Tuesday, March 13, 2012

D&D vs X-Men's Storm

TM & © 2012 Marvel & Subs.

Shortly after I started playing D&D, I became friends with a guy at my school named Steve. Steve was one of those hopeless cases - sadly, no social skills and bad hygiene being his two primary "faults" that resulted in him having few friends. But, he was a nice enough guy and not being super popular myself, we kind of hit it off.

I don't remember how I met Steve, but I remember that he was into D&D and he had a LOT of stuff - rulebooks,boxed sets, magazines, and tons of modules. He was that guy who would take a set of bright permanent markers and color the black and white line drawings on the inside cover of the modules, but he seemed to fixate on only coloring in the female characters. It was a little creepy.

Steve was also the host of one of the worst "role-playing" experiences I have ever had.

Steve had invited me over to play a game if AD&D with his friend, who was an "awesome DM." He said I could bring my own character, so I brought my 9th level half-elf ranger-knight, Alemi, whom I had had for a couple of years. Putting aside the fact that, after only a couple of years I actual game play, he shouldn't have been 9th level, his stats are a little "padded" (to be generous), and also that he had amassed a pretty big array of magical items (beyond the item limit for rangers listed in the Player's Handbook), he was my favorite character - my first AD&D character and my first non-human character.

Alemi's Character Sheet circa 1983
(As an aside, I've enclosed a scan of the front of Alemi's character sheet in all of its 1983 dot-matrix glory.  I didn't design the sheet, because I didn't have a computer - my friend Russ Mickler design this one, I think.  I like the nice touches, like the mispelling of "PETAFACATION" and how none of my DMs up to that point had every explained the concept of of their campaign worlds to me, so under religion I put "Protestant."  It seemed to me that a game that included stuff like Clerics and Paladins fighting demons must be Christian-based. I apologize that it's difficult to read, but I didn't want to try to darken the pencil lines just to scan it in.) 

Steve was the only other player there at his house, and we headed down to the basement, because, as I've mentioned before, I was living in Salt Lake City (Sandy, to be precise) at the time, and D&D there was always played in the basement. The DM was older than us, by at least a couple of years, and in strict contradiction to the conservative Utah fashion norm of the day, had very long, thick, wavy hair - marking him as what we all called a "Hessian" and therefore a fan of heavy metal music and probably not a Mormon (of course, the mere fact that he was playing D&D could have given that away as well).

I don't remember anything about Steve's character, and I have no memory of the setup of the game - the background, the world, what we were supposed to be doing...

I do remember that the DM had no maps, no dice, and no notes. And I remember very distinctly when he told us that we were being attacked by Storm.

I had a lot if trouble with this, because this was before I had started reading superhero comics and I had no idea who Storm, let alone any of the other X-Men, was. I was clueless. The DM berated me for being an idiot and not reading X-Men and then tried to describe her. He was using her as his main villain, and I remember we were supposed to attack her.

Unfortunately, our attacks didn't work out so well, because we weren't allowed to do anything. None of my attacks were effective. I couldn't even hit her AC, and as the day wore on, I got progressively more and more annoyed, and finally just started making stuff up.

"That didn't hit? Okay, for my next attack, and believe me, I didn't want to do this, but I'll have to pull out this artifact that I won in another game. It's a hammer of the gods that always hits and does maximum damage. No attack roll necessary."

"It misses her."

I was really cheesed off at this point. "Storm" kept flying around, never landing, and shooting bolts of lightning at us from the sky. Nothing we could do had any impact.

Finally, reduced to about -2 hit points, I was told that my character was dead and to tear up my sheet. I refused, and half-angry, half-hurt at the thought of my character dying, I shouted, "What the Heck! [edit: Yes, I said "Heck" not "Hell.". This was Utah and it was the way everybody talked] What were we supposed to be doing? How come she was all powerful and we couldn't do anything to attack her?"

"Because she's STORM! She's cool!"

Steve joined in with, "Yeah, Storm is really awesome, dude."

I never played D&D with Steve again, and sadly that was one of the last actual game sessions I played in until more than a decade later when I joined my friend Cal's Middle Earth game.

What are some of your bad experiences? Have you ever had a DM who was so in love with his world or his NPCs that you felt you were just along for the ride?

Hanging: Home office, laptop
Listening: "Istanbul, Not Constantinople" by They Might Be Giants
Drinking: Tap water


"Storm" image Source: The Uncanny X-Men #166 (February 1983), "Live Free or Die!", page 11; Marvel Comics Group: New York City; written by Chris Claremont, pencilled by Paul Smith, inked by Bob Wiacek.

5 comments:

  1. "What are some of your bad experiences?"

    With D&D? We don't have that kind of time.

    "Have you ever had a DM who was so in love with his world or his NPCs that you felt you were just along for the ride?"

    With D&D? Only always.

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  2. This anecdote sounds uniquely depressing and yet startlingly familiar.

    It wasn't D&D, but I took part in a convention game (I originally typed "con game", which would still be oddly apropos however you interpreted the phrase) that was more "players as captive audience to the GM's frustrated desire to be a writer".

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  3. What blows my mind is that these Frustrated Writer DMs apparently pay no attention to how good DMs run a game. Or, do they actually think all DMs force the players to abide by a ruleset while DMs can cheerfully abandon the rules whenever she/he needs the story to stay on the chosen track?

    I played in a game last year that featured the worst misuse of DM power since the Great No Save Just Die Episode of 1983. Makes it even harder when the DM is a friend.

    ReplyDelete
  4. @Barking Alien - yeah, I knew I wasn't alone. This is just something that's been bugging me a lot, and I mainly posted it to see what other peoples' experiences had been. Your responses cracked me up, though, especially "Only always."

    @Jayson - "...players as captive audience to the GM's frustrated desire to be a writer."

    Yup. Spot on - that seems to be a fault that I just can't abide. When I first started running my campaign and hadn't really GM'd before, I actually sort of thought that was how you were supposed to do it - have a huge big story arc and manipulate the players into following the course of action you had pre-planned. But I quickly (VERY quickly) figured out that playing that way was not fun for the players, who were also investing time into trying to help me build the world and story as well through the actions of their characters.

    @FWT Lord - Yeah, that totally kind of goes hand-in-hand with what Jayson was saying, above. I think sometimes the GM's desire to have the "story" unfold in a specific way means that they can't adhere to the rules when unexpected things happen, like, say, attacking the "BBEG" before the GM is ready for the players to do that.

    Really, at that point, if the players are not allowed to actually impact the world in a manner of THEIR choosing (not in a manner pre-planned by the DM), then the "DM" should just go ahead and write the book and hand it to the players and say "Here's what happens."

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  5. Indeed--players aren't appendages of the GM's narrative. In the game I mentioned I was honestly reminded of elementary school, when we were given hand puppets to follow along with a recorded story--which actually was more involving than watching this fellow (Who 'reminded' us that he was widely considered the best GM that Con hosted) perform dialogues between NPCs. It was surreal.

    "Rolling with the punches" of players' unpredictability is probably the one of the most valuable skills you develop--I recommend improv theater training to hone it.

    Well, that and random tables. :)

    ReplyDelete

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