Friday, September 05, 2008

Dragons' Den

What with the Blue Kitten now being a day overdue, I've been doing what every expectant mother does in the final, impatient stages of pregnancy: playing Dungeons & Dragons.

As far as I'm aware there's no old wives' tale about fantasy role-playing games helping to bring on labour - unlike, say, eating fresh pineapple, going up and down the stairs and tweaking your own nipples (not all at once, that would be dangerous, plus the neighbours can see through the landing window), but that's no reason not to try it out.

I'd never played D&D before now, not least because a) I am female, and b) I spent most of my formative years incarcerated in a posh boarding school where the prevailing leisure activities were limited to flicking one's hair, wearing cashmere scarves, stealing other people's socks and listening to Chris de Burgh.


The nearest I'd got was a brief phase of playing those Fighting Fantasy books in the early 80s, books which Mr BC informs me were aimed at people who had no friends with whom to play D&D; a description that I find almost unbearably sad. My dad banned my brother and me from buying those the minute he became aware of them, but not before we'd gleefully polished off The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, The Citadel of Chaos and The Forest of Doom.

Then we got a ZX Spectrum and discovered text adventure games like The Hobbit, which we played for hours and hours in our isolated farmhouse in the north of Scotland, while our peers in built-up areas were discovering the joys of actual fantasy role-playing games that we - or at least I - had never even heard of.

So anyway, here I am, some 30 years late to the fray. And it turns out that D&D is a sort of highly complex mixture of story-telling, dice-rolling, lego, algebra and chess. Although the lego part is only because we're using lego to represent our characters as they explore an underground cave network. Here is my character:

She's called Iolaire, which, as any fule kno, is Scottish Gaelic for 'eagle'. The ornithologically-astute among you will notice that the bird she's carrying atop her oriflamme is not an eagle but an owl, this is because a) I don't have a lego eagle and b) I don't know the Scottish Gaelic for 'owl'. D&D is all about creative improvisation.

Despite being an elf (actually an Eladrin, but I'm trying to not alienate any readers), surely one of the more amiable of the fantasy species, Iolaire apparently has zero charisma, which makes me like her a lot. Her lack of social skills means she spends most of the game lurking about at the back not talking to anyone, and occasionally taking out the odd goblin with a well-aimed arrow.

Here are Iolaire's companions, mobbing a Dark Elf (the emo-looking chappie) in a corner:

Iolaire was right back out of the way (coincidentally the same position I used to play in hockey) at this point, but she still managed to get in the fatal shot. Hurrah!

Dungeons & Dragons has a dreadful, probably unsalvageable reputation for being the preserve of the stinky, socially-leprous teenage boy-nerd, but having played several games of it, I can see its merits on lots of levels.

It's very creative, for a start, as someone (the Dungeon Master) has to make up an extraordinarily complex story - and backstory - as you go along, and you have to decide what you're going to do at any given juncture, and then whatever you decide to do affects the story, and so on. This means it's like being in a film, rather than simply watching a film, which is quite cool.

It's also good for mental arithmetic, as you're forever having to roll different dice and add things together and add other things to that and then subtract something else and divide the result by your fortitude quotient, and so on.

I think a lot of its bad reputation comes from the fact that it's full of elves and goblins and stuff, stuff that people who think they're quite cultured refuse even to countenance, let alone take seriously. But I can't see why it *has* to be limited to wizards and monsters; the principles of the game can be applied to any scenario. The other morning I had a splendid idea for a teenage-girl version, in which one could choose to play a model, or a pop star, or a girl-geek, or a spy, or a mum, or a scientist, and so on, and see how that unfolded.

(If I had my way, probably in a manner that would reveal 'model' to be the most useless and pointless of roles, and 'girl-geek' to be the bestest and greatest, but it doesn't work like that; everyone has their strengths and weaknesses, and the aim is to find ways to combine them to best effect. At the end of the day it's all about friendship, mutual respect and co-operation, which is lovely.)

So now I just need several thousand pounds from a games company to fund its development, and an acre of time in which to develop it.

Which, if the Blue Kitten carries on not appearing like this, it may turn out that I do.


Sean McManus said...

I popped into some games shop in my local town centre to see what the fuss was about and it was great to see people having such fun with D&D-type games, painting the castles and so on. There was a really good vibe to the place.

