Monday, July 21, 2008


This last Saturday I missed a party, the second party I’ve missed this summer, because it was our night for D&D. This particular event was the birthday party for my best friend…though it was not her birthday. The actual birthday is Tuesday.

Most would think that I should have gone to the party, and they’d be right. Except that I have a commitment to the people I play D&D with, and my best friend, who does not play, understands that commitment. I am responsible for entertaining a small group of people who would be very disappointed if I were not there. As it was, the running was excellent, first rate, everybody had a hell of a good time and I still expect to see my friend on her birthday.

It is a bit annoying that the only practical night for playing D&D seems to be Saturday. For years, when I was going to University and when I was working odd shifts, I ran my world on Friday nights…which were, on the whole, more convenient. They are not convenient now—not for me, not for my players.

And for adults in general, for parties, Saturdays seem to be the only night when it is convenient for them.

Which means making a decision…just about every weekend.

If you figure you have two parents and two siblings, and eight friends, you have to expect that 13 weeks out of the year there’s going to be some kind of birthday party you are expected to attend. You might get lucky and have two of those parties on the same weekend, and luckier still if your friends happen to know each other; but the fact is most people have more than eight friends. That is, more than eight who would be unhappy if you didn’t appear for their party.

There are, in addition, about thirteen holidays in the year that will eat up other weekends: camping trips in the summer, ski trips in the winter, Christmas and New Years and Thanksgiving (not on a Thursday here in Canada). Before you’re even out of the gate, half the year’s Saturdays are shot.

If you have ANY other interest other than D&D, such as baseball, hockey, mountaineering, drinking…you can pretty much count on random non-birthday parties and social events that are going to cost you a Saturday…probably a fourth of your Saturdays throughout the year. And then there are weddings to attend.

Why can’t people play a serious, effective D&D campaign? Because playing 12 to 14 times a year doesn’t work. It just doesn’t.

In my youth I played with such a gang of nerds that we had no interest in doing anything on our weekends except to play D&D…or some other grognard standard which was around at the time: traveller, top secret, car wars, ogre…whatever. If one of us had a birthday, the birthday was scheduled around D&D, not the reverse; and if that wasn’t possible, we played D&D and had the birthday “party” at the same time. Sometimes a magic item (usually something of one-time use only) might turn up in the treasure if that were the case.

Those heady days vanished as we moved into our 20s. One player found God, another went to University in California, another got work with the Lottery in Vietnam…things fell apart. We got older. The ten-year campaign, begun in ’84, was gone and ended by ’95.

I played spottily here and there for the next ten years…there was life to live and things to do, and an absence of serious players: meaning, basically, an absence of nerds. Ordinary people are too preoccupied with things like parents and birthday parties to really get serious about the game.

The argument is usually that “we have lives.” But I can think of any number of other past-times where that isn’t remotely considered: Olympic athletes, for instance, who train 8-14 hours every day. Musicians who practice 4-6 hours every morning, or who get together to tour for weeks at a time. Or chess players who think of nothing after work except finding opponents.

The failing of D&D is that it has not, in 30 years, managed to establish in itself any of the credibility of these other past-times. The game is still seen as a joke—more and more of a joke, in fact, as it is continuously dumbed down for the buying public. Having a fanaticism about watching reality television or soap operas has more credibility.

For myself, I realize that from time to time I’m going to annoy someone by saying, “Nope, can’t do that. Playing D&D.” Or, “Yeah, that sounds good, but I’m playing D&D on the weekend and if I don’t have this table ready by that time, I’m fucked.”

It might make me a little less socially viable. On the other hand, I’m not scrambling around on Saturdays trying to think of something to do. I’m not sitting in a bar having the same conversation over the same beer with the same drunk friend I’ve known for ten years, both of us working the same job and having nothing new to talk about except what how the Pens are doing this season.

I’m setting up people to fight dragons. That makes me happy.