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Supermegamonkey - "Nerds in the Mist" | Recap 46.1: Mimir's Furnace

Dunjin Adventure Go Nice

Hello, My name is Bolin.

Iíve played this game before. I know I said I didnít and I know I actually have not, but I canít quite shake the feeling. I am a gamer, that is to say, Iíve played a lot of video-games. Iíve seen concepts get recycled hundreds of times, and history just tends to repeat itself in the medium. Some formulas are successful, and Iíve seen the theme of the role-playing adventure to a point of exhaustive familiarity. Itís a recipe of building an identity (sometimes entire legacies) from the ground up. Itís an exhilarating thing thatís becoming almost obligatory in the domain of the modern game. There exists a sort of wanting; a need to be someone else. All I really know is that the mystery of Dungeons & Dragons exists, in spirit, in this need. Never have I penetrated this mystery. Itís reared its head; through my TV screen, through my comic books, through insidey-joke-pop-culture-references. I can recall an advertisement from an old comic: Itís grainy, but gorged in color, like everything else from the era. From memory, I can summon up a vampire in some crypt, in some graveyard, in some fantasy world. Iíve seen him before. It was the first time I saw the ad; I had no idea that Dragons made advertisements for their dungeons. But this vampire? Iíve seen him before. Two fangs, pasty skin, slicked back hair, and some array of occult-fetish-trinkets are all familiar to me. Itís this kind of familiarity that haunts me in my venture. Itís like déjà vu.

The first thing I did (But probably the second or third) was tell my roommate of the developments in the writing class. He suggested I impale someone or something with a blunt object1. He mustíve sensed that I was feeling some degree of rage and that I mustíve been enduring some degree of suffering. I do not know exactly why, either. I get to write about some game2, as opposed to the more mundane topics of English papers, that my teacher could have had me write about. Iíll admit that I am intrigued; The Dungeoning and Dragoneering that seems to happen, exists hidden from view, but still is kindathereô. It penetrates many levels of our culture, and I can say this because I can say ďDragons and DungeonsĒ and chances are, the other party will have an idea of what Iím talking about.

Just the mention of Dragons and/or Dungeons invites some curious expressions, often a cocked eye-brow, and sometimes a knowing nod. There is something in here that nobody is telling me. Iím starting to think all the eyebrows and nods are asking me:ďAre you one of us?Ē I try to drop the Double-D word in casual conversation: ďSo Iím writing this paper on D%$^$@#ís and D%^*@*s3. Yeah. Mhm. No? Okay. Iím sorry.Ē Iím hoping a friend knows more than I do, and will graciously impart upon me some wisdom or something like that. By now, Iím painfully aware that my original plan, playing with the friend I had in mind at the time of this assignmentís inception, has become impossible. I text him at first and avail no response. The day later, he tells me he collapsed after a day of work. I try to call to mind what he mentioned about the game when he invited me to play almost a year ago. ďWeíre not too, too heavy into the role-playing stuff. But we have alotta fun.Ē His birthday is coming up and he also canít go to Comic-Con4 with me. Iím considering to the idea of just going to a comic book store somewhere and asking some questions with a damn notepad. I really donít want to do that. Iím intimidated by the thought, all I do is read comics once-in-a-while, and play on my x-box every now-and-then. Iím not the nerd, I once was. I think theyíll smell the lack of nerd on me, and laugh.

It is now Friday, and Iím no further in this process than when I started. Iím at work, pondering my (critically few) options. Enter: My boss and her bright purple-pink highlights. Sheís a comic-nerd/aficionado. Perhaps she, too, has seen this pasty, grainy, vampire-asshole in the same copy of Iron-Man. I swivel back in my chair and fling the D&D bomb at her face, full force. She gives me a disarmingly-stoic glance, and I immediately regret asking in the first place. She says (with a lingering tone of apprehension): ďWhat about it?Ē I tell her what I think will probably inspire an at-least semi-comfortable conversation about dragons and stuff. I try to coax at least more than an eye-brow or a nod from her. Itís for school; itís in the pursuit of academia. She knows I like comics, I laugh at her jokes, and I donít come in (that) late for work. Itís not like Iím a horrible human being or anything. Maybe sheís got a story from her high-school days or even just aĖď I play it.Ē

