-- Dungeons and Dragons for Non-Majors 101 --
Are you ready to GET PSYCHED?!
It's been almost three years since I've written an honest to god miscellaneous random article about some meaningless bullshit for this website. I've been busy out of my mind with all the book writing and the whole forty hour a week job thing, and a bunch of other shit I have absolutely no reason to complain about, but with the way things have gone down over the last few years it really hasn't been easy for me to find an extra two or three hours a week to devote to writing about some annoying emo crap nobody really cares about anyways. Of course, now that I'm unemployed and drinking beer by noon on most weekdays, I'm suddenly finding myself inspired to find better ways of using my time, and I hope to do more of these down the line as I continue to procrastinate the completion of my oft-prophesized Book Three.
Where to begin my return to miscellaneous articledom was the simplest decision of them all – it's a topic that is incredibly near and dear to my heart, and one which was inspired by the following email, which I received many months ago from a fellow badass aficionado who presumably found himself routinely frustrated by my insatiable need to incessantly bring up obscure d20 references even when I'm talking about shit like World War II German Tiger tanks (i.e. how their AC was so high that most Allied tanks had trouble scoring damage against them with anything but a Nat 20):
Write a miscellaneous article about all that homo dungeons and
dragons +10 magehumping warlock crap you reference. Most of your
readers are probably badass & chased girls and got laid when they were
kids instead of hiding in basements with other nerds playing magic cards
so we have no idea what all this +10 mana crap is. It may be a boring
subject for us who don't have "+10 nerdspeak", (like that? I just made
that up) but you have a gift of breaking it down.
- 1st Lieutenant James [Last Name Withheeld], United States Army National Guard
To start, it bears mentioning that for all intents and purposes the readership of this website is split almost straight down the middle between ninety-pound nerds who sleep with neon-purple ten-sided dice under their pillows at night and hardcore military history buffs / grizzled service members who are far more comfortable talking about 9mm handgun ammunition and the military campaigns of Hannibal than they are about whether or not Lando Calrissian could take Darth Maul in an armwrestling competition (and, occasionally, there are some folks who are all of the above, though this is somewhat rare). Now, you might think that this is a pretty weird conflux of wildly-divergent groups, but consider this – both the stereotypical parents-basement nerd who sprains his wrist tripping on a Cocker Spaniel and the Parris Island Drill Instructor who eats sheet metal and shits out railroad spikes both long for the same ultimate goal in life – they both long to be standing triumphantly atop a heaping pile of the dead, limbless corpses of their enemies while a half-naked, hopefully-large-breasted babe clutches at their leg like it's the last lifeboat on the HMS Titanic. The only real difference between these two types of individuals is that D&D nerds like myself are content to play this out by slaughtering mythical Orcs and Goblins and having the indecently-exposed femme fatale be a Dark Elf or something equally as exotic, whereas hardcore military guys actually possess the means, training, and equipment to accomplish something roughly along these lines in Real Life.
FACT: Deep down, in the darkest recesses of their dark souls,
roughly 90% of men in the world desperately want to be this motherfucker.
The other 10% wouldn't mind being the one in the bikini.
Ultimately, right off the bat we've got a little more in common than you might think. And, quite honestly, while it was perfectly fine back in my high school days to be the State Champion Quarterback and not know or care what the fuck a Hit Point was, these days things are a little different – those oppressed high school nerds have all grown up, and now that they don't give a shit if the football team likes them or not we've got Chuck Norris face-kicking polar bears on national television to promote World of Warcraft and most of our top-grossing movies of the last five years are based on comic book superheroes that plenty of kids got ridiculed for enjoying back in 1993. Presumably, on some rudimentary level, it's time to at least provide my beloved jock readership with a preliminary insight as to what the fuck is going on here, if for no other reason than to preserve their sanity (and, naturally, to enlighten them as to how hilarious I am). I'll endeavor to do my best here, and I'll do so while absolutely trying to avoid using overly-technical terms and/or obscenely-lame words like "imagination" or "make-believe" or other phrases that make me kind of want to kill myself with a samurai sword.
Now, before we start, I'm going to have to go out and assume a few things from my readership that even the most un-nerdy hardcore Vietnam Vet war hero should be familiar with. In keeping with the scholastic title of this article, let's call them Prerequisites.
