Dragons I have known and slain pt2: Chris, Dungeons and Dragons

I sat in a room full of people I never met with Chris at the head of the table, and he led us into a dungeon. I was more than a little worried I had just wasted my Tuesday evening.

Chris, Dungeons and Dragons 3.5, Part 1

SUPER NOODLES AND DISCOUNT BOOZE

Jesus Gary, put that down, you'll put someone's eye out with that thing

This is the sort of shit you come across in Dungeons and Dragons on a daily basis

Years ago – seven years ago, as I write, in fact – one Saturday morning, I fought my way through a Fosters’ hangover and an unfamiliar September chill in the air to get to the weekly wargaming session on the University campus.

Wargaming is a much more social hobby than tabletop roleplaying, as it generally involves sitting in a too-small, poorly ventilated room with a bunch of other wargamers and arguing at length about the merits of different troops choices, the design of a new army list, or the correct way to roll dice. On occasion, you might get round to playing an actual game, but seeing as the process can take up to three hours on a good day it’s often best avoided.

The smell of a Wargaming club in full session is something to behold: a palpable slap of body odour, polystyrene cement, mildewy books and salt and vinegar crisps, amplified by the heat from the radiators and the sheer unadulterated mass of geek bodies, steaming up the windows and knocking you back as you enter the room. I was adding to it, at this point, of course; I was showering twice a week and surviving on a diet of Super Noodles and discount booze.

NON-COMMITTAL CREAKING

I was playing against a man named Phil following a good-natured argument he and I had engaged in the night previous at the Games Society Icebreaker (a party in which almost no ice was broken, I should note, being made up almost entirely of great bergs of conversational ice vaguely bumping against one another whilst making non-committal creaking sounds). There was some dispute over whose army was better, and if there was one thing that Phil enjoyed, it was saying that his army was better than other people’s armies with a condescending grin and an eye roll.

My army was made up almost entirely of tanks, his entirely of chitinous space-monsters. We were playing Warhammer 40,000, the most popular wargame in the world, and neither of us were especially good at it. Our fight dragged on with each of us taking fairly heavy losses.

My main battle-tank performed a panic move in reverse gear through one of my own units in a move that many would call unorthodox. Phil’s Carnifex – a bio-engineered mass of claws, teeth, muscle and bone the size of a small post office – lumbered painfully slowly through the centre of the table under the firepower of almost my entire army.

Then a man appeared.

NOTHING BUT LOOM

This picture looks shopped I can tell from some of the pixels and seeing quite a few shops in my time

Pictured: Chris, Keeper, Myself in 2007. We have lost weight since then; Keeper lost most of his by cutting off his hair

This man was astonishingly tall – six foot eight, I would later find out – with shoulder-length hair and glasses, and he hadn’t said much at all. He looked about thirty, and I was nineteen at the time. He’d hovered at the side of the room for a while – but in a world as socially awkward as wargaming, that wasn’t exactly out of the ordinary. (One guy spent the entirety of my first year sat quietly in a corner reading a Dwarf rulebook, refusing to battle on the odd occasions someone would offer. I don’t know what he got out of it.)

But this man loomed. This man could do nothing but loom, it seemed. He loomed beside us and watched our fight, drinking from a bottle of coke he kept in the pocket of his giant coat. I asked him what army he played, out of a polite attempt to include him in conversation.

“Oh, no, I don’t play. I just like to watch.”

I mumbled something and carried on playing. I can’t remember who won or lost the fight, in the end – I have a feeling that I lost, but it was bloody close. I’m sure Phil remembers it differently. The looming guy made his excuses and wondered off, and I wasn’t ungrateful.

LED US INTO A DUNGEON

“Just coming along to watch” is a fairly weird thing to do, in wargaming circles, although everyone of course keeps an eye on everything that’s going on – almost more than they play their own games. You need an excuse to be there, though, whether that’s your own box of miniatures that goes unused, a vague claim to a grudge match against someone, or a Dwarf rulebook to hide behind. Coming out and saying it straight borders on the creepy.

Three days later, the creepy guy gets in contact through MSN Messenger; I think I posted my email address on the society forums and he added me from there. He said he was running a starter game of Dungeons and Dragons, and seeing as I’d not played much in the way of roleplaying games before – a fact he somehow knew – I should come along. I felt… pity, I guess. Like I should help him out. I agreed to go along. I said to my then-girlfriend that I was vaguely worried I’d end up dead in a basement somewhere.

Ultimately it would prove to be misguided pity, as Chris – such was his name – would prove to be the greatest friend I ever had, guide me through the pitfalls of University to emerge intact and relatively unscathed, and ultimately be the best man at my wedding. But for now, I sat in a room full of people I never met with Chris at the head of the table, and he led us into a dungeon. I was more than a little worried I had just wasted my Tuesday evening.

Part two soonish.