I think Ben Elton said that football exists because men have nothing to say to their mates. Perhaps D&D does the same thing for the less sporty boys.

Can't help thinking Lolaire deserves a capital letter, though.

jill said...

Heee. Oh, dear - I did play D&D as a young teen. With a motley group ranging from 12-40 or so.

The role-playing got liquid-snorting funny at some points, particularly the time my gang shoved the Very Ingenuous 12-year-old into a mob boss' den to gather intel (mob boss played by said 12-YO's terrifically sarcastic mother - a classics scholar in her youth). At one point, Mob Boss says, "Kid - you're lying to me."

"Which time?" said Kid.

Still cracks me up.

Sean McManus said...

Oh, hang on. It was Iolaire, with a capital I, wasn't it? Shows how much this fule kno about Gaelic.

Anonymous said...

Gosh, is that already the time? Looking forward to the big news.

When I sit in the shiatsu chair in our local shopping centre, I can either choose one that has me staring into a posh-things-for-the-house shop or a shop selling games. Much more fun watching the teenage boys wishing they got more pocket money in that shop than seeing old ladies paying through the nose for a posh fruit bowl.

John Cowan said...

Synchronicity strikes: I was just reading about the Iolaire sinking on Wikipedia yesterday, and here the name appears again today! (I actually started with this article about the sinking of the ferry Estonia, a grim tale but worth reading, and branched out from there to other shipwrecks. Another morning gone west, I fear.)

Anyhow, I was struck by this explanation of pronunciation, slightly edited by me:

Note on the name: whilst the word "iolaire" in [Isle of] Lewis Gaelic is pronounced [approximately YO-luh-zuh], varying slightly according to dialect, the English-speaking crew used a spelling pronunciation of [approximately EYE-o-lair], and this was adopted by Gaelic-speakers as its name.

Nothing like mangling the pronunciation of your own language to make the English happy!

chuffy! said...

The 11-year-olds D&D club at our school developed as an offshoot a live-action RPG (running around various Yorkshire woods with papier maché clubs and feathered balaclavas) called, with complete obliviousness and in reference to the sound the sound of club on torso, Bonking.

The Bonkmaster (for that is what he called himself) is now a Tory MP with troubling ties to the oligarchs and a considerable cocaine habit. Role-playing games are bad.

Boz said...

Blue Kitten probably doesn't know she's late. Unless your womb has internet access. Wifi is amazing these days..

patroclus said...

Sean: My theory is that there isn't really anything to say (I mean really, what on earth do people talk about for hours on end?), so it helps to be able to make it up. And yes, she's Iolaire with a capital I, but a quick addition of an 'I can haz expeeriunce pointz?' caption to her picture would instantly transform her into Lolaire.

Jill: This makes me think that lots of women do in fact play RPGs, the same way as lots of women do all the other things that we're constantly being told we don't do, like blogging, and watching Battlestar Galactica.

BiB: Mmm, though, posh things for the house. Now you're talking.

John: Weirdly I was looking at that Iolaire entry myself the other day, when I was checking that I had the right name for my character. And yes, the poor Gaelic speakers, having to collude in the manglement of their own language. Mind you, when I lived in France, I always found myself pronouncing my surname the way the French do, just to make things easier.

Chuffy!: Hm, those Tories and their feathered balaclavas - I'm starting to understand how Stephen Milligan met such an exotic end. Were you in this D&D club yourself?

chuffy! said...

I'm ashamed to say that I was (at least until the summer months, when it would be replaced with, even less sensible, cricket).

I have the MP Bonking modules in the loft, ready for release to the tabloids when it becomes prudent. He also used to sell cut-up bits of pornographic magazines for tremendous profit, but I suppose most Tories started out like that, so no big story.

Jayne said...

I played D&D on Sunday afternoons for a couple of years when I was at uni. The core group were split evenly - 3 boys and 3 girls (although the dungeon master was never a mistress now I come to think of it). I remember it fondly. Wot larks etc.

ScroobiousScrivener said...

I belonged to a roleplaying club at university; there may have been slightly more boys than girls (or maybe not) but the society was largely run by wimminfolk. Do not believe those who say Girls Just Don't. (Although I do remember meeting someone who was aghast at the idea that girls might play, because his own campaign was largely devoted to doing Bad Things to girls, apparently, and he rightly feared that the presence of actual live females might cramp their virtual style.)

