The Game Administrator began to describe the new turn that the game was taking: the entire company of characters was supposed to leave the town and head toward a certain far-off mountain, he explained, his speech punctuated by frequent pauses as he stared into the near distance of his glasses.
Chess was only half-listening, still obsessing over the thought of this goofy kid, Pete, getting close to his sister – even if it was only online.
Finally, he shrugged and turned to look at his character stats for the game. School was all online, nowadays. And his little sister’s budding social life was just one more reason to be very glad about that.
Back in his early years, he had actually, bodily, attended a classroom somewhere in the city for a couple of days each week, but that had all been phased out so long ago, he could hardly remember the experience. And as for a social life, well, he didn’t even have one. In fact, except for the community-sponsored parties – one of which he had attended for about five minutes – he was not even sure how people managed to meet each other face-to-face. The game, here, seemed unique in that respect.
Chess started typing in some of the details of their upcoming campaign and half-heartedly looking over the list of supplies that his character was traveling with… And then he frowned: something was not right. “Wait,” he said hesitantly, interrupting the Game Administrator. “We can’t do this.”
“Can’t do what?” the G. A. asked quizzically.
“This,” Chess answered, more sure of himself now. “We can’t just go off into the wilderness here.” He struck his link-screen as if it annoyed him. “We have dwindling supplies and no money to get more.” He swallowed hard then and glanced around, hoping for some agreement.
“You’re right.” One of the guys across the table added, looking over his own game stats. “We won’t make it.”
“So what do we do?” Pete asked, his bag of chips crackling as he slowly rolled it closed.
“We have to make some more money,” Chess stated firmly. “Uh, somehow.”
Okay...” the G. A. answered, sounding unsure. “This kind of goes off the story line, but you’re right: you won’t survive long without supplies.”
The room was quiet for a few minutes as the players scrolled through their game pages.
Chess eagerly searched his notes and his memory for some possibility. This was exactly what he loved about playing the game: you could be creative. You could go off the pre-determined track and try something no one had thought of before. How could you do that with an online video game? An action had to be already part of the programming or it would simply not be an option online. But, here, the imagination was the only limit. Well, that... and some logic, perhaps.
“We could raid the barmons,” someone ventured. “I mean, everyone knows they have treasure stored in their compound.”
“The barmons? You mean the semi-intelligent, humanoid dog-beasts?” one of the other players scoffed. “The ones with the extraordinarily keen sense of smell? Who would notice us before we even got to the edge of the forest where they live? You want to rob them?”
“At least it’s a possibility,” came the offended-sounding answer. “It’s not like we can go enlist.”
“No. We have to rob the constable himself,” Chess said firmly. “He took our money, after all.”
The idea set off a storm of argument around the table.
“I know I can get in there,” Chess protested over the din of voices. “Just give me the chance. I’m a master thief.”
“Sure, you can get in there,” Pete reasoned. “But how do you get away?”
“Wait a minute,” another player offered. “There might actually be a way to do it.”
Continued next page...
Nimble: Did I say “sneak down the hall?”
DM: Yes, you did.
Nimble: Well, as a master thief, of course I would know to be wary of such traps.
DM: Uh huh. And what would a master thief do in such a situation?
Nimble: Easy! I crawl down the hall, an inch at a time, looking for traps.
The Gamers; Dead Gentlemen, 2001
Players who enjoy the medieval-ish fantasy settings of the traditional Dungeons and Dragons games often find that they enjoy reading Tolkien’s books. Whether or not the creators of the original D&D games were actually influenced by Tolkien is a matter of some argument, but the stories have similar settings, similar cooperative battles against monsters, and evoke that same mood of adventuring and the idea of different characters using their own specific skill sets to help achieve a goal.
Readers who enjoy Tolkien might enjoy reading (or listening to an audiobook of) Beowulf – not in its original Old English, though! (although it’s fun to listen to a performance of that -- I took a college class that required me to read and take exams on Chaucer and other writings actually using Middle English myself, but the Old English of Beowulf still blew my mind.) The similarities between Tolkien’s stories and Beowulf: the king’s mead hall, the dragon, the treasure hidden in the barrows, etc., are like finding easter eggs in whichever story you happen to read second. For me, I read Beowulf first in college, but read it again (and actually paid attention to it) after reading The Lord of the Rings series.
I guess my point is: I felt like I understood Tolkien and the origins of his ideas better after I read Beowulf. I’d like to talk more about the probable origins and influencers of Fantasy fiction in the next blog.
Two additional points I want to mention: if you have a commute, definitely get the audiobooks of the Lord of the Rings from the library. Also, Lord of the Rings: IMHO, it’s really all about Sam!
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