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Husband, father, and writer working on a short story project and submitting my novel, The Windsmith, to agents.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

You Never Forget your First Edition

The problem with living a mundane life in the real world, Bob mused, was that there wasn’t any way to really escape it. Oh, sure, you could go on vacation to Hawaii or something, but in the end, you always had to come back to mundaneia. In books, characters were always taken out of their mundane world by some kind of amazing event, or a wizened old mentor or something. But this was reality, and that never happened. So, Bob dragged himself out of bed every day and went to work every day, even though for the most part he was pretty miserable with both of those tasks.

This is not to say that he was completely miserable. He had a beautiful wife that he loved and adored, and good friends from outside work. It was just that the pure banality of it all was getting to him. Day in, day out, it was always the same old routine. Surly, there had to be more to life than this? There had to be some way for him to answer that call to adventure he was feeling?

“You’re just going through a mid-life crisis,” his wife said.

“Clara,” he said, “I’m not chasing after high-school graduates in short skirts. I’m not interested in a sports car.”

“You’re not interested in cars at all,” Clara interrupted. He glared at her for doing so.

“Yes, exactly,” he said at last. “I’m not interested in any of the normal mid-life crisis thing. Besides, I’m only 37. I’m far too young to be having one.”

Clara smiled over at him. They were in the kitchen working together to make dinner. Bob was normally the cook, but Clara liked to work with him in the preparation end of things. Currently, she was cutting onions.

“Bob, honey,” she said, “it doesn’t have anything to do with your age.”

“Huh?” he asked as he mixed the onions into the ground turkey mix.

“It’s simple,” she said. “You’re feeling trapped in a mundane existence. All you want is a little excitement, something to shake up the status quo.”

“Exactly!” Bob said, punctuating his point by swinging the mixing spoon in the air.

“Honey, you’re just looking for something that makes you feel young,” she said with a sigh. “And likely it’s something that revolves around physical activity, like hiking or rock climbing.”

“Oh, rock climbing,” Bob said.

“No,” Clara said with finality, and Bob fell.

“Look,” she said when she saw how sad he appeared. “It’s not like I’m telling you to not do anything. I’d rather you do something that try to repress this feeling. Find a way to reconnect with your youth; something that will make you feel young again. And work with me on it, I might enjoy a stroll down teenagedom again.”

“Hmmm,” Bob said. “Get in touch with my youth.”

***

“And that’s really what she said?” Gerald said. “Get in touch with your youth?”

“Yeah,” Bob said, an eyebrow raised at Gerald’s tone of voice. For the past four years, Gerald had been his best friend. The two worked together, but in different departments, and so spent their lunch break together. Normally, they spent their time bitching about their relative bosses, but this time, Bob let Gerald in on the feelings of misgivings he had been felling the past few days.

“Dude,” Gerald said, “that is such a chick answer. ‘Get in touch with your feelings,’ and ‘it’s okay to cry.’ What a crock of shit.”

“She thinks I’m going through a mid-life crisis,” Bob said, trying to diverge Gerald from another of his ‘women are out to get you’ rants. Bob liked Gerald, and would happily go to jail for the man, but they didn’t see eye to eye on everything.

“Of course you are, man,” Gerald said. “Every man does. Hell, I’m probably not far behind you. But when mine comes, I don’t plan of getting all touchy feely with myself. I’m just going to go out and buy a Porsche and be done with it.”

“No twenty year old mistress?” Bob asked, smirking. Gerald had been divorced for the past year, and kept threatening to get a girlfriend that was three times as young as his ex-wife was the whole time. Bob teased him mercilessly about it, as no such girl friend had ever manifested.

“Nah,” Gerald said. “That only works if you’re still married. I just want the car.”

“Oh, hey,” Bob said, snapping his finger, “that reminds me.”

“You need a ride tonight,” Gerald said, reading Bob’s expression. “Again.”

“Uh… yeah. Do you mind?”

“Not really,” Gerald said, shrugging. “I was planning on stopping by the liquor store on the way home, though. I’m short on some staples.”

“Sure, no worries,” Bob said.

