Thursday, November 27, 2008

Poking Fun

I had a housewarming party this last weekend, which went very well. A good friend of mine brought me what has to have been a gag gift—him being a D&D player himself—a copy of the made-for-TV, 1982 film, Mazes and Monsters.

I detect a shudder among those reading.

I had seen this film precisely one time before: in 1982. I eagerly anticipated the movie and was sure to be sitting at the screen when it came on, as it was the first media acknowledgement of the game that I’d heard of. I think there were a lot of us who, ignorant of the content (there was rarely any previous information distributed on ANY media then), were very angry with the film. I know I was. Angry with the message, angry that they got not one detail accurate, angry that the other side of the story was never going to get its say.

This is not a review. I don’t really care about the film itself; all made-for-TV movies are shit. I would like to say that if it were actually possible for players to “lose their sense of reality” within the game, we would all be playing MORE, not less. Would that the game were that engrossing.

Someone on a blog last week (I won’t say who, but he knows who he is) made an excited post about the movie Hawk the Slayer, asking why had he never heard of this movie before? I would answer that it was because he was lucky enough not to have been born in 1964 and thus not to have been 16 when the movie came out in 1980. It, with other films like Krull (1983), Clash of the Titans (1981) and Dragonslayer (1981) were part of a whole genre of cheesy fantasy films that came out in that period—partly, I suppose, because there was a groundswell of interest in fantasy fiction that was making itself clear to those making movies. But oh my god were these movies bad. Those people I played with at the time would grind their teeth whenever the subject of fantasy film was raised, wondering when in hell someone was going to make a good film. The best we had so far was Conan the Barbarian (1982), which was not well loved due to Schwarzenegger, who thankfully speaks about 8 words, total, through the entire film.

But all these films have become cult favorites—even Mazes and Monsters—because role-players have always “embraced the cheese.” As far back as my memory goes, the type of nerdy loner who enjoyed a good Saturday night with a D&D campaign was the same lad who Sunday night would take in a World’s Worst Film Festival at the vintage theatre downtown. There is something about the mindset that says that a really good film is impossible, so I will find really bad films and laugh at them.

I was born stodgy, I suppose, as I’ve never found anything funny in a bad film. I do not titter at bad dialogue, I wince…and then wonder why its not possible to have writers like this taken out and shot, or how it comes to be that people are willing to raise millions of dollars in order to put their shit screenplays on film, and by that time I’m out of the theatre and on my way home. I would rather watch bowling than a bad film.

The embracement of the cheese does not, however, end with the love of film. Many DMs, not blessed with any more talent than the average writer of fantasy screenplays (Uwe Boll comes to mind), produce campaigns which, if movies, would have all the angst of Ron Howard’s Willow (late for the genre, it came out in 1988). Princesses in need of saving, threatened villages, mindless quests, never ending and irrational dungeons (filled with hundreds of traps intended to guard…what, exactly?)…it is all part of the same stale block of Gouda. Most players love it; attempts at anything deeper are doomed to failure, since your personal dungeon master wasn’t born a C.S. Lewis or J.R.R. Tolkien. Hell, not even a J.K. Rowling.

(What is it with the initials?)

So cheese is all they have. The protestors against the evil satanic cult of roleplaying should be aware that there are far more moments in a game where the players are making up bad puns about the last monster they’ve slaughtered, or how many times they can “surprise rape” their fellow party members, then fiendishly inventing ways to sacrifice real live victims in the game. At the heart of it, the gamers are the first to poke fun.

The myth of a “serious” campaign, that elusive thing, is the wheel upon which most DMs are broken, as players with their Mountain Dew and cheesies settle into their roles of Dave, Bob and Brian, ready to make hay of B.A.’s efforts. (More initials. Coincidence?)

It is the genre. Whatever Mazes and Monsters got wrong, it did get one thing right: people spouting fantasy fiction at each other around a kitchen look like morons to an outsider, any outsider. And we laugh at morons. Even at the other morons playing with us. Even at ourselves, being morons, while we play. Every once in awhile I find myself muttering phrases from the mouth of some NPC, and I have to wince.

Which is why no one is ever going to take this game as seriously as many of the bloggers or game pundits would like. It will never be cool. It will never be hip. It’s just such an easy target.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

General Notes

I haven't had many new thoughts lately about D&D; the other parts of my life have intervened. I won't be running until November 15, having only just changed residences and thus not being in possession of enough space to even set up a couple of tables until this weekend. I'm told that I'll be in a position to run seven players, as another is ready to audit a few sessions to see if she likes it. If she does, it would mean that the number of women in my campaign actively outnumbers the number of men. I don't know what this means.

It seems odd to me that, since I am fairly combat heavy in my campaigns, that I usually do well with women interested in playing the game. I don't find that women run particularly different from the men; or that they feel affronted. But that may be because I'm not, as many DMs I've found in the past, a hopeless prude who must build every campaign around the manliness of their players and the need to rescue princesses. Having a loose campaign as regards to the activities of the players, the women are free to explore their own desires to swing weapons and crush opponents. While the men do involve themselves in quite a few pissing contests, it is interesting to watch the women threaten to team together to teach them a lesson if they don't shut up.

I'll have to write more about that some time.

I am actively searching for various tokens to denote food, money, arrows, torches, flasks of oil and so on, and I have several people looking for good deals in this regard. First off, for those who might be considering getting some glass beads, I would recommend looking in pet stores which cater to fish before seeking them out from Walmart or educational sources. So far I have this tip second-hand...but I suspect that pet stores might have more to offer than I had at first considered. If anyone else has any tips, don't hesitate to bring them up.

Anyway, that's all I have time for. I'm working on National Novel Writing Month, 50,000 words in 30 days, which will soak up a lot of hours over the next four weeks. I'm working off a premise suggested by Nicola Tesla, about the transmission of electricity through the air, like radio or television waves. I think I have the science problems wrapped up, I have a beginning and an end, and most of the transitional elements figured out. Wish me luck.