D&D was slightly Looked Down On, though, in favour of a whole heap of similar (or sometimes quite different) gaming systems. I liked Rolemaster, because it was possibly even more complicated than D&D (I liked the maths bits). Castle Falkenstein was sadly not nearly as complicated, but more than made up for it in brilliant Victorian swashbucklingness. And then there were the cyberpunky games, the horror games (Cthulhu!), etc etc.

Sadly, whatever the system, I was always completely crap. Turns out I'm far too passive to be a roleplayer. I like hanging around with the other characters, bickering and getting into trouble, but when it comes to actually doing something... I lack imagination. Very sad.

Marsha Klein said...

Ah, so you've reached the "Erm, what happens now?" stage.

Hope it doesn't last too long.

james henry said...

Ooh, scroobious totally knows her stuff! We're only playing D&D because that's what the GM and the other players are used to (although 4th edition is turning out to be a pretty good game). Castle Falkenstein always looked fun though (steampunk rools). I'd love to get a game of Cthulhu going, with fictional characters as PCs - Peter Whimsy and Berie Wooster kicking Shuggoth butt all over Thirties England.

Although Patroclus's teen girl game sounds fun too. As long as my character can have a katana.

patroclus said...

Chuffy!: This reminds me that a current shadow cabinet minister once offered (entirely without solicitation, I might add) to lick chocolate off me in the back of a bus. Brrr.

Jayne/Scroobious: Aha, case proven once more, I think. I'm rubbish at the maths bits, as it turns out. My special skill seems to be 'backseat dungeoneering' i.e. talking poor Mr BC into diving into a treacherous pool of black water only to see him nibbled almost to death by an escaped sahuagin. Apparently, if you see a pool of treacherous black water, diving into it isn't quite the done thing.

Marsha: Thank you. I'm quite relaxed about it all, really.

Valerie said...

Ooh, this brings back memories of playing (basic) D&D with my brother and sister back in the late '70s. I liked creating odd monsters, like a hippogriff who, if you attacked him, would smash you to a pulp; but if you greeted him by speaking to him, he'd invite you in for tea and give you lots of treasure. My little brother (who was running the game for himself, me and my little sis) thought my monsters were a little too generous. At least he didn't say 'girly'.

I'm sure enough D&D excitement will induce Blue Kitten to come purring out. And I'm terrified by Boz's concept of Internet in the womb...

spence said...

Has anything happened yet!?

Annie said...

Wow, time has flown. Good luck and everything...

We used to play a kind of live action D&D, getting dressed up in cloaks and going down Highgate Woods or the caves in Chislehurst and hitting each other with home-made swords. It was all to get in with the boys we liked though.

Can't believe I have confessed to that.

patroclus said...

Valerie: I like the sound of your game. Surely a lot of these kobolds and owlbears and what-have-you have just had unpleasant upbringings. Let's not automatically tar them all with the 'monster' brush.

Spence: No, unless you count having a cup of tea and a couple of chocolate Hobnobs (no plain Choco Leibniz in Asda, more's the pity).

Annie: What can't you believe you've confessed to: playing live-action D&D, or liking boys who played live-action D&D? As long as there weren't any sleazy future Tory MPs among them, I think both things are eminently OK.

spence said...

what you need is a hot curry and a bit of 'hows ya father'....or so I'm told!

rach said...

Ah, The Citadel of Chaos and The Forest of Doom, I remember them well (my childhood was spent in deepest East Anglia so no real, live D&D people there either). They were great - and a fantastic cure for someone who likes to read on ahead to find out what happens in the story...(it can't just be me that peeks at the ending, can it?)

PS Overdue is horrible, I quite sympathise. It was the grumpiest four days of my life.

Simes said...

I played a lot of D&D Basic "back in the day". GM'd me some Call of Cthulhu on occasion, too. Good times.

I've been trying to get people interested in board games and such but it's hard work getting a group together who want to play. Had some fun on holiday with Mwahahaha! though. It's complicated, but good fun.

extemporanea said...

Hah! I see you have entered D&D in the traditional feminine way, viz. playing an Elven variant with a longbow. (Mine was a half-Elven ranger). I've been role-playing with more or less rabid enthusiasm since I was in first-year university, and I still like lurking at the back of the party with ranged weapons.