***

The sudden stop of the car as they pulled into the parking lot jarred Bob out of his thoughts. He looked up, surprised that he hadn’t been paying attention to the drive at all. That also meant he hadn’t been talking to Gerald this whole time. He looked at the clock. Practically twenty minutes!

“You okay there, buddy?” Gerald said, looking at Bob with a serious look on his face.

“Yeah,” Bob replied. “Guess I was just a little caught up in my thoughts.”

“A little?” Gerald said, more of his normal sense of humor returning. “You were dead quiet that whole time. I was beginning to feel like a taxi rather than a friend.”

“Ah, Gerald,” Bob said, feeling even worse now. “I’m sorry.”

“Uh uh,” Gerald said, waving his hands as if to swat away a fly. “None of that. Get out of the car. There are groceries I need to pick up, and you’re the pack mule.”

“Yes sir,” Bob said with a mock salute.

A few minutes later, they exited the store, both with bags in hand. For all the stuff he bought, Bob wondered why Gerald went to a liquor store instead of a real grocery. He shook his head and went about putting the groceries. As he finished putting the bags he was carrying into the trunk of the car, he turned to stretch. That was when he saw it. A logo; sitting on a building across the parking lot. It was in the shape of a castle, with two large twenty sided dice on either side. In the center it read ‘Epic Adventures Games.’

“Hey, Gerald,” he said, pointing to the sign. “Is that a game store?”

Gerald turned around to look. “Oh, yeah,” he said. “They moved in like a few months ago or so.”

A smile crept across Bob’s face. “Come on,” he said and started walking across the parking lot.

“What?” Gerald said, closing the trunk quickly and pushing the lock button on his key ring. “Go where?”

“To the game store, of course,” Bob said.

“Really?” Gerald said, rolling his eyes. “To the game store? Why can’t you be like every other man and just get a new car?”

“Because I pride myself on not being like other men,” Bob said and continued to walk towards the game store. “I’m going. If you want to leave me here, that’s fine. I’ll call Clara, and she’ll pick me up.”

Gerald flung his arms into the air and then dropped them down to his sides, making a slapping sound on his jeans as he did so.

“Fine,” he sighed. “Let’s go.”

A moment later, they walked through the door, and Bob paused to take in the site of the place. It was small and rather crowded feeling. The walls had shelves from about waist high and going on up. Each shelf was crammed with board games of every conceivable stripe. Many of them Bob knew. His wife wasn’t much of a geek, like he was, but she did enjoy a good board game every now and then, and so they had a good collection at home. Here, he saw all the ones they had at home, like Settlers of Catan and Robo Rally. He also saw some games he’d never heard of, or knew existed, such as the World of War Craft board game, Alhambra and something called Killer Bunnies.

Immediately to the right was the clear glass case that also served as the counter where the employees of the store gladly took your money in exchange for a game. And on the other side of them where the book shelves. That’s where he saw what he was really looking for. The role-playing games. He strode across the room, ignoring the other patrons and even the employees, who all seemed to be more interested in harassing the regulars about their latest character than actually helping the shoppers. He didn’t even bother to check and see if Gerald was following him.

When he arrived at the book shelves, he was in nirvana. The books on the shelf had pictures of mighty warriors and powerful wizards battling it out with giants, dragons and fanged monstrosities that he couldn’t quite place. The books sang to him. This was the answer to his problem. This was how he could answer the call to adventure he’d been feeling. This was exactly what his wife had suggested. A way to connect with his youth that didn’t involve a new car or a act that would ruin his marriage.

Then a particular book caught his attention. The cover wasn’t all that different form the others, in that it depicted a dragon menacing a group of heroes, a human clad in armor and wielding a sword and shield, an elf with a staff and magical energy crackling around her finger, a dwarf with a big battle axe and a halfling with a dagger in either hand. What really caught his attention about it, though, was the art style. It was very much like the covers of the games he played when he was in high-school. When he read the title at last, he knew he had arrived. Warriors and Wizards. It was the game he played when he was a kid!

