Further Thoughts on “SyFy” – A D&D Story
Posted by Jason on March 17, 2009
Much has been said already on the whole “SyFy” debacle. Without rehashing it too much here, I think it’s safe to say that the response has been… negative. Overwhelmingly negative, with very few (if any) positive comments.
After what they said, I’m not really surprised. But thinking over it again today, I realized that there’s another element in play here that (to my knowledge) no one else has commented on yet. On some level, whether we realize it or not, I think we geeks feel betrayed.
Maybe that’s not obvious right away, so let me explain… No, let me do one better. This is (supposed to be) a fiction blog, so why don’t you settle in, get some popcorn, and let me illustrate with a story.
“Cool Kids Don’t Play D&D”
Sid wasn’t my first Dungeons & Dragons friend, but I thought he was my best one.
If this were one of those cheesy mascara-running tell-all memoirs, I’d probably say about now that I remember exactly how we met, like it was yesterday. Truth is, memory’s a slippery thing, and it was all a pretty long time ago. The details are fuzzy, but the story… well, the story is something I still feel.
I guess it must have been Fall. School hadn’t been back in session long, but I wasn’t bundled up in my blue puffy coat and beanie yet either. It had been raining a lot, I think, because the mud is what I remember most. I remember the way it oozed between my fingers and got caught under my fingernails as I tried to push myself up off the ground. It only smeared across my face when I tried to wipe it off, making a bigger mess than it would have been had I just left it there. That was okay, though, I remember thinking. At least they won’t be able to see the tears.
I blinked back the tears anyway and tried not to sniffle pathetically as I stumbled back to my feet. They were laughing, of course, and one of them had my red JanSport backpack open in his hands. The leader–for some reason, I remember he had blond hair–was ripping pages out of my three-ring binder and dropping them, one by one, onto the sidewalk.
“‘Cei Cipora?'” he read. “And what’s this one… ‘Aranor Golodwith? S-T-R 16, D-E-X 14…’ Christ, what is this crap?”
I realized with horror that it was my character binder. It was my lovingly crafted warriors and wizards that were floating to lie between the cracks in the pavement. Their pages and pages of detailed history wouldn’t let them talk their way out of this fight, and no AC was high enough to fortify them against muck and grass stains.
“Huh huh, it’s that dee and dee nerdy stuff,” one of the other two said, emphasizing each letter. My eyes went wide with horror as he drew out my dog-eared copy of the Player’s Handbook.
“Hey, give it back!” I yelled, hating how high and piping my voice sounded.
“You’re such a nerd,” the leader said, taking the book and throwing it at me. My arms flew up reflexively, and the book bounced off to land on the ground, cover open and pages splayed. “You’re such a freak. No wonder no one–”
“What are you doing?” The new voice stopped the blond kid mid-sentence. I couldn’t tell who said it at first, until I realized they were all staring at something behind me. I turned.
The kid was at least a couple years older them, and pretty big for his age, too. In the schoolyard world, that made him practically invincible. I think the blond kid may have said something else, then, but it’s all a blur. Next thing I remember is picking up my backpack, and the big kid kneeling next to me.
I shrugged. “Sure. Fine.” I grabbed a sheet of graph paper out of the mud and shoved it back into my binder. I stood up and saw the big kid leaning over to pick up the book from where it had fallen. He looked at it curiously, first glancing at the illustration on the cover, then flipping through a few pages. Oh no, I thought, feeling my stomach sink. Here it comes…
“What’s this?” he asked, catching me completely off guard. It wasn’t the words–they were about what I expected–but the fact that he really sounded curious. Not mocking, not creeped out, just interested.
“It’s…” I sniffled. “It’s a game. D&D.”
“Yeah?” He looked at me and smiled. “It looks cool. Can I play? My name’s Sid.”
* * *
Having an older kid who played D&D around was just awesome. He’d come over and sit with me and my friend Matt at lunch, and we’d run through whatever new module one of us had dreamed up. Between bites of salisbury steak or turkey sandwiches, the dice would clatter across the dark brown faux-woodgrain and heroes would rise.
We could even manage to finish a whole dungeon in one lunch period sometimes! When you don’t have other kids bothering you, you can get a lot more done. If anyone wanted to bother us, Sid would just shoot ’em a look and they’d back off.
The best part, though? The best part was when we got together after school. After a few weeks of lunchtime dungeon crawls, Sid invited us over to his house to play. Matt and I stared at each other dumbly when he asked.
“Really, Sid?” I asked. “You sure that’s okay?”
“Sure! We can play way longer than just at lunch.”
“And you’re sure your parents won’t mind?”
“Nah, they love it when I have friends over. They even set up a table in the basement for us to play on when I asked. C’mon, it’ll be great!”
I smiled hopefully. “Yeah… yeah that sounds great!”
Sid grinned his wide, slightly lopsided grin. “Awesome! Hey, I’m gonna invite a couple other friends, too. I want them to see how cool D&D is. And it’ll be great to have a place where we can all play together.”
Matt and I shared another look, but then I shrugged and he nodded. Sid was cool. If Sid thought his friends would like D&D, then they would. And hey, the more people who saw how fun it was the better, right?
* * *
The times we spent playing in Sid’s basement remain to this day some of the best D&D moments of my life. There ended up being five of us, and together we transformed that basement into castles and dungeons, cities in the clouds, far off lands and magical planes. As that school year dragged on, we told the best stories together while we slayed everything from kobolds to red dragons.
Sid was an awesome host, too. He used the allowance his parents gave him to go out and buy all the D&D books, then each new module, and even miniatures! How cool was that? Sid loved bringing us the newest and best stuff to game with. He really got it, I thought. I thought it would last forever.
