McDungeons and Dragons Club, Mac!

Neal Gee
October 27, 2013

Co-written by Raymond O’Connor

Y
ou regular readers of Neal Gee have come to expect three things in my articles: 1) an abundance of superlatives, metaphors, anecdotes, and colloquialisms (in other words, I stink at writing), 2) mention of Brett Whitehead, and 3) mention of Joanna (last name withheld). Being that Passover has just ended and the readings from the Haggadah are still fresh in my mind, I would argue that I have performed the Brutal Horse equivalent of fulfilling the three requirements of the Passover Feast. As Rabbi Gamliel saith “whoever does not make mention of three things at the Passover Feast has not done his duty” (p22, Maxwell House Haggadah, 2009). If this were a Seder that would be 1) the Passover sacrifice, 2) the matzoh, and 3) the bitter herbs. Of course this is not an article about a Seder, nor do I intend to draw comparisons between Passover and Brutal Horse, as that would be more absurd than a screen door on a submarine . . . or a virgin in a maternity ward, whatever your preference. As I meander towards my point of this paragraph—-don’t kid yourself; the point to this article will not come for quite a while—-I would like to add a 4th item to the list of duties I owe my readers when writing an article: 4) mention of Ray O’Connor. Of the things I enjoy most about living in Trolley Square, the top two are definitely Brett and Ray (spouses and pets included). Now, bear with me as I trace back the origins of how and why I am speaking to you through Brutal Horse. Don’t be frightened, I intend to keep this pithy.

I have thought about how best to approach this. Would it make more sense from a chronological or reverse chronological perspective? Are we moving further away from the big bang or closer to the eventual collapse? Did Benjamin Button age backward or did we just watch the movie in the wrong direction? With big questions like these looming I’ve decided to settle on the more unconventional approach of tracing the history from the present day and marching backwards; the anti-lemming approach you might say.

I know Ray through Brett. I met Ray pretty early on in my Trolley Square days, when I was just a young shaver watching wrestling DVDs at Brett’s (see Neal Gee’s article A Rumination on Wrestling). Ray and I both share a passion for bread baking, running, and debating ideologies. And more recently, role-playing games. I met Brett a short while after moving into Trolley Square when Joanna and I “double dated” (is that still what they call it?) with Jess and Brett at Timothy’s in Newark. Jess first made an appearance in my life at Planned Parenthood in 2007 when I would dine in the shady second floor break room with her, Amanda, and Joanna. Jess was notable at the time for observing my impeccable dress: new balance sneakers, pleated khakis, and golf shirts about 2 ½ sizes too big. Now, Joanna and I met at the Clifford Brown Jazz Festival earlier that summer. I’d been a patron of the Jazz arts for some time, and as it turned out, Joanna was at the festival to hang out with her good friend Andrew, who was about to embark on a life aboard a ship as a cruise ship drummer (note to James, you weren’t the first, mac!). Andrew and I worked together at a medical device company, where Andrew was interning for the summer. Andrew and I bonded over our love of drumming. So in short, the timeline from Neal to Ray goes like this: Neal ? Andrew ? Joanna ? Jess ? Brett ? Ray.

Excellent. So, with that established, let me try to figure out where I was going with this. Ahh yes, harebrained ideas. Ray and I seem to have a penchant for coming up with cockamamie ideas. The most famous of which are our stores that fill out the Anytown, Delaware strip mall oh so nicely: Just Feces and Just Smegma. Just Feces is a store, as the name implies, sells poop. Our motto is “Any Species of Feces” and it’s best to picture a smooth carny-type folk standing on a soapbox with a bottle of snake-oil in his hands saying that. Just Smegma, as its name does not imply, is a bakery. Which brings me to our other ideas. During our many excursions in trolley square, we like to brainstorm over clubs to create that would be both practical and pleasurable to those involved. I believe the first was baking club. Baking club meets during our weekly constitutionals. Therefore baking club is essentially running club with the addition of swapping recipes from time to time and debating the finer points such as whether baking powder is allowed in the club (it’s not) or a stand mixer is okay for mixing the dough (Neal Gee: no, Ray O’Connor: yes). In fact, at one point baking club was generalized into fermentation club, since let’s face it, we’re just making solid non-alcoholic beer. But since the joint venture of DF3K and Brutal Horse Brewing resulted in a Brett’s basement full of foamy beer, fermentation club is more or less just baking club which is more or less just running club.