He grabbed it and flipped through it. It was apparently a new edition of the game, one that had been written after the company fell on hard times. The idea behind this new edition was to scale things back, bring the game down to its basics. In fact, that’s what the new edition was called, Warriors and Wizard’s Basic. It had everything you needed to play for the first ten levels It was perfect.

“Woah,” Gerald said, finally reaching his side. “Warriors and Wizards? That’s awesome, I didn’t even know they still made it. Man, we had some fun playing this in High School, didn’t we.”

“College, too,” Bob said, and Gerald nodded.

“Good times,” Gerald said. “Good times.”

“I’m buying this,” Bob said suddenly after a moment of silence.

“What?” Gerald said.

“Yeah,” Bob said. “I’m going to buy this, read how to play it, and then we’re starting up a game.”

“We?” Gerald said, raising an eyebrow.

“Of course,” Bob said. “You don’t think I’d do this without you, would I?”

Gerald stared at him for a few moments. The moments stretched on, and Bob started to feel that his friend would turn around and leave him there as the mad man he probably was. Then, Gerald reached down to the book shelf and pulled up another book.

“You’ll probably want this adventure that goes with it, then,” he said.

Bob smiled, and took the offered book. A few moments later, he was fifty dollars poorer but worlds happier. He couldn’t wait to get home and let Clara know about this.

***

“You want to what?” Clara asked.

“I want to start up a Warrior’s and Wizard’s game,” Bob said, holding up the rulebook. “I’m thinking every other week, on Saturday, right here at the house. That way, I’m not driving way out of the way and leaving you stranded here.”

Clara pursed her lips. Bob knew this to mean that she was thinking about what he had said, which meant he had a real chance!

“I was even thinking of making the group people we like to hang out with,” he continued. “Dave and Darla, Gerald, maybe even Rhonda.”

Clara laughed. “Rhonda would love that,” she said.

“I was also hoping that you would join in,” Bob said, but regretted it as soon as she turned her eyes back on him. He may have pushed his advantage too far this time.

“You know I don’t like those kinds of games,” she said slowly.

“Yeah, but, if we’re having it at the house, and inviting guests over, I thought you might want to join in,” he said. “Remember, it’s a social activity, and you’re the most social person I know.”

“I don’t…” Clara started, but Bob cut her off.

“It’s not like you don’t enjoy fantasy,” he said. “You loved Lord of the Rings.”

“Well, yeah,” she said. “Legolas was hot.”

“So, imagine playing Legolas,” he said. “Being someone like him, able to do those cool things.”

Her eyes glittered, and he could see that he had her.

“You can do that with this game,” he said. “Come on, it will be fun. If nothing else, you get to hang out with Rhonda and do something she enjoys.”

“Well, that’s true,” she said, nodding her head slightly.

Bob sat there, holding his breath. “Okay,” she said at last with a sigh. “Okay, I’ll at least give it a try. One session. After that, if I don’t like it, you’re not talking me back in.”

“You got it!” Bob said, jumping up and down. “One session is all I need.”

“We’ll see about that,” Clara said, but she winked afterwards before returning to the kitchen.

***

“Okay,” Bob said to the assembled players, “before we get started, I think that we should do a round of introductions, as some of you don’t know each other. All of you know me and Clara, of course. Let’s start with Rhonda.”

He pointed to the woman to his left. She was wearing a leather jacket, had short cropped blond hair and still had her sunglasses. She pulled them down just enough to show her eyes before talking.

“I’m Rhonda,” she said, “Clara’s big sister. I’ve been a gamer for probably twenty years now. It was actually how Bob and Clara met, Bob used to be in my boyfriend’s game back in College.”

“Me too,” Gerald said. “I’m Gerald, Bob’s best friend and co-worker, and was in that game.”

“Well, looks like we’re the odd men out,” said David, sitting opposite Rhonda at the table. “I’m David and this is Darla, my lovely wife. I work with Clara at EcoDyne, in the lab. Yes, I am a biologist, a living, breathing scientist. I’ve played Warriors and Wizards before, but it’s been a really long time, so this will almost be like starting over again.”

“And I’m Darla,” Darla said. “I’m a professional housewife and mother of rambunctious twins. Thankfully, my husband makes enough for me to do that. I’ve never played a real RPG before, but I’m excited.”

