Life is an Adventure, Even Now
Who in hides plain sight, what lurks down the street, and why I wish people played their lives a little more like Dungeons and Dragons.
Last month, I had the most wonderful time at San Diego Comic Con. Much of what I did were author things—signing books, meeting readers, as well as other writers. I sat on a panel, and even moderated one. 😊
However, as much as I feel honored and grateful to do author things, I also got to do my favorite fan things. I was able to peruse graphic novels, covet far too much pretty merch, and admire the work in Artist’s Alley.
And, I bought some beautiful sparkly dice.
Lesson learned: Shopping for dice at Comic Con is not for the faint-of-heart.*
Polyhedral dice are used in tabletop roleplaying games, of which the most popular is Dungeons and Dragons.
It’s been a very long time since I have played DnD. A proper campaign is often a significant time commitment, and I am usually writing, teaching, playing music, or being an introvert in a corner somewhere.
However, I still keep DnD close to my heart. I have the latest DnD Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide, and Monster Manual—and I still love shiny polyhedral dice.
DnD is in many ways a participatory novel, a group mythology, a precursor, adjunct, and alternative to online gaming worlds.
And, DnD one of my favorite novels, because it is always teaching us—not only about gaming, but about life.
In DnD, players must constantly craft plans, resolve conflicts, or react to emergencies. In so doing I think we learn a lot about fear and hubris, trust and common sense.
For example, DnD there is a monster called a mimic. A typical mimic encounter might happen after one’s party has successfully battled some sort of treasure-owning monster. A party defeats said monster and discovers what looks to be a treasure chest,. It seems like a great time to celebrate and divvy up the loot.
So, someone rushes to open the chest, when suddenly it turns into a horrifying kill beast with horrible sharp teeth and a horribly sticky horrible hentai tongue.
It's horrible. Slobbering. Screaming. Chewing.
Nope. Nope. Nope.**
Luckily, checking for mimics is usually simple. An easy way is to prod the chest with a long stick or disposable spear; another is to toss a rock or other object at it to see if it reacts.
There are others ways, as well, but what’s important is that mimic attacks can almost always be avoided if one remembers to check.
And, once found, mimics are far from the most formidable creature a party might encounter.
All of which seems bad for the mimic. But mimics survive due to a steady stream of adventurers who are either ignorant, careless, mistrustful, or maintain that “it can’t happen to me.”
Not surprisingly, the players those who are most diligent about checking for mimics are those who have had characters attacked and/or killed by them.
And smart DnD players tend to heed these warnings. Whether the character is high or low level, whether they are a magic-user or cleric, half-orc or gnome—it just makes sense to listen to experience.
If someone shared that they were in this dungeon and attacked by a mimic, you thank them for the warning and check for mimics.
I mean, why not listen?
Yes, someone can say “Ha! I open chests all the time, and I’ve never seen a mimic!” But in my playing experience, you don’t see that too often--or for too long. If one plays enough, one learns that trusting someone else’s warning is a good way to survive.
Trust me. You’ll be a lot less dead.
Fortunately, all dying means in DnD is that you need to roll another character. You might need to sit out the adventure—but in the next one, you'll be a little wiser, a little more careful—and a heck of a lot more aware of mimics.
In the real world, death is handled a little more permanently.
With some hazards, people act accordingly. For example, cyclists have died from dooring. If you're riding your bike alongside parked cars and a car door swings open in front of you, that collision will change the way you ride forever after—when and if you ride again.
Nope. Nope. Nope.***
And so, no matter how peaceful the street, prudent cyclists will look out for opening doors. And warnings are heeded.
Even if that warning is from a child using training wheels—any notice that cyclists have been doored on a particular street is most likely taken seriously.
More often though, people don’t listen to warnings.
Perhaps these people do not see connections between themselves and others—real life connections are not so obvious as being in a DnD adventuring party, or when everyone is on a bicycle.
Perhaps these people assume that such warning have no bearing on their lives because they are special, they are stronger, they richer, prettier, more normal, more legal, more able...and so on...
Lately, trans folks, poor folks, immigrant folks, Black women, survivors of gun violence have been warning that there are people who seem reasonable, benign, even admirable—but are actually extremely dangerous.
They have shared stories of attacks to their lives and livelihood, their legal rights, and even their personal safety. They have cautioned that one can suddenly be traumatized, even killed, and one needs to be vigilant—even in communities that might seem like pleasant places to spend a blissful morning on a bicycle.
But rather than being believed and trusted—instead of thanked as valued and experienced members of one’s adventuring party—their pleas and warnings are often mocked, marginalized, and disregarded.
Instead of “Thank you! Yes! Let’s work together! Everyone be careful!” We get, “I don’t see what you are talking about.”
Or “This is happening to you, but you know it can’t happen to me.”
Or “You are just overreacting. These are good people; you just don’t see it.”
Or “I can’t live my life checking for danger.”
Or “Ewww! Go away! I don’t want people to see you talking to me.”
But, just as in Dungeons and Dragons, mimics will be mimics, no matter what you believe. Doors will open in front of you no matter how optimal your heart rate or how much your bike costs.
That’s why, when hearing news of overturning Roe V Wade, or books being banned in schools, or same-sex marriage being reopened for examination—
One of the hardest things to listen to is the shock—the surprise and disbelief that this could be happening.
The “this is not who we are” comments.
The “how could it have gotten this bad?” comments.
Because each such exclamation also proclaims, “I wasn’t listening to the warnings of others.”
This is why it’s hard not to feel a little weary when hearing the latest day-after clarion call to action. Yes, we still need action—just as we did before. And yes, we need to fight as hard as we can to survive.
But so much of this might be prevented if we play the game with a little more trust. A little more common sense.
We’d be a lot less tired. We’d be a lot less injured.
We’d be a lot less dead.
And so, on some days, instead of rallying behind those who ignored so many of their fellow human beings…
On some days...it takes everything I have not to lock the doors, get out my DnD books and get lost in the world of my new sparkly dice.
Next Week: Special World Con Preview, and Thoughts on Being a Finalist for the Hugo Award.
Cover: Image by me.
* Image by me.
* * Source: Mike Mearls, Jeremy Crawford, Christopher Perkins (2014-09-30). Monster Manual 5th edition. Edited by Scott Fitzgerald Gray. (Wizards of the Coast), p. 220. ISBN 978-0786965614. Artist/photographer(s)Eric Belisle
***Guido Kirchner/Collection: Picture Alliance/Getty Images