Some clubs have had equivalent staying power to baking club, for example golfing club (meets Thursday evening at Porky Oliver or DuPont Country Club) while other clubs have been clubs in the academic sense only, namely transportation club, where we all buy razor scooters to migrate about Trolley Square. Our most exciting club at the moment is Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) club.

If you know what D&D is, skip this next paragraph. If you do not, read on. D&D is pseudo-social gathering of nerds, geeks, dweebs, and loners to fantasy role play a character in a fictitious world. It appeals to those of creative mind who typically have trouble with the fairer sex. D&D players can be recognized by long hair that begs for some conditioner, acne, and shirts bearing the logo for “Weezer.” They are also known for their cryptic language, spouting out such phrases as “Critical hit!”, “1d20 attack roll”, and “I once saw _____ sister’s underwear.” For a fairly accurate depiction of the game, see this Key & Peele sketch.

D&D club was conceived . . . actually I don’t recall where it was conceived . . . but the intention behind the idea was that it would be super funny to play a role playing game in Trolley Square during peak knucklehead hours (10pm-1am Friday and Saturday nights). While I think only Neal Gee found this to be funny, the idea grew legs when we found out the Ray O’Connor played D&D when he was younger! Note to Ray: you do not fit the typical D&D mold that I elucidated in the previous paragraph. Or maybe you do. I didn’t know you at that age. Now that we had the club formed and a champion, we were ready for action.

Or were we? Apparently one doesn’t just sit down and play D&D. One needs to familiarize oneself with the rules and etiquette of play. So you ask, how do I go about this? Well, my dorky friend, a quick trip to 2nd and Charles is in order. Here’s how to go about procuring the correct materials. On a Saturday afternoon, enter the store. Immediately look for the hot tattooed girls hanging with the hipster guys. This is the vinyl music section; you have no business being there. Now look for the kid who looks like Steve from American Dad. You’re getting warmer. Just past the used Nintendos (8-bit . . . please check for Dragon Warrior for me, and if you find it, send me an email: neal.gee@brutalhorse.com) are the gaming manuals. Look for Dungeons & Dragons. You’ll likely see many dungeon maps and expansion packs. Ignore those for now. You need 3 books: The Players Handbook, The Dungeon Masters Guide, and the Monster Manual (quite frankly optional at this stage, but might as well drop the $7 on it while you’re there). Important note: check the edition! While you don’t need the latest 4th edition, 3rd will do just fine, ensure that all the books are from the same edition. A rookie mistake, as I made, was to buy the incorrect edition of the DM guide. This will result in hazing and taunting at a D&D club meeting if established players are present. Proceed to the register with books and money in hand. If the cashier is 1) a girl, and 2) attractive, make some quip about these items being for your little brother. It will make the experience less awkward than it already is. If the cashier is 1) a guy, and 2) wearing a Legend of Zelda t-shirt, you are in good company. But an equivalent quip is also necessary. I recommend “Hey man do you like Castles and Crusaders better than D&D?” Return to your car and have your mom/sister/relative drive you home. (As an alternate strategy, and one which I employed while purchasing the correct version of the Dungeon Master’s Guide, is to have your significant other shop with you. When you are both ready to check out, slip the D&D books in with his/her things and run to the car -ed.)