ďOh.Ē Ė She can read what looks like frenzied anticipation on my face. Iíd much rather ask her questions with A-Damn-Notepadô than the comic-store guys. She can probably feel the impending interrogation. I surely felt it. I figured Iíd be able to pop off, like, three questions to her before sheíd start giving vague and blasť/semi-irritated answers. ďWhatís it like?Ē, ďUh, what do you mean?Ē,ĒEverything about it?Ē, ďWell, where do you want me to start?Ē Ah, shit. Iím down to one question. I put on a poker face when a patron comes up to the counter. I swivel away to assist them. By the time Iím done, my boss processed the size of my question. ďIs it anything like a video-game?Ē, ďI donít play video-games5, too many flashing colors.Ē ďWhat do you do in it?Ē, ďOh.Ē

Checkmate. That was the right question. The A-Damn-Notepadô solution would have just been weird. I had to play it cool- Iím one of the cool guys that you can just talk to about dungeons and stuff. I asked the golden question, because certainly she does something. In it. That is to say, the game. And she has to tell me now, because she also ďplays itĒ. She must know more than everybody I had asked up until this point combined. I wait with baited breath. Her eyes roll into the back of her skull to look for some decent explanation to give me, to stave off my inquiries. She explains what she can, some of it I know, and most of it I donít. I know it is a game, and I know it is played, which is pretty standard fare. She explains more, Iím giving her a look that urges her to continue. There are adventures, and she says you play a character. Characters and adventures are staples of just about, well, everything. Iím not convinced; there is something sheís not telling me. The best way she figures to communicate the difference of Dragon Dungeons from any other type of dungeon, ďWell, if you find a magic sword or something, you canít take it, because you donít like magic.Ē ďSo, I can find magic swords?Ē ďYeah, but if you, er, your character, doesnít like magic, you canít take it.Ē ďOh.Ē

This is Dungeons & Dragons? Denial of gratification- Telling myself no, for consistenciesí sake? It sounds ridiculous, counter-intuitive, to the whole purpose of a playing a game in the first place (To win). What if that magic sword makes you teleport and fly and stuff? Who says ďnoĒ to that? This is, like, the opposite of playing, anti-playing. Since when does a game play the player? Itís so ludicrously absurd-sounding that allovasudden I desperately want to anti-play. Iím obliged to nod a couple times, present the illusion that she didnít just waste her time telling me something I couldíve gleaned off of a Wikipedia6 article. I was grateful, but I knew there was more. ďSo, do you still play it?Ē (Itís imperative that the conversation continue, lest I am forced to ask questions again, the next day and sound like Iím trying too hard.) ďWell, uh. Yeah. We play every month. We play tomorrow.Ē ďOh.Ē

I never directly ask to tag along, that would be rude. But the coincidence, the timing even, would make anybody suspicious (desperate). She mightíve even felt a little encouraged to help me. All I ask for is how to find her blog7 which seemed to house an ample supply of beginner ďDeeíNíDeeĒ resources. All types of intimidating stuff like alignments, character sheets, topographical maps, and some flow-charts, could all be viewed at my immediate leisure from the Ultra Hyper Chimp. I speak as if this is the best I could hope for from her, no way, no how, was I going to play with her and her friends in her house in the middle of I-Donít-Know-Exactly-Where. And I was going to be entirely OK with that. If it isnít obvious that that is not how it played out, know that I indeed played with her and her friends in her house, and ĖWell, Iíll get to what the experience was like, later.

