with both Ken and Sarah over the years– the Griffon is the kind of store where you don’t really just buy something and wander out– but I’m sure neither of them would recognize me, and to be completely honest I’m not sure I could have remembered their first names yesterday had you asked me, as they’ve been “the Griffon guy” and “the Griffon lady” since I was a little kid. I certainly didn’t know her last name, but I recognized their picture and the interior of the store before my brain had processed the headline on the website. I’ve never actually played anything there– my gaming group always had places to go– but it’s weird to have to explain to people how difficult it could be to be a geek thirty years ago when we damn near run the world nowadays. There was no Amazon, remember. If you were a young geek and you wanted dice or miniatures or wargaming models or whatever, it was just where you went, because nobody else bothered to carry that stuff. The Griffon was always a safe space where people like me were welcome, and the place still just sort of feels like home even though I don’t necessarily shop there terribly often.

Sarah is one of those people who had an effect on my life without me ever really thinking about it before now– if she and her husband had never opened that store, and I’d never gotten into roleplaying in fifth grade, my life could have been substantially different from what it is now. They don’t even know me, and it’s still true. All through high school and into college a lot of my friendships were people in my gaming group– not all of them, certainly, but my closest friends were all people I played D&D with. And the Griffon was a common thing for all of us, our little secret downtown that most of the other kids our age didn’t know about. It was (it is; as near as I can tell there are no plans to close the store) a genuinely special place, and that’s all due to Sarah and Ken.

She will be missed.

In which I’m making bad decisions

12I haven’t beaten Shadow of Mordor yet, a game I really, really like.

I just the other day downloaded Icewind Dale onto my iPad, a game I have not even launched yet.

The new Dragon Age comes out next week; the two previous editions of that series have each eaten my life whole for weeks.

I have a novel to finish.

And yet, for some reason, upon discovering that Planescape: Torment, which I have never actually played, was available for Mac at, I just downloaded it, too.

Never let me fool anyone into thinking I’m smart.

In which read the disclaimers

Warntsr2101ing: Geek content substantially higher than normal.

I genuinely consider getting rid of my old-school D&D rulebooks to be one of the biggest mistakes I’ve made in my adult life.  I’m serious, here: I experience active regret about getting rid of my first and second edition D&D rulebooks at least three or four times a year, and sooner or later I’m gonna break down and just go find used editions somewhere and pretend I never got rid of them.  I still have my original Dungeons and Dragons boxed sets (all the BECMI books, from the red “Basic” set through the gold “Immortals” box) although I don’t have the boxes anymore. I know exactly where they are in the house and I’ll never get rid of them.  But I never really played basic D&D, whereas I spent most of high school and college playing 2nd edition.  I’m such a 2nd edition nerd that I’m convinced the only reason I’m any good at adding and subtracting negative numbers is because of THAC0.

Also, I still think THAC0 was a good idea, to the point where I’ll fight you if you say otherwise.  I’ve played a few games of D&D under the 3rd or 3.5 edition rules, and for some reason I could never wrap my head around how anything worked under the new rules.  I bought the full set of core rulebooks when 4th edition launched a few years ago, read through them once, and put them away, because 4th edition was a videogame-saturated horror and I wanted nothing to do with it.

Point is, when I left college I knew I was moving somewhere where I wouldn’t be playing anymore, and in a weird fit of altruism where I wanted the books to be with people who would use them more often, I either gave them away or sold them to the guys in my gaming group.  Never shoulda done it.

(Hell, I may just have to go to The Griffon tomorrow.  They carry used rulebooks.  I might get lucky.)

(Also, have I said this?  Grond, one of the two main characters of The Benevolence Archives, was originally one of my D&D characters.)

I downloaded the .pdf of– what the hell are they calling it?– the new basic rules for the newest, we’re-not-gonna-call-it-the-fifth-edition version of D&D.  The .pdf is free; their “starter set” is, I think, in stores now, and the traditional hardcover books are gonna trickle out over the next few months– no jump straight to the three-hardcover box set like the 4th edition did.

(Note that I still have my 3.5 and 4th edition rulebooks– the ones I hate.  Just not the rules for the game I played.)

Anyway, this is a really long lead-in for a really short observation: based on what I read in the .pdf, they’ve gone a long way to strip the obnoxious video-game and wargaming elements out of the game, which was my biggest problem with the 4th edition.  I no longer feel like it’s required to use a mat and miniatures with the rules.  I’m a purist, remember; I’ll draw out a map on graph paper if necessary as I play, but I’ll be damned if I’m counting hexes to decide if something’s in range or not, and the positioning rules were a God damned sin against man and nature.  Fuck did I hate 4th edition.

Right, got distracted: I think I like how this game looks like it plays.  I know at least one person who has already expressed some interest in running through the adventure that comes with the starter set, and it looks like only one person has to actually buy that to run through everything.  I may have to go ahead and join.  I miss playing D&D every now and again, as I said, and I miss enjoying D&D rather more often than that.  Finding the time is always tricky, but I think in this case it might be worth it.