- You've at least seen the preview for one of the Lord of the Rings movies (don't worry, it's only like two minutes long and Sean Bean is in it… I promise that you won't spontaneously grow a slicked-back ponytail and a patchy beard immediately upon watching it).
- You have a rudimentary understanding of how Medieval European warfare works (knights, jousting, castles, horses, etc.).
- You possess the ability to perform basic arithmetic in your head, including (but not limited to) the ability to count to twenty.
Come a little closer into my world…
The Three Types of Nerd Shit
When most people talk about Nerd Shit, they're usually referring to one of three things:
- Dungeons and Dragons (and other tabletop RPGs): A bunch of sweaty nerds sitting around a table in their parents' basement rolling dice of various sizes and shapes and bitching about statistics on a sheet of paper. D&D is run by one mega super ultra-nerd known as the Dungeon Master (DM), who spends way too much of his time reading asinine fantasy novels about flying pixie elves and has absolutely no life outside of his well-worn copies of the Monstrous Manual and The Silmarillion, yet his only four friends in the world all think he's a badass rock star for some incomprehensible reason that can't possibly be fully explained without really getting way too far into the details of how Attack Roll Modifiers work (and that is really beyond the scope of this course, and the mere discussion of it will cause most people to immediately want to commit seppuku with a Frisbee to avoid having to hear about it any further). Basically, D&D is like a Choose Your Own Adventures story where the DM creates the story off the top of his head and leads his friends through the quest, throwing obstacles and bad guys and battles in front of them as they progress along through his story. Some insane psychos play ranked tournaments based on this game, though I have no fucking clue how that would work.
Closest Non-Nerdy Analogue: Fantasy Football. Players spend countless hours agonizing over the most minute stats when assembling their teams, only to have the results of the game be left completely up to random chance, be it a natural roll of a 20 on a twenty-sided die or a three-touchdown, buck-fifty performance by Adrian Peterson. Combat plays kind of like those badass old tabletop Avalon Hill wargames, only with like hilariously-phallicly-named monsters like Purple Worms and Bone Devils filling in for shit like SS Panzer Divisions and Confederate Cavalry Brigades.
- Magic Cards (and other CCGs): A bunch of sweaty nerds sitting around a table in their parents' basements playing cards with custom decks they've assembled. Instead of the cooperative "us against the DM" mentality of D&D, Magic is a fucking bloodsport, where your primary objective is to utterly destroy your opponent, hopefully in the most humiliating manner possible. In order to achieve this, you're more-or-less required to make sure you have the best cards available, which can be tricky because Magic Cards only really come in two varieties: cheap pieces-of-crap and insanely-expensive cards that destroy everything. This usually means that the guys who are "really good" at Magic are the ones who go out and buy a bunch of super expensive cards, assemble the best deck money can buy, and then revel in the fact that even though they're now resigned to eating weapons-grade Ramen noodles out of a gutter than can still claim superiority over their idiot friends in the field of fictional hypothetical personal combat between Wizards from some random parallel dimension.
Closest Non-Nerdy Analogue: Poker. A group of friends getting together to play cards, sometimes for pride, but usually for money. The major difference, however, is that the Magic Card system is like being allowed to lay out $200 to stack your deck top-to-bottom with face cards and Aces, guaranteeing that at worst you'll probably still be holding pocket rockets.
- World of Warcraft (and other MMORPGs): A bunch of sweaty nerds sitting at computer desks in their parents' basements playing video games online with each other. World of Warcraft, like most MMOs, is on a subscription model, meaning that you pay X amount of money each month for a subscription to an online world, then log into your computer, assume the form of a fifteen-foot-tall motherfucker with an axe, and then run around talking smack to all the jackass idiots on there who don't know shit about shit. You and your human-controlled allies (i.e. other sweaty nerds in other basements around the world) battle both computer-generated bad guys and human-controlled enemies alike in a non-stop quest to gain levels and acquire multi-colored, super-shiny loot (which, in turn, is traded for other kinds of loot and/or fictional gold coins that ultimately amount to nothing in the Real World). This is the shit where you read about people meeting their wives online in a video game and proposing to them without ever even meeting them in Real Life.
