Being in the Main the Mouth of Olde House Rules

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

D&D: The One I ****ed Up...

Many years ago, when yours truly was a wee lad who could still fit into his size 30 jeans without turning blue in the face, he (that's me) ran what I thought would be a one-off adventure for a friend's dark elf character.  I had an ingenious idea, although it turned out I was a little too smart for my own good.  The premise was simple enough; an unwed, childless duke had perished, leaving his lands up for grabs...

But there was a catch (there's always a catch).  The Duke had a plan.  Headship requires courage, so aspirants could brave the late Duke's dungeon, stocked with exotic and hungry monsters and deadly traps.  Anyone who managed to make it through with all their vitals intact could claim the title of Duke with the honors and privileges thereof.

He almost didn't make it.  But in the end he emerged, alive, his beating heart hanging by a vein from the gaping hole in his chest.  All in all, a fun afternoon. 

And that was that.  My friend's character was a noble.  Duke Someone of Something, situated in a suitably remote part of my setting.  It was really meant as a one-time excursion, and the character, shelved after our other DM moved away, had never been my friend's favorite to begin with.  It was supposed to be a last hurrah before retirement.

This quickly proved not to be the case, and it didn't have to be.  My friend's ascension to dukedom opened up many gameable possibilities...

But I wasn't prepared for just how fully my friend embraced his newfound status.  He frequented libraries (it was a pre-internet age), studied feudalism and medieval tax schemes, and mastered the minutiae of building (and fielding) an army.  And good for him!  This is interesting stuff.  He wanted to conquer other parts of the setting, starting by inciting a civil war and becoming King.  And we were more or less cool, for a while.

We role-played his political machinations and dabbled in 1985's Battlesystem, although Swords and Spells might have been funner.  But then a creeping obsession took over, and his in-game aspirations began to overtake everything else.  I enjoy gaming as much as anyone; but I enjoy lots of other things and partition my life accordingly.  But it got to the point of getting calls at all hours wanting to talk about the allocation of grain and how to convince the Church to endorse his claims.  This went on for months.  

I began avoiding my friend and losing my temper, and it all came to a head at a group session involving vampires (or something).  Another player had gotten Bucknard's Everfull Purse and my friend's eyes lit up with unmasked avarice.  It seems the Duke was having trouble financing his ambitions.  Anyway, my friend pulled me aside.  He was literally, physically trembling, and I swear tearing up a bit.  I've got to get that purse, he said with a real, palpable desperation that blew a fuse in my brain and turned ugly.

So I decided we'd all had too much of this and retreated from gaming; and for years I imagined (assumed, really) that I was in the right.  But was I?  Who was really the problem player here, and who was the better friend?  Turns out it wasn't me...

My friend clearly had a problem, and I was a terrible friend for not seeing that.

Was he having trouble at home?  Struggling with self esteem and hoping to find it in an imaginary world where he was of noble blood?  My not-so-fully formed brain saw only inconvenience when it should have sensed a cry for help.  Life went on.  We gamed again, but drifted apart a year later; and I regret that fact as much as my reaction to what was clearly a problem.  I should have been honest sooner, made my boundaries clear and asked if anything was wrong or something.  Easy words for a 52-year old man.

I suppose I should give myself a break.  We were kids.  But it does go to show what might happen when we aren't attuned to more than ourselves and our convenience.  When it comes down to it, gaming is a human activity indulged by people who may or may not bring their assorted troubles to the metaphoric (and literal) table.  Even if it's only hurt feelings, chances are it's also a missed opportunity to do good.  There are very few activities where a little kindness and understanding aren't preferable, and gaming isn't one of them...           


  1. You don’t have to rescue everybody. You can’t. Nobody can. But it’s the ones we can’t rescue that stay with us.

    1. It is true. But as Scott is so willing to let himself off the hook, the post wasn't about trying to rescue EVERYBODY. It was about trying to rescue a friend within arm's reach. And we can do our damndest to rescue those. I can appreciate the sentiment, we were kids. I could write a post myself about it. But let's not cheesily spout a platitude that conveniently ditches our personal responsibility to our fellow human.