The next step is to read the manuals. Don’t be fooled by the “recommended for ages 11+ label.” I have a graduate degree and have difficulty making heads or tails out of what I’m reading. Now it could be that I’m an idiot (maybe) or never had command over the English language (definitely) but more likely it’s fucking confusing. My recommendation is to let Ray read the manuals and distill the information into layman’s terms. With that done, it’s time to create your characters and recruit players. To keep it simple, we used the default player packs and chose characters somewhat resembling ourselves. We also invited the significant others in our lives to be involved. Six players seemed to be a nice round number. And to attract those that had less than a passing interesting in playing a role-playing game, we tied in potluck dinner to the meetings of D&D club. Last note before I get into the actual games, Ray, as dungeon master, instituted one house rule: all players must have “Mc” in their names. All right, on to the characters and games! And at this point, I will hand the article over to my good friend Ray as my memory is shot from smoking the doobie too many times.

Character Creation

The first official meeting of D&D club occurred at Catherine Rooney’s in the early afteroon one fine Winter day. Neal & I (no one else took the club seriously at this point), brought the Player’s Handbook (PHB) and a fistful of oddly-shaped dice and ordered a pair of hot toddies. At this point, Neal had only glossed over the PHB and I hadn’t read it at all. My experience with D&D was a few sessions when I was probably about 12 or 13 and nothing since then. I may have overstated my credentials to Neal in excitement.

After the giggling subsided, Neal and I got down to business. I did my best to decipher the PHB character creation rules in the few minutes we were at Rooney’s, but I think we made a few mistakes. The basic structure of making a character proceeds as:

  1. Choose a race
  2. Choose a class
  3. Roll a bunch of dice to determine your stats for strength, dexterity, intelligence, constitution, wisdom, and charisma
  4. Choose weapons, armor, special powers, or just go with what the book says (which is what we did)

Now, this simple list hides a lot of complication: Certain races prefer certain classes, each race alters your stat rolls and has its own special powers, each class has certain equipment it can use, etc. Needless to say, Neal and I screwed the pooch on this part pretty badly. After a few more hot toddies, the first official meeting of D&D club degenerated into nonsense club. At this point, the best course of action was for me to take ownership of all of the D&D materials and figure it out under more conducive circumstances, but not after Neal and I chose our basic characters: Feskes McFarts, the half-elf paladin, and Fart McTurds, the halfling rogue.

Ask Erin, I spent a few weeks reading both the PHB and the Dungeon Master’s Guide (DMG). At this point, I was confident in our ability to start a dungeon. We still didn’t really have characters so I started an email asking people for their preferred race and class. I did my best to phrase the choices in a way that a general audience would enjoy, such as the bard is “an idiot with a ukulele, who has the ability to learn town gossip, such as ‘A local mayor’s reputation for drinking’ or ‘A local priest’s shady past.’” I subjected Erin to the first character creation session and she chose a half-elven cleric named Pumpkin McToiletPaper. After a few emails clearing up the confusion of what the hell we were doing, we decided on the remaining characters, rounding out the party:

After everyone decided on their name, race, and class, I took care of the dirty work of rolling stats and choosing equipment and feats. This part can take a long time, so I decided it was better to hide how the sausage is made so as to not scare off the muggles. With our characters in hand, we were now ready for our first dungeon.

Dungeon 1: Del Rose Cafe—Potluck dinner

At this point, I threw out a lot of what I learned while reading the PHB and DMG. My basic working assumption was that my friends and spouse would not be interested in a world where it’s important to know which goofy god the cleric worships and how that impacts her relationship to the chaotic neutral bartender down the street. I kept some of the more basic points, like the paladin can’t be evil, but I thought that stripping out a lot of the cruft would help get things started.

The premise of the first dungeon was that this fine group of friends was out for the night in Trolley Square with their friend James. The actual dungeon was set in the basement of a local dive bar called Del Rose Cafe, but I somehow needed the party to actually go to Del Rose. I didn’t have much of a plan for how this would work, so we basically started with the party in a parking lot, me saying “what do you want to do?” and everyone being confused. I think their first thought was to go to Dead Presidents, so I had to block them from getting there with a conveniently-placed broken main water line. This had the effect of them thinking that they were on the right track but just needed to find another way around. Their next thought was to go through the sewer. I stopped this line of play by having James (the non-player character, or NPC) say that he didn’t like getting his Dockers dirty. Finally, Jess (Cutie McMcDonalds) thought they could walk along the train tracks that run above . . . Del Rose Cafe! Success!