Closest Non-Nerdy Analogue: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. You're totally bored, so you turn on your machine and decide to play a few maps to kill time, but before long you've become inextricably involved in an epic string of life-or-death battles against the Great Douchebags of the World, most of whom need to be violently murdered in the face by you and/or a few dozen of your closest heavily-armed allies. The next thing you know, your wife/mom comes downstairs and finds that you've been sitting on the couch in your underwear for a week and a half and are in desperate need of shower, shave, and food.
As an interesting anthropological side note, it's worth mentioning that most sunlight-fearing, asocial geeks are only heavily-involved in one of these three types of Nerd Shit, and will defend their hobby by describing it as, "not that bad," while pointing to the other two groups as prime examples of "real nerds". Despite the vicious class warfare in-fighting (think of it like hardcore Sci-Fi geeks slapfighting about Star Trek vs. Star Wars, which is a whole other can of thermonuclear worms I don't have any interest in involving myself with at this point), there are plenty of similarities between these three games, which is understandable since they're all basically just finding their own clever little ways of capitalizing on the Complete Works of J.R.R. Tolkien without having to pay royalties to his estate. I should say I'll be focusing more on D&D than on the other two games, since that's the one I'm most familiar with (seriously, D&D isn't that bad, though… it's the other two that are the real nerds), but basically all Fantasy Nerd Shit revolves around three key aspects that most men, regardless of age, profession, or ability to successfully name at least three crewmembers of the starship Serenity should be able to appreciate – Battle, Babes, and Loot.
Battle: Getting Medieval on Their Asses
The actual mechanics of the time-honored practice of cleaving your enemies from head-to-groin varies from game to game, but for the most part battle works like this: Everyone's got a set number of hit points (HP), a score which is basically the numerical representation of how much damage you can take before you die. The number of Hit Points each character (and monster) has increases as you gain experience levels, meaning that for some ridiculous reason a veteran knight can survive getting his head stuck between a dragon's jaws while a new recruit peon douchebag can be killed by being bitten on the pinky toe by an enraged common housecat. Marine Corps vets can presumably agree that Gunnery Sergeants aren't more resistant to bullet damage than Lance Corporals, but, like most things, we nerds prefer to explain this away in a variety of nonsensical ways that allow us to feel good about having a hero whose ability to kill swarms of bad guys without being hit borders on Steven Segal territory (usually simply by saying, "it's magic", which suffices as a decent explanation for pretty much every goddamned thing that doesn't make sense in a Fantasy setting). When a character's Hit Points become low and the character is in danger of actually dying, there are usually countless magical potions available that will restore lost hit points and make the character as good as new. All characters in Fantasy settings are capable of consuming an unlimited amount of liquid at an incredibly fast rate, and many badly wounded heroes are often known to immediately chug roughly two gallons worth of healing juice in the span of about four to six seconds without suffering any ill effects.
Most enemies are killed with swords and other stabby-type weapons, but they can also be brutalized with magic spells as well, often in horrifying ways that border on disgusting Japanese tentacle rape porn (and whatever the next step is worse than that). Spellcasting mechanics vary from system to system as well, but are usually cast by the player either physically sacrificing live goats to Satan, eating human fetuses, tapping Ouija Boards, and/or expending Mana points. It bears mentioning that the guys who play Wizards and Mages in these sort of games that are the ones you have to worry about – these are the sort of borderline-psychos who, if they had the ability, would probably just walk in the front door of their high school on any given day and blow the entire place off the map with a gigantic fucking fireball, then laugh their goddamned asses off all the way to prison. These folks, by the way, are usually the sort of ultra-genius evil madmen who end up going to computer science programs for college and becoming nuclear engineers or the techs who develop new weaponry for defense contractors. If that doesn't scare you, it should.
This is how guys who play Wizards imagine themselves in Real Life.
Babes: Why Fantasy Women Are Not Like Real Women
Naturally, as is the case in any predominantly-male environment, female characters are not held to the same standards as male characters. Thisis why pretty much every piece of D&D art looks like a badass Boris Vallejo painting with some naked, sword-wielding chick riding an eight-breasted dragon across the sky while a thermonuclear fireball explodes an ominous-looking penis-shaped black tower in the distance.