“Wait, twins?” Rhonda asked. “How is it that you’re both here, then?”

“Grandma,” both Darla and David said at the same time. Darla continued, “Since this is happening every other week, my mom has agreed to baby sit so we can get some social time with adults.”

“Okay, are we ready?” Bob asked, pulling out the rulebook. “First, we need to make a character. Since most of us haven’t played in a very long time, I figured we’d start slow. I’d like everyone to start with a character concept. If you have no idea, start with thinking about who your favorite character from a fantasy book or movie is.”

“Oh, can I be Madmartigan from Willow?” Darla asked. “I love that character.”

“Sure,” Bob said. “That would be a warrior. You want your character to be a guy, just like him? Or a female version of Madmartigan.”

“Oh, definitely a girl,” Darla said.

“I’m going for the party wizard,” Rhonda said, “Since I’m the most experienced here. I’ll even stick to the old Gandalf type. And yes, I’m going to run a male character.”

And so it went, with everyone spending the next three hours making characters. Bob and Rhonda were the only ones there with extra dice. Gerald had to buy a new set from the dice store on his way down, but it was just enough for him, and no one else had dice, but there was plenty to go around if people shared. Bob suggested that everyone get a set like Gerald for the next session.

“Okay, so now it’s time to introduce our characters,” Bob said. “Remember, the we’re keeping this simple, so as part of your character creation you all had to pick one other character to have a relationship to. Mention what that relationship here is. Rhonda, we’ll start with you.”

“Okay, well, my name is Morgan, a fire wizard fresh out of apprenticeship,” she said. “I’m eager to make a name for myself by adventuring. As to my relationship, Darla and I had decided that her character and mine are married.”

“Oh, nice,” Bob said.

“Two chicks married?” Gerald said.

“No,” Rhonda said. “Morgan is all man.”

“Oh, right,” Gerald said. “I forgot.”

“Okay, moving on,” Bob said. “Let’s go with Darla next.”

“Uh, well,” Darla said, “my character is Shara, a woman warrior, who specializes in the bastard sword. As Rhonda said, she’s married to Morgan, and is just as eager to make a name for herself as is her husband. As for my relationship, Shara’s brother is David’s character.”

“All in the family, eh?” Clara asked.

“Something like that,” David said. “I’ll go next, I guess. My name is Roland, and while my sister took up our father’s sword and became a warrior, I went into the clergy. I follow the path of D’ner, the God of Honor and Justice. And my relationship is a strong bond of friendship with Clara.”

“That’s right,” Clara said. “My character is a woman dwarf warrior named Ardis Goblinfoe. When I was younger, I was trained to be a warrior by the man that eventually became the father of Roland and Shara. I watched them be born and grow up, and have continued my friendship with their father through Roland. I also have a strong friendship with my fellow non-human, Gerald.”

“Hi,” said Gerald in a slight English accent., “I’m Drago Whitefoot, halfling, wanderer, adventurer and professional thief. That’s right, I said thief. Don’t go thinking I’m some kind of street rat, now. I’m a professional. I get paid good money to go into abandoned temples and what not to recover lost or stolen goods. I don’t go pick-pocketing or doing no second story jobs, I don’t. Ardis and I go way back, and even worked a job or two before she introduced me to her human friends. And now that they’ve decided to put together an adventuring company, I’ve agreed to come along.”

“Okay,” Bob said, excited to hear everyone’s characters. This was going to be fun. “You are all living in the walled town of Therin. It’s a trade town, built on the crossroads of two major merchant caravan routes. Given this, it’s a pretty boring place, adventure wise, as the walls and the town guard make sure that the area is pretty monster free. However, you get word that the Sheriff of Whitefall, a keep in the Wildlands just beyond civilization, has recently put out a call for adventurers. Apparently, a local tribe of goblins has gotten uppity, and started attacking the few caravans that make it out that far. He’s offering a bounty of three silver per goblin killed or captured.”

“Sounds like its right up our alley, eh old pal?” Gerald said, nudging Clara and keeping in character the while time.

“Uh, right,” Clara said uncertainly.