******

As a quick aside, I chose Del Rose based on a night of mischief Neal & I had a few months earlier. We went out for a night and had a lovely time debating politics and religion, when we decided to close out our night at Del Rose. The first funny incident was that while I was at the jukebox, another bar patron stood in front of my empty chair to order a drink. Neal informed the gentleman that I would be back and he proceeded to apologize profusely and offer Neal and I a drink on him. Neal and I had ordered gin and tonics initially, so when the time came to order our free drinks we asked the bartender to “surprise us.” She had a baffled look on her face and didn’t seem to get it. I reiterated, “Surprise us, give us whatever you want.” She seemed to get it now and left our company to prepare our drinks. A few minutes later she came back with (surprise!) two gin and tonics.

At this point Neal and I were a couple of brown bears and thought it’d be fun to get into some trouble. First, on the way to the bathroom I noticed a random door. Neal and I decided to check out what was behind the door, and we then found ourselves in the basement of Del Rose. We laughed a lot and left. We then found another random door and decided to further explore. This door led to the attic, which was basically just packed with dusty tables and chairs. Super-pleased with ourselves we decided to call it a night. It was raining that night so I, like a normal human, had a umbrella while Neal, like a normal mutant, did not. He got jealous and threw my umbrella into the bushes. What a dick, though he did give it back the next day.

******

Back in the fictitious Del Rose, our party enters the bar and finds it sparsely populated. The ladies, Cutie, Pumpkin, and Assy, decided to go to the bathroom. While they’re in there, James reveals that he’s actually James’ evil twin brother Lames McSquealy, and that James has been kidnapped. Lames runs off into the basement, thus setting the stage for the nights challenge.

For the actual dungeon, I just used a template that was in the back of the PHB. The template consisted of a basic map with about 10 rooms and a set of rules for rolling for random monsters and treasure. The first set of challenges to face the party was a group of dire rats, leading to a troll, who was holding a unicorn captive. The party successfully rescued the unicorn, who they named UniMcCorn, and who stayed with the party for the duration of the dungeon. They found a locked door that separated the first half of the dungeon from the second and set out to find the key. After a few epic (not so much) battles, the party ran into none other than Lames McSquealy. Cutie used her barbarian power called “rage,” which gives her extra strength. She landed a deft blow on McSquealy, but knowing he was beaten, Lames fled to fight another day. The party camped out for the night to recover, and we ended our first night of dungeoneering.

The second session corresponded with the first dinner: A free-for-all potluck. Erin & I made a Jamaican-style rice and beans dish, Joanna and Neal brought some delicious bruschetta, and Jess and Brett brought a vegetable medley and an African-style soup. The food was great, but Neal (Captain Regulation) was upset that there wasn’t a common theme.

We picked up the adventure where we left off, this time joined by Brett’s character McGenius GoodFarts. McGenius went to Del Rose for a morning beer, running into our realtor Buzz Moran. Buzz informed us that his friend was buying Del Rose (true story) and told McGenius to check out the basement. McGenius recognized his wife Cutie’s characteristic carnage, and made his way to the party.

After a night of small-scale skirmishes, the party finally ran into Lames and his crew, Ron Geico and Silly Rhett, along with an assortment of goblins or some other such nonsense. McGenius burst through the doors first and took a javelin to the chest leading to the first near-death of the group. After and epic struggle, which mostly involved the party raining alchemist’s fire onto the baddies, the group prevailed, and Lames begged for his life. As Brett struck the last blow, he decided against mercy and ended the life of Lames McSquealy.

Neal’s turn in the saddle—Breakfast

After this round, I turned the books over to Neal so he could construct his first dungeon. From what he tells me, he didn’t quite understand them and he was swamped with work as he was in his first year of PhD candidacy. He nonetheless finished, bringing the band back together for its second adventure.