So, consequently, this is what a suit of full plate armor looks like on a Crusader Black Templar knight:
Here's what the female version of full plate armor looks like:
Most normal human beings with eyes would agree that this chickie's Armor Class (abbreviated AC – it’s a numeric representation of the quality of your defenses, with 10 being basic clothing and 20 being the equivalent of a full kit of composite Kevlar-reinforced body armor) would be worse than the dude above, if for no other reason than simply by virtue of the fact that her metal G-string provides absolutely no protection for her cleavage, thighs, arms, midriff, or face. This is not the case – the Armor Class for these two are identical (duh). This is also attributed to "magic".
It's also worth noting that every woman in D&D is insanely hot, and they're usually either Princesses, Slave Girls, Barmaids, Sorceresses, and/or Elves. Oh, and they pretty much only think and talk about sex all the time (this is where the +10 magehumping comes in). This is due to the other major difference between nerds and jocks – we don't exactly have beautiful women falling all over themselves to talk to use in Real Life (if we did, we'd probably have better things to do than roll up character sheets), and ultimately have no idea how they work, so we tend to objectify them as much as we possibly can. This of course comes back to hurt us later, as once we emerge from the dank recesses of our collective parents' basements and meet Real Live Women who for some ungodly reason actually want to talk with us about something other than, "stop leering at me you creepy bastard," we are confused and disappointed when they don't go out to the grocery store wearing steel bikinis and knee-high boots with eight-inch stripper heels, or that they don't have gravity-defying breasts the size of soccer balls and want to randomly have sex with us at the mere mention of magic swords or Bigby's Crushing Hands.
|Note: Real Live Girls who play these games are actually becoming increasingly less of a rarity these days. However, these pioneering, ultra-brave women are kind enough to help perpetuate these gender stereotypes by agreeing to play as characters that are also hot babes that dress in basically nothing more than armor-plated swimsuits.|
Loot: Magic Swords and Other Useful Objects
The only thing that rivals Hot Babes for the nerds' attention is Magic Swords, and the best way to denote how magic a sword is, naturally, is by quantifying it's magicalness with an arbitrary number between one and five. As such, Plussing is one of the most important aspects of Nerd Shit, because it's the only way to definitively argue about who's shit is "better". Basically, it works like exactly like it sounds – you have an item, then you at a plus or a minus sign after it, followed by a number, and that indicates exactly how much more or less badass it is than the standard-issue item. For sports nerds, think of it like the Wins over Replacement stat in baseball – it's fucking useless and generally meaningless, but people fall back on it whenever they don't have any way of providing a logical argument otherwise.
For example, let's talk about pistols, which, naturally, are frowned upon in most Fantasy settings (your typical nerd is much more interested in cleaving a man in twain with a broadsword, which is kind of ironic when you think about it I guess). Very generally speaking, the hand-carved homemade wooden gun John Dillinger used to escape prison would be a Pistol -2, because it's more effective as a hand-to-hand combat implement than a firearm. A beat-up, poorly-maintained standard-issue WWII Soviet Tokarev with rusty springs would count as a Pistol -1. An out-of-the-box Beretta 92FS is a Pistol. An expertly-crafted Glock-17 modified for competitive target shooting would be a Pistol +1. A custom Colt 1911 with an integrated compensator, 3x holosight scope, 15-round extended magazine and armor-piercing ammunition would be a Pistol +2 or +3.
With me yet? Here's a good example:
With most physical items, the scale ranges from -2 to +5 with very very few exceptions. A +6 or +7 isn't unheard of, but that would pretty much translate to a Hand Grenade +7 working like a personnel-deployed tactical nuclear warhead.
Skills and abilities work the same way, but the range is much greater, with "average" being something in the +5 range and "exceptional" being closer to +10 or +20. For instance, I can play power chords on the guitar, know a few simple solos, and can transition from a C to an F#m without looking at the strings. My Guitar skill is like +5 or something. A professional blues guitarist would be more like +10. Jimmy Page would be a +30, on account of the fact that he's basically ascended into godhood at this point. This works with any skill, or anything you can possible imagine as a skill, ability, hobby, or personality disorder.
Seeing as how I'm up over 3,000 words on this fucking piece, I'm going to abruptly cut it off here. Hopefully this is helpful, and will gain you a marginal insight into what the fuck I'm talking about re: all the magehumping +10 shit. Now please feel free to re-read my entire website and bask in how insanely fucking hilarious I am pretty much all the time.
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