Sunday, August 25, 2013

Fabulous Weekend

A Thirtieth birthday is often marked as an extra-special occasion, a strange rite of passage where the now ill fitting cloak of latter adolescence is doffed in favor of the thin mantle of adult respectability. My thirtieth birthday arrived in October 2000, and I decided to host a kind of symposium; I invited a handful of my most intellectually gifted friends to come, drink, and make a presentation—plans to take over the world were my suggestion but anything would be accepted so long as it was interesting. Far and away the winning presentation was given by David M. Ewalt. In a stunning example of a non-ohmic resistor, David dimmed the room lights and connected the wires of an electric cord to either end of a pickle, then inserted the plug end into a wall outlet. In the two or three seconds before the fuse blew, that pickle lit up with an eerie glow. All present will ever recall the man we then dubbed The Pickle King.

Last week The Pickle King published his debut novel, Of Dice and Men
The book launch was last Friday where I was pleased join beer-drinking friends watching Dave meeting fans and signing books. Having read most of the book by then, I was also keen to meet three members of Dave's gaming group: Morgan Harris-Warwick (the DM), Phillip Gerba (Ganubi the Bard), and R.C. Robbins (Graeme the Rogue). Meeting these three was such good fun my wife and I decided to join their group afterward for what CitySearch called “the best comfort food in Brooklyn” at Alchemy.

Because we bought one of our books at Greenlight Bookstore, we also received a ticket to the “secret D&D party” held the next day at Tardis-themed The Way Station. I had successfully told myself I wasn't interested in going until my wife put the ticket in my hands. The Way Station is a great bar, and I was happy to return knowing only that Dave was having some kind of D&D event which would be attended by authors Lev Grossman, Austin Grossman, and Victor LaValle.

Dave's Tuesday night DM was there, and I finally got to meet Alex Agius (Jhaden the Ranger) too. I spotted Lev Grossman easily enough since I've read The Magicians, and Dave pointed out Lev's brother Austin and Victor LaValle, while noting that I'm likely to quite enjoy Austin's novel about the inner lives of superheroes: Soon I Will Be Invincible.

A handout informed each player:
We're playing the original Dungeons & Dragons, created in 1974 by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson. The way we're rolling is a special format created by fans after Gary's passing in 2008, designed to introduce new, returning, and never-left players to the lethal pleasures Gygaxian dungeoneering.
We were provided with little orange plastic numbered discs, a half dozen players with low numbers began while the rest of us waited in the “peanut gallery” to replace the next dead adventurer. The first group did quite well early on, I drank two or three pints while no one died. I was returning from a trip to the Tardis when I saw that the entire table was changing players—apparently an invisible wall of death caused the mass turnover. I eagerly grabbed a seat and looked at the character sheets I had: I could play either a cleric or a fighting man. Unlike Dave, I'm not fond of clerics so I flipped to the fighting man side and filled in a name: Strabor.

The previous team had suddenly departed whilst exploring a room with several doors and piles of dead adventurer's in various states of decomposition. As a plot device to get the new band of unworthies up to the same point, we were told that we were being chased by a giant snake toward said room. At least some of us were just inside the room discussing what to do when the DM mentioned that the snake was struggling to work it's way through a narrow point in the nearby hall.      Seeing a chance for glory, I tell the DM that Strabor is going back out to the hall to shoot an arrow at the wriggling serpent. Strabor's arrow was true enough to strike the snake, even sticking between  the scales, alas it wasn't quite true enough to do any actual damage to the fell beastie. Meanwhile the snake spat a venomous* loogie with a skill surpassing that of Strabor's archery. Failing two saving throws, Strabor shot a final arrow at the snake without living long enough to see how badly he missed. This was the single fastest death of the night.

I spent most of the rest of the time drinking and talking to other waiting players. I only managed to talk to Lev Grossman for a few minutes as he was heading out for an early engagement elsewhere, but I had ample time to speak with both Austin Grossman and Victor LaValle, of whom both now appear on my priority reading list. Afterward I wandered off ostensibly toward the subway talking to Alex, the  member of Dave's Tuesday night crew I hadn't met the previous night. I then got a bit lost and wandered about feeling I probably should have paid closer attention when Alex told me which way I needed to go. I eventually found my way to Grand Central Station, caught a train home where  I had something to eat before falling into a deep sleep of equal parts exhaustion and contentment.

* I say venomous as it seems more likely to have got smeared in some open wound, rather than swallowed which would be poisonous; either way I thought the lethality unusual as spitting snakes more generally do this to blind their prey.