At first my other boss agreed to pick me up from the parking lot beside the library. Thatís cool. We get along pretty well, she wrote a recommendation for a position I ended up never getting, but thatís what friends are for and stuff, yeah? Oh yeah, my other boss is in on it too. I donít think I couldíve come up with this on my own. At first, I asked to just watch, sequestered to some shaded corner, while all the grown-ups played with dice and stuff, but my boss suggested a character be ďrolledĒ for me. I promise to do my homework on the game, to at least know enough to pretend like Iíll know what will happen. The next day, Iím waiting in that parking lot. Iím bloated on manuals and high fantasy. I bring my calculator. Apparently my other8 boss couldnít make it. I see my bossí pink highlights through her windshield, and she parks right up beside me, in a new-looking car, and her stoic facial expression suggests mild irritation at a mild inconvenience. ďHi.Ē ďHey.Ē

Her house is medium sized. There is a SUPERMEGACADE9, a large table with a grid-paper-y board on it and seats are arranged around it. There are comic book covers on some of the walls. I smell pizza. There is a man with a large beard, and he is the ďDMĒ. Itís short for Dungeon-Master. He is a sort of referee, and he seems to really know his stuff, he answers my questions in hidden-compartment-room10 off to the side while everyone else mingles. I dump everything I read to prove that I did, in fact, read. He hands me a sheet, and it reads: Bolin Braveaxe. Fighter. There are many numbers on this sheet, and each of them, he assures me, were painstakingly subjected to the trials of chance. Many geometrically-complex dice were thrown in the name of Bolin Braveaxe, Dwarven General. Bolin is apparently immensely strong, somewhat learned whilst simultaneously being stubbornly ignorant11. Bolin is athletically competent, and possesses the physical fortitude of a brick wall. Heís also about half as charming as any of Snow Whiteís Seven Dwarves. I believe all of this because the paper says so. As far as Iím concerned, thatís where Bolin exists, too. I cradle the form carefully, not letting it from my sight. For a second, I thought of a grumpy dwarf, somewhere, pondering his existence.

Guests start pouring in. The DM has me, and everybody else, write their charactersí titles on these Wal-Mart-entry-level-sales-associate-not-quite-making-a-lot-of-money-but-getting-by nametags. Bolin goes on mine. To my far right, there is ďBrecaryn12Ē. She has a pink sweater and smiles back to me. To her right is ďJosyĒ. She smiles less, but seems to like her markers. Beside Josy is my boss, she is Snow. Next to her is ďLeiralyn13Ē. I wave, and stuff. ďHey, Iím Andy.Ē ďHi Bolin!Ē They start telling war stories, and reminisce, like old friends. Apparently Leiralyn pulled Josyís arm off. Not intentionally, evidently she was under some psychic suggestion or some other mystical explanation. The group decries her treachery anyway. Josy seems (a little detached, HAHAH arm pulling joke-pun-thing, Iím trying too hard, but I couldnít resist.) indifferent to the experience. Brecaryn was adopted by a wizard and is possessed by a dragon-queen-monster. A statue, Vayne, follows her unfailingly. Snow leads the motley crew with a will of iron. She also roundhouse-kicked Satan. (I like to at-least imagine this happened.) And the DM is a ďjackass that tries to kill us.Ē They make me promise to include this detail in my report.14

By coincidence, a regular didnít make it to the gathering. Itís very curious and all, that the day Iím invited to play, a seat opens up and the team is forced to live a situation from the future, kind of like those special edition WHAT-IF comic books. I fit right in. Sort of. In what seems to be Wei's seat (Itís actually etched into the table). Wei is next to me. He doesnít seem too, too thrilled. His nametag reads ďFlermĒ. My other boss made it too, and she wastes no time in notifying me that she is Alana. We go around to room and introduce ourselves, or more specifically, our characters. I know a bit about the first four from before, but now I hear a bit about Alana and Flerm. The former has little to say, other than that she shoots arrows ďand stuffĒ. The latter notifies me of his possession of a magic, teleporting sword that lets him fly and stuff. It also doesnít like him.15 Apparently there is some rule against this, the announcing of all of this information. These little tidbits are things Bolin doesnít know, and I shouldnít know either. I should know what Bolin knows. I should act, as Bolin acts. I donít play up the personality too much; itís all still very alien to me. I want to; I want people to believe Iím a four-foot-one-hairy-axe-murderer. I take in what I can to imagine what Bolin would think, if he was here. The group is made up of a lot of elves, and supposedly I shouldnít get along with any of them. Josy is a sorta-but-not-really-dwarf, a Halfling, so that means we should be friends, or at least, friendly. The thing is, Josy is quiet. Like, SUPERMEGA(CADE) quiet. Sheís the teamís doctor, managing medieval insurance and dungeon triage for the motley crew. Snow is a pious (pretty stoic) monk, and probably will maintain the same dry *by-the-book* affect with everybody. Through our game, she often intervenes on behalf and for the safety of others. There is Flerm, whom I should probably not like, according to our DM. He reasons that dwarves donít like elves anyway, but it just so happens that Flerm is an *especially-disliked* specimen. Regardless, I end up maintaining some awkward neutrality with everybody throughout the whole affair so itís k. After the introductions, the Dungeoneer explains to us what we are to do. The plot was too big in scope to just be spoken to us; the DM liberally uses his whiteboard. The story, coincidentally, also seemed to work well with my whole inclusion into the party. The party is to infiltrate some underground cave16, and if possible, remove some mind-control thingy from a dwarf-wizard-guy.17,18

