Game of Groans

Realizing a fantasy in a fantasy world


Photo: Stefan Schubert

By Dan Forward


‘d like to talk to you about your goals this season,” said my high school basketball coach. I was sitting across from him in what my memory assures me was his office, but what logic argues must have been a closet with two chairs in Case Athletic Center at BU. Rich was likely about 24 years old at the time, but to the 16-year-old version of myself, his age was totally meaningless beyond the fact that he was older than I was and in a position to tell me what to do.

“Okay, sure! I recently lost a lot of weight, so I definitely want to keep in shape by continuing to go to the gym and playing some basketball.” For some reason I needed to make it clear to him that I was already “lifting,” in the common parlance, and therefore not a total nerd, even though he was fully aware that he coached at a school for precocious children who spent most of their time in a smelly lounge playing a game we invented called “reverse chess.” He did not acknowledge my statement in any way, unless purposely ignoring what a person has just said could be considered a derisive sort of acknowledgment.

“How many rebounds do you want to get per game?”

“I’m not sure. What’s a good number to go for?”

“Just throw out a number.”

“Well, if you’d give me a range to start me out . . .”

“Sure, but just give me a number.”

“I’d love to but I don’t know a lot about basketball, so if you could give me some context . . .”

“Right. So, how many rebounds do you want to get in each game?”

“Eight. I-I don’t know. Eight? I don’t know. Eight rebounds. Per game. Of basketball.”

Rich let out a breath so long and slow it could have filled one of our deflated practice balls, and I recall distinctly that he pushed back his chair with his hands on his thighs and a shake of his head he didn’t care to conceal. “Eight. Wow. You’re going to have to work really hard to hit that.”

I quit basketball soon after and doubled down on World of Warcraft.

So why, you might be asking, given my timid, abortive flirtation with high school sports, did it take me so long to embark on my first adventure (or “campaign,” in the common parlance) in Dungeons and Dragons? Maybe it’s because it’s even nerdier than reverse chess. Fortunately, though, I was very recently rescued from normality by the environmental compliance team at work, who likely would have been outcasts even at my high school-Xavier’s School for Awkward Youngsters-and who are also my favorite people in the “Wo” (that’s Woburn to you). Every time they quote Lord of the Rings in casual conversation, my heart flutters and my cheeks flush.

The ringleader-let’s call him Cantay and pronounce that as “Jon-tie” because that’s his name and that’s how it’s pronounced- had some previous D&D experience and knew how to be a dungeon master, so offered to be our venerable dungeon master. I don’t recall how the topic was first broached, but I know I agreed to play faster than I accepted the job offer that led me to work at that office in the first place. Cantay gathered about him a ragtag bunch of misfits who were destined for greatness: two elves, an orc, a gnome, a hobbit, and a creepy devil man with a tail. True to nerd form, one of our members-Kristen-offered up her parents’ basement as a meeting place, and so we began a quest that mirrors an R-rated version of the movie Mulan extremely closely. In our group’s service of the great and powerful Duke Boris, we’ve grown from a disparate collection of conscripts to a real team.

But while the combat is fun, and can be extremely complex, what with 1d4 dagger throws and armor class and advantage rolls, much of the game takes place beyond the swirling tempest of bloodlust. A lot of the time, we’re just hanging around. Like in real life, but with magic and creepy devil men. Consider the case of a recent encounter, which I believe everyone else in the group still hates me for. It began in the garrison, and involves my character Brutalitops and a pretty, young purveyor of sausages, Diocletia. Or in D&D speak, “Attend now to the union of the pair, / The half-elf mage and Diocletia fair.”

Cantay made his sausage maiden wander into our camp, and while everyone else directed his or her characters to ignore or shoo her away (or, in one case, pickpocket her), my character extended her every courtesy. In the game, this is played out as real conversation. So I was speaking to Cantay as Brutalitops and he was speaking to me as Diocletia. We played the world’s worst game of chicken as we flirted back and forth with increasingly suggestive language and the rest of the group stood in slack-jawed horror and Kristen’s mother and Kristen’s father and Kristen’s dog tried to pretend as if they couldn’t hear what the people in their mid to late 20s were talking about at the kitchen table.

As I don’t believe most of you reading this went to my high school, I will assume that you know what successful flirting leads to. My character and Cantay’s went behind the bleachers and performed a scene that I am positive could not have been featured in Mulan.

“So we’re really doing this? I have to describe what I’m doing?”

“Describe what you’re doing.”

“But how much detail do you want?”

“What are you doing right now? Describe it.”

“OK but I’ve never played this before so if you could let me know . . .”

“You’ll be fine.”

“Sure, well, I guess I give her a kiss. Eight kisses. Kisses on the face.”

“Roll a d20.”

Despite being as far in my little slice of the universe as I could be from playing high school basketball, I was right back in that broom closet, stammering my way through a terrifying situation. Unlike in basketball, though, I did rise to the challenge, and as I led Brutalitops, so did Brutalitops lead Diocletia and so did Diocletia lead Cantay to the stately pleasure dome of all of our dreams.

Cantay later admitted that he wanted to put a stop to the one-on-one roleplaying but that’s because I rolled the best possible roll a player can make with the 20-sided di that controls everyone’s fates. His hands were tied. He let out a Rich-sized sigh and shrugged, acquiescing to the decree of Lady Destiny, then powered on through the sexual miasma we had stirred up together like a goddamn champion. Kristen’s mother literally excused herself to go to Bible study during this. Reports vary, but the other group members claim that I “wasted” somewhere between forty-five and ninety minutes with this escapade. At the end of the night we killed two ogre-looking things, but not before they knocked me unconscious, which made everyone else immensely happy.

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