Sunday, February 5, 2012

Four-Color Gamer and the Caves of Chaos, Part 1

        Welcome to the musings of Four-Color Gamer--comic book aficionado and table-top storyteller extraordinaire.

        Last weekend, I took the opportunity to venture out to Fort Wayne, Indiana.  Some might ask, "Why Fort Wayne? And aren't you about a week early?" (This being in reference to the current main event for our nation, the aptly named Super Bowl.)

        The draw to Indiana wasn't sports related--no, it was a for a far less fashionable reason:  Dungeons & Dragons.  Formerly a game reserved for socially awkward outcasts and crucified by fundamentalist religious fanatics during the 80s, the game has seen some serious P.R. re branding over the past decade, to the point of many celebrities--including Stephen Colbert, Robin Williams, and even Vin Diesel--admitting to being players of the game.

         I'd gotten into the hobby about twenty years ago, when I'd noticed a red game box on top of an old toy chest at a friend's house.  The cover portrayed an armored swordsman squaring off against a ferocious red dragon, with the title "Dungeons & Dragons" emblazoned overhead.  I'd heard of the game a few times before that, but didn't know quite what it was.  I asked him if we could play it, so we gathered together a small group of four: three players and a "Dungeon Master,"  the rules referee and storyteller.  We quickly put together characters.  My first character was an elf named Evro--equally proficient in swordplay and the arcane arts.  We descended into our first dungeon adventure, shortly afterwards encountering a terrifying cave beast described much like a giant centipede, called a "Carrion Crawler."  I don't remember many details of the first combat, other than we likely had our asses handed to us on a platter.  We survived the encounter, but barely.  Then our consummate "DM" introduced us to an adventuring party's worst nightmare: the dreaded Rust Monster--this creature was so vile that it subsisted on the corroded remains of any metal it encountered, and was fully capable of corroding any intact metal it encountered with a mere touch of its antennae.  After the beast was done with its meal, it left us on our way (all it really cared about was the metal), leaving us without weapons and armor to defend ourselves against whatever threat next awaited us.  This promise of a challenge limited only by my imagination had me hooked from the start.

        A few months later, I had managed to get into a weekly gaming group; it was during this period that I learned the hard way about another facet of the game: teamwork was vital.  Being an adolescent youth, I would impetuously confront any challenge, difficulty be damned--and my characters would suffer for it.  I was the veritable Kenny McCormick of our gaming group--it was rare if I didn't have a fictitious character killed off in some manner worthy of a Darwin Award.

        Twenty years later, I find myself still playing a game that encourages interaction, problem solving, and teamwork.  A few weeks ago, it was announced by the current publisher of Dungeons and Dragons--Wizards of the Coast (a subsidiary of Hasbro)--that they had begun design and playtesting for a new version of the game, one that could possibly unite fans of each previous version of the game.  Some have been playing straight through each iteration, but others have lapsed, not approving of some or most of the changed having taken place over subsequent iterations--especially the latest one, which has taken some inspiration from the latest trend in computer role-playing games, such as World of Warcraft, amongst others.  Shortly after the announcement, it was also revealed that they'd be doing a special playtest event at the annual winter gaming convention, D&D Experience.  After hearing this, my girlfriend--being the wonderful woman that she is--decided to set up a trip out there as an early birthday present.  So plans were made, arrangements booked, we were on our way.

        Last Saturday morning, we were up at 4 a.m. to catch a 6 a.m flight to Chicago.  Upon arrival at 8:30 a.m., we got our rental car and headed towards Indiana.  An hour into our road trip, we stopped for breakfast.  My game slot for the playtest wasn't until 2 p.m., so we could take our time.  After stopping about an hour enjoying a decent breakfast, we were back on the road with about 2 hours left to go.  About an hour and 15 minutes back on the road, the unthinkable happened--the clock on the G.P.S. leaped forward an hour.  We had forgotten to account for the fact that we were heading back into the Eastern time zone.  The G.P.S. was still putting us in Fort Wayne at about 1:55 p.m., so we might still make it.  Flow of traffic was pretty steady, with a few unexpected stops here and there.  We hit the hotel at about 1:50, then rushed over to the convention center. 

      We approached the registration counter for the convention to retrieve our passes and my ticket to the playtest--luckily, it hadn't started yet.  They also presented me with a non-disclosure agreement; since this new iteration is still in its earliest stages, the publishers don't want any information about the new mechanics to get out until they're ready for the public to view them.  So after signing away my life in the event I should disclose any of the aforementioned non-disclosable material, I ventured into the hall to the cordoned off section for the playtest tables.  After being grouped with five other players, I headed to our table.

      Soon to follow in Part II, I'll relay as much as I can of my impressions without breaking the NDA.

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