Captain Regulation decreed that the theme of the night’s dinner would be breakfast, so Erin and I made scrambled egg filled puff pastries two ways, spinach and spicy, Joanna and Neal brought a batch of lovely french toast, and Jess and Brett brought every kid’s dream: Sugary cereal bar. After we had stuffed ourselves silly, the dungeon commenced.

Neal eschewed the lead up and simply stated that the party were at Delaware Park, our local horse track. This is a very likely scenario. Neal started us off by handing out paper to everyone, on which was printed a series of horse races and betting odds. We’re going to bet on horses!! Brett and I (our characters of course) bet way too much money and lost a bunch, while the women fared much better. In the last race, a familiar horse was featured, Rusty Charlie.

******

I’m not sure if this story has been stated on Brutal Horse before, it most likely has, but I’ll repeat it here. On my birthday one year, we took a group to Delaware Park for some family fun. It was really hot out that day, not ideal for majestic beasts running at full sprint for a mile. After one race, a horse named Rusty Charlie fell over just past the finish line, leading to dead silence in the grandstands. DP workers sprayed him with water and tried to keep him calm while the Horse-bulance came around. After several tense minutes, Rusty Charlie was able to right himself and walked off the track under his own power. Fortunately, we were spared the sight of horse-murder.

On second thought, this story has been featured here before, three times.

******

As Rusty Charlie’s race was about to commence, four dastardly fiends kidnapped Charlie, setting off our adventure. Our first challenge was to enter the casino, which was only possible by my tiny character, a halfling rogue. Neal was nice enough to put me in a one-on-one battle so my character could gain some much needed XP (experience points nerd!). Fart McTurds found a key to the front door (and some treasure!) and let the party in.

Upon entering the casino, we traversed Neal’s carefully constructed dungeon, doing the complete opposite of what he expected. At one point we discovered a trap, but Cutie decided to set it off anyway to see what it did. We fought a baby dragon, but Pumpkin and Farts convinced the group to let it live after we put it to sleep. Eventually we found the bastards that stole Charlie, and it was us, only in the future, future uses.

After another epic battle, we vanquished the future uses and rescued Rusty Charlie, who to this day remains in our party. Pumpkin was the one who rescued Charlie, though we have a paladin in our group, and they are the horse riders. After this dungeon I had to switch ownership of Charlie to Feskes, who has yet to actually ride Charlie.

Blue Rocks Stadium and Beyond

We’ve had several D&D sessions since Neal’s stint, and in that time we’ve lost one player (Joanna, who was only really coming for the food anyway) and gained two more. We’ve had a ton of great food (pizza night, taco night, Olive Garden night) and great adventures. At this point, we’re on a multi-dungeon arc, which started with Rockie Bluewinkle (the mascot of our local Blue Rocks minor league baseball team) kidnapping the group and subjecting them to a gladiator-style battle in Blue Rocks Stadium.

A few highlights from the last few dungeons include: Neal dying like three times because of terrible rolls and even worse decisions in a show-down with a minotaur, the addition of a dog named Twinkles McNuts who has been battling at our side, and the meeting of Wilmington’s mayor, Dennis Williams. Mayor Williams is now directing the show, requesting that the group save the Blue Rocks from relocation by completing a few tasks such as: Rescuing Mr. Celery, who had fled after Rocky Bluewinkle went crazy and fell under the spell of a harpy, luring back Mike Moustakas, a former player who is now a Kansas City Royal, and a few yet to be revealed.

Conclusions

So far, D&D club seems to have been a success. We’ve had around seven sessions, drank a ton of beer, and ate a ton of food. The best idea for D&D club was to wrap it up in a dinner party package. Who can resist a dinner party? If I had one piece of advice for anyone looking to start a D&D group consisting of adults, it’d be to provide lots of beer and food.

At the same time, it’s hard to say how long this joke will last. I play each session like it’ll be the last, because we are playing D&D after all. So while I don’t know how long the D&D tradition will last, I do know that at least each session will be accompanied by an amazing, themed, dinner.

neal.gee@brutalhorse.com
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