“I agree,” Darla said. “This is a call to adventure, and we must answer it. Do we need any supplies before we go?”

“If you feel like you need something besides what you already bought, you’re welcome to buy it,” Bob said. “Therin has everything you could ever want to buy.”

“I don’t think I have any money left,” Darla said.

“We’re good right now,” Rhonda said. “I mean, I take it that this keep we’re heading too isn’t too far away, right? Or we wouldn’t have even got the message that they were having issues. Right?”

“Right,” Bob answered. “Whitefall is only two days ride away, or four walking, which you will be doing. Nothing major, you’ve all bought trail rations that would last you a week, so this is perfectly doable.”

“Good,” Rhonda said. “Then let’s get going.”

Play continued for the next hour and a half before everyone stated they were hungry. Clara and Bob went to the kitchen to make some food for everyone. Bob felt stupid for not having thought of this earlier, but Clara kept telling him it was no big deal.

“Everyone needs a break anyway,” she said. “Besides, I used to belong to a bridge club, remember? I can make plates of sandwiches and chips and dip faster than you can say ‘critical hit.’”

They both laughed, but true to her word, about twenty minutes later Clara had about ten sandwiches made and a bowl of chips with some French onion dip to go with it. It was perfect gamer food, Bob though. He smiled at his wife, gave her a big hug and a kiss, and looked her in the eye.

“Thanks,” he said. “I love you.”

They returned to the table with food, and everyone was excited. They sat and ate, without playing, and talked about jobs, kids and favorite movies. Bob couldn’t help but smile. This was exactly what he was looking for. A grand adventure to distant and amazing lands with friends. It was the friends part that really made this work. It was something he had trouble explaining to his wife, some times. Gaming was a social activity, and his social butterfly of a wife just couldn’t understand how sitting down at a table and rolling dice while pretending to slay a dragon was social. Now, she was witnessing it up close, and this also made Bob happy.

After everyone had a chance to eat at least one sandwich, Rhonda insisted the game continue, and all nodded their agreement.

“Okay, so, you had been ambushed by a raiding party of goblins,” Bob said. “You handily defeated the evil creatures, and were now tracking them back to their layer. Ardis has found the tracks the goblins left in the ground, and you were following her lead. The path leads you into a thick forest, and becomes more of a game trail than a real path. Clara, I need you to make another Wilderness Lore role to see if you can keep seeing the tracks.”

“Oh, okay,” Clara said. She picked up the twenty-sided die slowly, still unsure of which die was which. When Gerald nodded at her, she rolled. “Okay, I got a sixteen on the die, and my skill bonus is ten, so that means it’s a twenty six. Right?”

“Right,” Bob said, smiling at his wife. He was so proud of her for giving this a go. Even if she never wanted to play again, it was enough that she tried. “You continue to follow the goblin tracks in the trail, though it’s more difficult to see them amid the other animal tracks that cross the path. You also spot some larger tracks, not goblin but they are clearly not animal tracks.”

“Can I tell what they are?” Clara asked.

“Not with that roll, no,” Bob said.

Clara turned to look at everyone else at the table, clearly questioning what to do next.

“I say we keep going,” David said at last. “Those tracks could be connected to the goblins, or they could just be random tracks, maybe hunters or something. Whatever the case is, we need to find those goblins, that’s what we’re getting paid to do.”

“The priest has a point,” Rhonda said. “Let’s keep going. Ardis?” she waved her hand as if inviting Clara into room before her.

“I guess I keep following the trail of goblin tracks then,” Clara said.

Play continued for another few hours, when someone noticed how late it was.

“Wow, it’s ten already?” Gerald said. “I haven’t lost track of time like this since… well, since playing this in High School.”

“Yeah,” David said, “this was a lot of fun. And that twist you threw in, with the evil cleric forcing the goblins to do his bidding, that was genius.”

“Yeah,” Rhonda said. “I was expecting a straight forward dungeon crawl, where we defeat all the goblins, not one where we end up having to rescue them. That’s pretty cool. I can’t wait ‘till the next game, so we can finish this adventure. I want that evil cleric, bastard escaped my spells.”