Enter me. Bolin. The guide. The only sunuvabitch who knows how to get to this dungeon and has any real stake in the matter. Turns out dwarf-wizard-guy is my brother-in-law, and if heís not stopped, heíll blow up the planet with an oven. I stare real hard at my paper; because it makes this all seem sort of official; sort of important. This mission is important to him, Bolin, Iím sure. We are instructed to try not to kill any Dwarves, and Snow speaks up to enforce this edict (in-the-character, because anti-playing is about playing a role, your role). Bolin would approve, and I guess that means I do too. I have a sort of invisible responsibility, and I still donít quite understand it. My WalMart name tag says Iím Bolin, and Iím not too convinced about it. Our DM generously represents us all with small figurines. One of them is symbolic of Bolin. The bearded, axe-clutching figurine on the board is more Bolin than Iíll ever be. In-fact, every one of the little hairy dwarf pieces looks more Bolin than I ever could. But it doesnít matter, because heís counting on me to save his wizard-in-guy-law.

The adventure is a harrowing experience. Every action is decided by a hidden math formula, and then, by the roll of a dice. Iím not too good at math, or dice, so itís a bit of a turn-off. I donít really believe in luck, and thankfully, the compilation of skills Bolin possesses minimizes its impact (Even if those, too, were built up by rolling dice). It really all does come down to the numbers I roll. With every encounter I flag down the DM and ask him a question or two. ďWhat if I...? How about if weÖ? Can IÖ?Ē Iím given a lot of a freedom. Itís a bit of turn-on. Itís like a big, fat puzzle is hiding from me. Math sucks, but logic is fun, and I should be able to win by doing smart things, right? My first act as Bolin is to order Josy into a 25-foot deep hole. My second is to run into a poison cloud after opening a trapped door.19 In another occasion, I work miracles20 with a bit of cunning. I appreciate being able to use my head to solve a puzzle, once in a while. I also appreciate being able to act stupid just to see what will happen.

On the way to our destination a few things happen. A few more things donít happen. Nobody died21, although a few of us came pretty close. Leiralyn gets hypnotized22 and tries to kill all of us. Snow jumps on my head to roundhouse kick somebody, and I think Iím turning Bolin, as a character, into a pyromaniac. Yes, thatís something you can do, I think. Thereís some head-smashing, and roach-stomping, and probably a few more video-game clichés that get me thinking that maybe itís the other way around, and always has been. That , just maybe, video-games come from this stuff right here. Once we actually got to our destination I was a little distressed to see it all over, but relieved that it was finally done with at the same time.

So, yeah. Maybe I enjoyed myself a little. Maybe not. By the time we were done, everybody got free stuff and a bunch of toppled plastic figures lay on the marker-stained board. All of our Walmart-Nametags are linted up to the point of not sticking anymore. I thanked them all for the pizza and finished up in my notes. They divvied the virtual earnings and ended up just hanging out in the living room, playing videogames. I sat around the SUPERMEGACADE and noticed how late it had gotten. I managed to shake the feeling of déjà vu, or at least, the weird quasi-familiarity. Itís true that I have played this game before, the game of invisible dice, the game of statistics and numbers, and the game of teamwork, too. But, there was another game I was playing too, and it piques my interest. I donít have a name for it, quite yet, so Iíll just call it Dungeons and Dragons. Iím not sure how I feel about pretending to be Bolin, though.


