Tuesday, June 15, 2004

STR: 18/00

Dungeons & Dragons turns 30 this year.

If I ever need to list the top 10 influences on my creative thinking, my ability to speak without fear in front of strangers or a large audience, my capacity to improvise in sudden situations or generally explain my love for the fantastic, this role-playing game is up there.

The first time I was exposed it was when I was in grade school at La Salle Greenhills. One of my classmates submitted a short story entitled "The Gauntlets of Ogre Power". I read it and was knocked off my socks (only later would I realize that a) it was plagiarized; b) it was really badly written; and c) the Gauntlets were only one of uncountable marvelous magical things to be quested for and treasured in the infinite worlds).

I found out that it was a game, but a game unlike anything I'd ever played before. The discovery that a shop in Greenhills called Nova Fontana sold the rule books, modules and funky dice created a monster in me, adding to my collecting burden (comic books, Lego, Hardy Boys and other books).

But it wasn't until high school that I found a group of like-minded people and began to actually play. And play we did, making up rules we didn't understand and creating scenarios that now are more embarrassing than incredible. Some friendships made at the end of the corridor where we played persist until this very day - though we have become lawyers in the US (Raffy) or are busy pressing grapes in Spain (Sean) or engaging in diplomatic hijinks in Russia (Deric).

I found people who loved Middle Earth as much as I did (way before Peter Jackson's phenomenal film trilogy), who could argue over the nuances of EarthSea with me, and (shudder) who thought that Dragonlance was cool (yes, I actually did - but the scene that is burned into my mind is when the Forestmaster unicorn pointedly tells the party that someone will die, while looking directly at Sturm Brightblade -LOL).

Even in those early days, my preference for story over rules was strong. I felt that rules constricted imagination - there were so many situations the rules did not cover, and those that it did cover (weather for the day) were just so banal (on the other end of spectrum was JV Barredo, whose mastery of the arcane rules was second to none).

Since I had always loved magic, I created 66 orders of magic and painstakingly began to create spells, histories and all sorts of thing. But I paid special attention to the characters who populated the worlds I conjured up, finding ways to juggle a massive supporting cast who each had their own agenda.

In college, I ran my best games: epic sprawling sagas spanning generations through impossible wars, paralyzing fear and heartbreaking loss, tempered with the joy of friendship and the power of loyalty. The Honored Blood. Doomgarde. My storytelling ability grew, and my bias towards character-driven stories became more evident. The Needle. Isle. Aran. Tragic Wild Demi-Hunter Fortress (oh yeah!).

I had great players. In fact, I married the best of them.

And today, though I no longer play as much as I used to (and feel very rusty, as if my mind is in torpor), I find it impossible not to look at the new D&D 3.5 rulebooks with their bewildering changes (I'm so old school, I still think you sometimes need low numbers and sometimes high numbers when you roll the dice, unlike these young turks), or skim through the latest issues of Dragon or Dungeon magazine, or look at the new modules (now written, via license, by other companies for TSR/WOTC), or browse through the latest novels (boring, derivative shit, but Charles can tell you that). I even looked up the original ending of the animated series.

Yes, everything is different, rules have changed and it's hard to recognize stuff I used to know. But you know what? I left the rules long before I started to play, so it's actually interesting to see the game beginning to catch up with the imagination of countless players like me who went on ahead building their own stuff.

For helping shape my mind, build my confidence, trigger my writing and suck my wallet dry, I will always remember those fantasic Gauntlets (Strength = 18/00, if I'm not mistaken).


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