“We’ll get him,” Clara said. “But not for another two weeks. In the mean time, I’m tired. Get out.”

Everyone laughed, and gathered up their things. A few moments later they were all hugging, shaking hands and leaving. All of them reiterated how much fun they had to Bob, and said they couldn’t wait for the next game in two weeks. David even said he would put it on his calendar on his blackberry, so he wouldn’t forget. Bob was grinning from ear to ear when Gerald finally left and he closed the front door.

“Man,” he said, “that was a TON of fun! Thanks for playing along, honey.”

Clara came up to him and kissed him gently on the cheek. “You’re welcome,” she said. “And you’re right. It was fun.”

“Yeah?” Bob said.

“Yeah,” she replied, slapping him playfully on his arm. “Hanging out with everyone, making jokes, talking and playing. It was a good time. I never realized that this was what you did when you played in school.”

“Well, it helps that everyone is already our friends,” he said. “Starting a group from scratch with people that don’t know each other is a little harder, but it’s basically the same.”

“Well,” she replied, “Whatever the case, I’m looking forward to this again.”

“Really?” Bob said. “Great. I wanted you to join in this. It just wouldn’t have been as much fun without you.”

“Come on,” she said, “it’s still early enough for us to play our own private little game before bed.”

Bob grinned and followed his wife to their bedroom.

***

The next morning Bob got up and went to work. He had a smile on his face and was singing along to the radio. He hadn’t felt this good in a long time. He looked over at his black bag that he kept his laptop and work related documents in. He smiled at it. This morning, it contained some books for the game. When he arrived at work, he was met by Gerald, who had the same grin on his face.

“Well,” Gerald said. “Don’t you look happy today?”

“I am,” Bob said. “That game on Saturday was awesome.”

“I know,” Gerald said. “And your wife really got into it. And Rhonda, man. It’s been years since I’ve seen her. And I’ve never seen anyone keep up with me like that on role-playing. She was awesome. Hey, is she still single?”

Bob laughed.

“What’s so funny?” Gerald said, a little bit of anger creeping in his voice.

“Nothing,” Bob said, trying to placate his friend. “Clara said you would ask that. Yes, she is single, and I think you should ask her out.”

“Yeah?” Bob said. “Phew, man I was worried for a moment that Clara wouldn’t be keen on that. I mean, I never got the impression that she liked me.”

“Clara?” Bob said. “Don’t be ridiculous. Of course she likes you.”

The two paused for a moment before going on into the building.

“So,” Bob said in the elevator. “When are you planning on asking Rhonda out?”

“Oh, uh,” Gerald said. “I already did.”

“What?” Bob asked, a smile creeping back onto his face. It never seemed to go away for long, which was something Bob liked.

“Yeah, after the game we both went to get coffee and just talked for a while,” Gerald said. “I told her that I’d had a thing for her since College, and was wondering if she would be willing to go out one night.”

“And she said yes?” Bob said, trying to sound at least a little surprised. Clara had spoken to Rhonda already, and her sister had told her that she was interested in Gerald and wanted to know what he was like after College.

“Of course she did,” Gerald said. “She told me that she was wondering if I would ask, because if I didn’t, she would.”

“Fantastic,” Bob said. “I love it. You two will be good for each other.”

“I think so too,” Gerald said. “Hey, man.”

He paused for a moment, looking at Bob seriously.

“I really did have a ton of fun,” he said. “I mean, I guess part of the restlessness I had been feeling lately was similar to what you were going through. It really felt good to pull out the old dice and get in some good old fashioned dungeon crawling. I feel younger this morning than I have in ten years. So, really, I just wanted to say thanks. I really appreciate having you as a friend.”

“Me too, Gerald,” Bob said. “This wouldn’t have been possible without you.”

The two men hugged each other, and then quickly split apart when the doors to the elevator opened up. The waved at each other and promised to spend lunch together, as they always did. Then, Bob headed to his desk, smiled and greeted everyone on the way in, and even got some compliments from people as to how good he looked. Someone wanted to know if he had a new haircut or a new shirt or something.

“Nope,” Bob said. “I just answered the call to adventure, is all.”

The End

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