[1] My roommate later admits he doesnít possess a powerful sense of imagination, suggesting he knows enough that itís about imagination. I think he knows more than he lets on about Dungeons and Dragons.

[2] Far more viable than the Comic-Con trip that I originally wanted to write about that will be happening several days after this paper is due. During my Computer Science mid-term. Which is on a Sunday. Iím not too, too, happy.

[3] I swear, saying this word feels like I dropped the F-Bomb. It feels as if I should kneel down, pick it back up and pretend nobody in the room saw it. I should feel ashamed for knowing, let alone asking, what it is. But everybody else knows what it means too. Maybe Iím just imagining it. Itís the same feeling like when you ask a girl if she plays videogames. Because of course she doesnít.

[4] I want to go to Comic-Con so bad. If this paper was due, even a couple days later, it would be filled with little notes about how some grown man dressed as a Wonder Woman, or how I got to wait in a long line to talk to some famous comic book artist you probably wonít recognize. The lines are going to be ridiculous.

[5] See, I told you.

[6] I actually did take a look at the Wikipedia article. I like Wikipedia. Itís always got pictures and nice big bold text and I donít care that itís not a ďreliable academic resource. Wikipediaís only lied to me once, and it was one of the funnier things I had read up to that point. The article declared a certain celebrity as an autistic hamster controlling some giant robot or something really stupid like that.

[7] Itís called Super Mega Monkey. Apparently, she also has a band. It is kind of inspiring.

[8] Perhaps itís getting difficult, by now, to discern which boss Iím talking about. I mean the second one. Donít panic, pretty soon every character in this story will have a fancy (trickytopronounce) name.

[9] Apparently the A and R were truncated in its conception. It Is a very large machine that I later learn can invade my childhood at will, summoning nostalgia in 1080i.

[10] This reminded me of that one time I tried to get into a karate class and the sensei-dude pulled me off to the side to tell me how I suck and that heís gonna start me off at the white-belt level, when I could clearly pile-drive any of the smaller kids with minimum difficulty.

[11] There exists some duality between the concepts of wisdom and intelligence while Dungeoning. I mean to say that it is entirely possible to be incredulously intelligent, while painfully unwise. (And vice versa.) It took some thought to understand, but it makes a lot of sense. Intelligence, as a trait, refers to oneís ability to reason and deduct, and the amount of raw knowledge a character can summon to its own use. Wisdom, as a trait, refers to oneís common-sense; things like intuition and cunning and using all that raw knowledge to the best of its capability fall within Wisdomís domain.

[12] Brie-Carr-Unn. It rolls off the tongue, sorta.

[13] Leer-Uh.. Erm.

[14] The jigís up, by now. They all see this new guy, Bolin the Dwarf, and they wonder: Who is this fellow? Where did he come from? The consensus is that Iím here ďto examine nerds in their natural habitatĒ. The comment is upsetting; this excursion isnít at their expense. I can have fun with them, too.

[15] Keegon, the magic cursed sword, makes Flerm pretty talented. Several times in our tour-de-force, the sword hampers Flermís violent tendencies (As it is a ďgoodĒ sword), while also saving his life, like, forty times. This is anti-playing at its best.

[16] A dungeon.

[17] Who turns into (SPOILERS BELOW)

[18] A dragon.

[19] Going through a door first is never a good idea. Iím stabbed, shot, beaten, and assaulted. Doors on a whole are bad news.

[20] Later, we find ourselves trying to break through a door. Snow canít jimmy the lock, Leiralyn cannot charge through it, and Brecaryn canít magic it open, but only I can call through the door, pretending Iím *one of the them*.

[21] Apparently this happens a lot. Like every time, I think. Itís strained everybodyís relationship.

[22] Apparently this happens a helluvalot, too.

Supermegamonkey - "Nerds in the Mist" | Recap 46.1: Mimir's Furnace