Castle Falkenstein is, indeed, incredibly good fun - you play it with cards instead of dice, on the grounds that aristocratic ladies and gentlemen would never stoop to dice, they're lower-class. I love Victorian settings - I think I threw Dickens at my Cthulhu game, and they set fire to his lodgings with a fire vampire. And I share with the Blue Cat the desire to use Lord Peter as an NPC. Alas, very few of my players would recognise him...

Fat Roland said...

Being overdue sucks, not that I've been overdue but most of my preggers friends have been over. You must be fit to burst. Well, not burst. At least, I don't think that's how it works; I failed biology.

entropy said...

Rach, I too skip ahead in books. The DnD type books didn't help, though... ended up trying to mark various places in the book till I ran out of fingers so I could retrace my steps if I didn't like the outcome.

Fffectively the low-tech version of "You have died - load saved game?"

Sylvia said...

Pah! four days - you should try over two weeks! Ooh - competitive overdueness, sorry about that...

Anyway, just get on with eating biscuits, watching TV, playing those funny games I'm far too old to understand, and sleeping lots, although I remember being extremely uncomfortable all the time by that stage.

With the last one, I booked myself in to be induced - not a pleasant procedure - but I had a sympathetic midwife who told me when to cough so we got things moving.... too much info already!

The worst thing about this waiting time is how frustrated everyone else gets with you - those ranting phone calls from various people, as if they've put their lives on hold for your impending arrival. As if they're going to help you out when the baby comes!

patroclus said...

I quite like the sound of Call of Cthulhu, especially getting to play as Lord Peter Wimsey (or Albert Campion).

Thanks to everyone too for the 'overdue' sympathy, rest assured I'm quite relaxed about it all.

(Sylvia - they're going to do a 'stretch and sweep' next week, which I thought sounded like a yoga manoeuvre, but my good friend Tabby Rabbit thought it sounded more like a kids' TV show with puppets. I sincerely hope no hand puppets are going to be involved, purely for their own psychological wellbeing...)

Tim Footman said...

The hand puppets are a doddle. It's when they send a ventriloquist's dummy in there that the traumas start.

patroclus said...

What with the in-womb wi-fi and puppet show, it's no wonder she doesn't want to come out.

I think all midwives should be trained in ventriloquism, it would be hilarious. Or, indeed, terrifying.

janey33 said...

I'm starting work as a maternity support assistant soon but I have to admit, ventriloquism is not one of my strong points. I can do a mean latex glove fish puppet though. (You can see why they hired me, can't you?)
BTW, stretch and sweep means they want to try to break your waters, don't let them if you can possibly help it. She'll be out when she's good and ready. She's probably waiting for you to stock up on buttock-enhancing nappies before she'll even consider gracing Penryn with her presence!

Anonymous said...

And then of course there's Macho Women With Guns; the best hen party I've ever been to was one where extemporanea ran an MWWG game (and only foodstuffs containing chocolate were allowed).

-starmadeshadow, friend of scroobius & extemporanea.

patroclus said...

Janey: Fish puppets! I knew it! I did specifically request that they don't break my waters, so they'd better not. And the (organic, washable) nappies I've got are apparently so buttock-enhancing that they don't even fit into glamorous French baby clothes, which is a shame, as I've been buying loads of glamorous French baby clothes on eBay.

Starmadeshadow: Welcome! Any friend of Scroobious and Extemporanea is a friend of this blog. Also, that sounds like a brilliant hen party.

Oli said...

Call of Cthulhu is quite wonderful - I can heartily recommend Horror's Heart, a short campaign set in Montreal. Just about to start running that for the second time.

As for the teen girl game, there was an issue of Polyhedron (on the flip side of the seedily named Dungeon magazine) that had rules for a Josie and the Pussycats style girl band. Good stuff.

Fighting Fantasy is just all round aceness, and I shan't hear a word said against it, nor against my worryingly large collection thereof.

Oli said...

Hmmm... that sounded all very stern, didn't it?

Good luck with baby-having.

patroclus said...

Ah, Oli, I could have done with access to your Fighting Fantasy collection when compiling the post above - as it was I had to crib the intro to The Warlock of Firetop Mountain off Wikipedia.