I started playing Dungeons and Dragons in the fifth grade.
Once I figured out that Hobgoblins being “giant goblins” did not mean they were twenty foot tall knobby kneed, googly eyed, sneaker wearing mops demanding our adventuring party give them, “FRENCH FRIES!” it became a regular part of my life.
Once my parents realized it was all storytelling in our head and I did not, in fact, fall twenty feet off a ladder to be caught by a much smaller and scrawnier friend (I was playing a Halfling.) they were quite supportive.
The nature of the game and the nature of our hyperactive imaginations meant keeping the encounters in our heads worked out fine. Miniatures were used sparingly, mostly so the Dungeon Master could force us to commit to positions before springing his latest heinous trap that would make Grimtooth himself weep with pity.
Even so, we were aware live action role playing occurred, and had nothing to do with the inanely conceived Mazes and Monsters. Tom Hanks’s turn as Woody in films highlighting the importance of creativity and imagination kept me from holding a grudge.
Dragon Magazine occasionally had articles about the Society for Creative Anachronism, highlighting how they built their own weapons and armor, and sometimes staged mass battles. They definitely looked excessively cool.
I didn’t join the SCA when I got to RPI for two reasons:
A) It’s almost impossible for any group based in a geek school to pull off “excessively cool.”
B) I was too busy to spend the time making weapons and armor because of that “studying engineering” thing.
They did put on a wicked living chess game at the activities fair. This is primarily because the guy playing one of the rooks built himself an eight foot tall tower painted to look like stone work. He could peer over the top when stationary. However, when moving he’d step down out of sight to either slide or roll it along. I’m not completely sure, as the construction was less obvious than the results. I do know it was light enough to cross the board quickly, and solid enough to transmit considerable energy to the “piece” he was capturing. The impact following the charge would blast the unfortunate individual across the McNeil Room of the RPI Union.
Full contact nerds!
I continued to be content with various genres of Pen and Paper gaming until and opportunity presented itself in my twenties.
For reference, the following was pre-fencing class, meaning my “combat skills” such as they existed, were only based on the fitness and juggler like reflexes I picked up in college.
Some friends of friends were regulars at a live action role playing (LARP) group that rented out a local Girl Scout camp for events.
Aside: Driving into this location to pick up my daughter from an overnight camp out caused the most surreal and incongruous flashbacks I’ve ever had.
Since we had an “in” we were excused from the orientation lecture for first time attendees consisting of:
First) Being taught what a role playing game was by people who’d been alive for less time than we’d been playing them.
Second) Being taught the game mechanics of the world over the course of an hour, which we’d had comprehensively explained to us on the ten minute drive over.
Here’s the basic breakdown for anyone loopy enough to still wish to see where these stories end up.
Weapons had a plastic core heavily covered with duct taped on foam or cotton padding. These guys had gotten the science of this down excellently, allowing a player to really wail on his opponent without inflicting any real damage or much pain. Head shots were patently illegal and therefore would do no in game damage.
Otherwise, game damage was inflicted by hitting the target only, not their weapons. This meant parrying prevented all damage, and quick reflexes could make one nearly invulnerable to normal combat. My sister joined in some sessions well after I had tried, and also after taking a formal fencing class. She’d go whole afternoons without losing any hit points.
The way to know how many hit points of damage were caused was accomplished by the attacker calling out the number. This rendered it an educational experience as well, forcing players to constantly do arithmetic while running and fighting.
The “voice activation principle” worked throughout the rules. Higher level characters could do limited numbers of special attacks by calling them out, such as “Stun” forcing the receiver to flap like a chicken and count “Mississippis.” I should probably note looking cool wasn’t much of an option during this undertaking. There were limb removing words, and the ever popular and battle shortening, “Slay.”
Spells worked in a similar fashion, but were beanbag based. Casting a spell at an enemy required successfully “beaning” the foe while calling out the incantation. The most common low level one - “I create a magical pin” anchored one of the target’s feet to the ground, while “Shatter” destroyed a weapon.
Passive spells were also voice activating, requiring holding a bean bag in the air for self-cast magic (since the bags also served to count how many spells one had) or spouting the proper words at the proper time if a reflection or negation spell was cast on you previously.
Yes, there was a great deal of the honor system at play, but on many occasions the rules meshed together to allow fast moving, and entertaining battles by individuals who were in shape, and knew their way around a melee combat, without maiming anyone for real.
Since those were by far the least entertaining to convey events, I’ll focus on the other ones.
Oh…and a real world back rub between players meant their characters had an in game evening of “way-hey-hey-hey!” The fact that they felt the need for this rule should have clued me in to some of the surprises waiting for me.
In general, the primary source of all ridiculousness that occurred was tied to one thing: A disconnect between player and character skill sets.
As I said, the weapon manufacture was excellent. The same can be said of most long time participants’ costuming ability. Many players also had some theatrical experience allowing boastful banter filled, Shakespearean sounding shouting matches.
However, the lack of martial training often didn’t allow walking the walk after talking the talk.
A prime example repeated several times. Two impeccably dressed individuals in period costume with entertaining facial hair and large plumed hats would start by hurling renaissance fair style insults at each other until honor demanded physical retribution. Both noble sirs’ character sheets listed “Florentine” fighting style, and because of this they would draw both their primary sword and a shorter parrying dagger. Still hurling Elizabethan epithets, they closed for combat…
Then they’d both wave their arms like Robby the Robot at each other while saying, “eh. eh. eh.” and closing their eyes a lot.
Some occurrences indicated others failed to notice even larger disconnects between stats and reality. I bet in his worst nightmares, J. R. R. Tolkien never saw a three hundred pound elf trotting through the forest while sucking on an inhaler.
A second beginner requirement we got out of was the normal first timer role of Skeleton. Since skeletons attacked with “claws” parrying didn’t protect them from damage. Also, they spent the day in the dark in one of the “dungeon” indoors instead of playing a larger role in the story. In hindsight, I’m a little sorry we missed that. I’m sure having a room full of newbies trying to pull off a coordinated attack in a darkened scout cabin produced some epic slapstick comedy…and more than a few ER visits.
Instead, we were drafted into a gang of mercenaries that players would meet, provided with red shag carpet samples to wear, and a choice of swords from the “company pile.” I chose one that could be wielded either one or two handed for a couple of reasons:
A) I had never done this before and didn’t know which way would work better.
B) It matched the weapon most of the Dungeons and Dragons fighters I played as wielded.
C) The immature part of my brain that still runs many of the day to day operations giggles uncontrollably at the name “bastard sword.”
Based on the level of the player characters in the adventure, our skill sets would be adjusted accordingly. Our job was to befriend the party to lull them into a false sense of security, and then either try to take them out on our own, or if we thought they were too powerful, lead them up the hill to the main “bad guy” base camp.
We met three parties that day, and each encounter devolved into its own unique style of foolishness.