* * *
It was when the snow melted and the trees started to bloom again that it changed. It was the first evening where it was warm enough that we could get away with just a light jacket instead of a heavy coat, and it was still light out even though the street lights came on.
Matt and I knocked on Sid’s door for our Friday night D&D game. When he opened the door, he had a big radiant smile on his face. It was infectious, and I found myself grinning. Whenever Sid smiled like that, he had just gotten something new and, always, awesome. “Hey guys!” he beamed, “Check out what my dad got me!”
He held out something about a foot long, brown, roughly egg-shaped, and that didn’t look at all like a new miniature. “It’s a football!” he said. “Isn’t it great?”
“Uhh.. sure, Sid. Great,” Matt said slowly.
If he noticed our confusion, Sid didn’t seem to mind. “C’mon, can we play a little before it gets dark? Please? We’ll still do D&D afterward, promise.”
We agreed, because, well, because it was Sid and Sid was cool. Matt and I didn’t like football much, and we weren’t much good at it, either. But the other two kids in our group (who, incidentally, were Sid’s age) were pretty good, and seemd to really enjoy it.
We still played D&D afterward, of course. About the time my halfling thief was at a standoff with the evil archmage, demanding that the wizard let the party go or he would put the portable hole into the bag of holding, I forgot all about football.
Sid didn’t, though. Football became our regular pregame activity. As the weather got warmer and the light lingered longer, the football games took up more and more of the evening and D&D less and less. After a few weeks, Matt and I just sat on the sidelines and watched while the other kids played football. It didn’t matter, though, because Sid got new people to come over and play so that there would be enough. At first I thought it was great–more people for our D&D party!–but they usually didn’t stay after the last pass was thrown, and the ones that did usually stopped after a week or two.
The last night before summer vacation, we were all set to finish our campaign. Our adventurers had finally collected the last of the Twelve Staves of Arcane Sorcery to raise the lost city of Elanath. Our magic armor and our +3 weapons gleamed. Our levels were higher than our stat numbers. It was gonna be the best.
Or it would have been, anyway. The football game went on forever. It was a close match, and they kept tying the score. And then Sid’s parents and other kids from the neighborhood came to watch, and they couldn’t stop then.
We got to play D&D, but only for about an hour. We rushed through the encounter, Sid fudged some rolls to make it go quicker, and we we didn’t even have time to divide the final loot and add up our last EXP. Sid said he was really sorry, but hey, at least everyone loved watching the football game, right?
* * *
Sid’s family went away for summer vacation, and Sid went with them. We didn’t see him all summer, though we still talked about him all the time. Sometimes we’d even pretend one of his characters was in our party. We’d make up stories about all the fun Sid must be having, and imagine what new monsters he must be cooking up for us to fight.
Sid didn’t get back until a week before school was supposed to start. We tried to go see him, but his parents said he was always out doing something whenever we came over. They said he really wanted to see us, though, and he’d see us at school if not before.
* * *
It rained the night before the first day of school, of course. I slogged there anyway, hoping my parents wouldn’t notice the mud on my new brown sneakers. The morning classes went okay, and my new teachers seemed nice, even if Mr. Natelli had a voice that never wavered a bit in pitch and made you want to just close your eyes, just for a second…
As the clock ticked down to noon, I felt the excitement bubble up in my gut. Almost lunchtime! Almost D&D time! And Sid would be here, too, just like old times. As soon as the bell rang, I raced to our table in the cafeteria, almost knocking Matt off his feet as we both arrived.
Thunk, rattle, rustle. The books, dice, and character sheets hit the table with the old satisfying cadence. I already had four d6 out and had three stats rolled before I noticed Matt frowning.
“What’s wrong?” I said, looking down at my scrap paper. “Did I add something up wrong?”
“Where’s Sid?” he said quietly.
I looked around. I didn’t see him anywhere. That was… weird. Something turned in my stomach, and I shook my head to clear it. “Maybe he’s home sick or something,” I offered.
“Yeah… that must be it.” Matt didn’t sound convinced, but he started rolling anyway, and pretty soon we had two brand-new first level adventurers ready to take on armies of gnolls and gelatinous cubes. If there was a slight sadness in the whole process, we pretended not to notice.
* * *
The afternoon dragged on. I couldn’t stop wondering what happened to Sid. Was he really sick? Maybe something was really wrong.
The final bell rang, and I gathered all my homework into my red JanSport backpack. The sky was grey and overcast as I started walking back down the sidewalk toward my house. I was thinking how I’d get my homework done quickly, then go over to Sid’s and–
I heard some laughter from the direction of the playgound. Sid’s laughter! Maybe he was okay after all! I started running toward it, shouting, “Sid! Hey, Sid! There you are!”
I stopped short. Sid was on the field behind the playground with a whole group of other boys, tossing a football back and forth. He turned and looked at me, but I couldn’t tell what was on his face.
I swallowed and walked up to him. The boys stopped playing and all turned to look at me. I shoved my hands in my pockets.
“Hey, Sid.” I said quietly.
“Hey,” he said. There was a long pause.
“Uh, so… when are we gonna get together and play D&D again? Y’know, having such an awesome place…” One of the other kids snorted and I stopped.
“Sid, you know this loser?” “Sid, you play dee and dee?”
Sid glared at them, but didn’t say anything.
“But, you said D&D is cool…” I started.
He turned back toward me, and shook his head. His face was still unreadable. “D&D’s not cool. D&D’s for nerds.” Maybe it’s only a trick of memory that makes me think I saw something in his eyes as his arm slowly stretched towards me. “Cool kids don’t play D&D.”
I remember the mud most clearly, the way it oozed between my fingers and smeared across my face.