Jennie Michalski – Teacher, Gamer, Female
It was either dice or heroin, really. Luckily, none of us were cool enough at a formative age to know where to buy drugs. Ron bought a snack baggie full of oregano one time. So, the pen-and-paper thing was our habit, you know? You keep doing it because you keep doing it. And, yeah, I like being with the guys and having fun with them. We’re all friends. They’re my person, or whatever.
I do it for the camaraderie. I think we all do. God, nobody likes it for the spreadsheets and the math, right?
Well, nobody except Martin, right?
When last we left our brave adventurers, Ron had been defeated by Samantha Case. Sam was that most dangerous of all creatures – the Ex – and Ron was powerless against her. Or so his friends thought, and Ron did little to disabuse them of that thought. Instead, he lived with Dreiser, who had been his best friend since the fifth grade; he spent more time with his friends gaming, watching movies, hanging out. They rallied around him protectively – Matt, Jennie, Dreiser, Cory and even weird Justin.
Once, when nobody else was in earshot, Matt admitted it was good to have Ron back.
Three months passed like that.
Ron’s life was good. Sometimes, he felt infused, revivified, unyoked from Samantha’s leaden weight. Most of the time, though, Ron was haunted by a simple truth:
“Being single sucks.”
Transformers: The Movie was on and the love triangle between Arcee, Springer and Hot Rod was the trigger for this particular instance of this particular conversation.
Across the room, perched on the Swopper chair at his desk, Dreiser just kind of looks at his friend for a beat and mumbles something. Whatever it is that Dreiser said, it sounds like “Hunh.” He pushes his pencil into the electric sharpener, inspects the newly-sharpened point and returns to plotting out Thursday night’s encounters. The party was pursuing the ghost of Nicodamion’s son from the future and giant iron golems with trebuchet arms were the latest obstacles in their path.
Dreiser always said “Hunh.” It was his inscrutable catchall reaction. For a week after seeing Watchmen, he said “Hurm” instead, but it got old really quickly and he didn’t stop until Jennie monologued about Rohrschach’s myriad terrible qualities. Everyone was thankful.
“The thing I hate about the new edition,” Dreiser says, completely ignoring his roommate’s angst in favor of a bracing discourse on the mechanics of pen and paper role-playing games, “is that it’s like the Michael Bay version of the game. Level one and you can make things explode. They should just let the rangers drive Humvees through Cuban shanty towns as a daily power. I mean, where’s the challenge when you’re awesome from the start?”
The New Edition had been out for about a month, and Martin had not just read it, he had absorbed it as if he were in utero and he and the game were ill-fated twins. He’d downloaded scans of the leaked pre-press galleys, bought the hardcovers, and then got a legitimate .PDF download. He said the latter was to account for any errata between the two digital copies. People talk about how piracy is bad for sales, but those people don’t know anybody like Martin Dreiser: like most gamers, Dreiser is a completist, and completists will pay twice for everything they steal.
Sometime after his eightieth readthrough of The New Rules, Martin pronounced to his troupe of gamers that they (the rules) were horrible and wrong and that he (Martin) hated them (the rules and possibly the troupe of gamers as well). He’d been running their weekly game using the new system for about two weeks by then, and all of the characters had been converted over under Martin’s dungeonmastery eye. Dreiser’s first impulse was to restart the game using The Old Edition, but Jennie really liked the new rules. Martin (and Justin, too, but he wasn’t running the game and had few friends among the group, rendering him almost totally unimportant) really liked Jennie – was in love with her, in fact – so he swallowed his pride and kept slogging through the “unbalanced, unplaytested, unbearable mess” that his most beloved role-playing game had become.
A little annoyed at the preemption of his sulk, Ron leapt into the discussion, ready for bloodshed. “I think it evens the playing field for everybody.” Ron was accustomed to letting Dreiser be right most of the time – it went easier on everyone – but Ron’s ire was up and, besides, he really did like the New Edition rules.
Pushing up his glasses back onto the bridge of his nose and theatrically throwing his hands up, Dreiser looked at his newly-defiant roommate, eyes wide with exasperation. “Ron, no offense, but you are exactly the gamer this panders to. You’re Mr. I’ll Solve Every Problem With Evocations And/Or Swords.”
“Hey,” Ron countered, “I’ve played a cleric before. Remember? Barten Dwor?”
Martin sighed the way that some people punched. “Barten Dwor was a Sword Cleric. And Matt still sulks about how Hodo Houndstrider died because you were too busy attacking the mother frostagor to heal him.”
Unmoved from his perch on the couch, Ron smirked and gave his friend the finger.
And then Dreiser was back at work, scrivening out hit points and armor classes.
Robots were fighting on the television, Stan Bush crooning in the background either that you could in if you dared or confirming that you have got both the touch and the power. Bored after six minutes, Ron cast his glance back at Martin. Martin was the same Martin he met when they were ten; it was comforting. No matter what happened, Martin was wrapped up in his lists and tables and his plans, God help him. He really was, Ron thought, the only one of them who played for the math.
Dreiser was inscrutable, but Ron saw something in the diligence of his pencil on the graph paper that signaled…irritation? Matt joked that Dreiser didn’t feel, but Ron knew better than that. Martin simply tried very hard to keep others from noticing.
“Dreiser, making everybody formidable from the get-go isn’t bad. Look at how useful mages are now. You really prefer casting your one spell for the day and then cowering behind some meat shield of a warrior with a two-handed axe? Everybody should have something to do every round.”
Martin rests the pencil in the crease of the pages and looks up, waken from his reverie of treasure tables and dungeon maps. He is not inscrutable in this moment. “That’s not how the world works,” he says, and then meanders into the kitchen. Ron listens for three, four, five minutes and hears nothing.
It is not how the world works, it’s true. Which was one of the reasons Ron role-played – to have a few hours of not being subject to the real world. Martin Dreiser, on the other hand, is never not a stickler for authenticity.
As Ron sits on the edge of the couch, the ‘best friend’ impulse to succor combats the ‘bro’ impulse to avoid feelings. He is still in detente when the refrigerator opens, followed by the clinking glass sound that means beer retrieval. Then Martin drops onto the far end of the couch and smiles, the subject forgotten. “What’s on Deadliest Warrior tonight?”
“Saxon Vs. Mecha-Saxon.”
“You know, I’m not quite sure if you’re joking.”
Ron and Martin spent the rest of the night like that – quips and questionable programming. Ron made fresh popcorn and they talked about comics, about epic fantasy novels, about baseball and, of course, about the game. Martin even made a few snarky comments about Justin, his rival for Jennie’s affections within their clique of gamers. Unfortunately, with the very brief exception of Ron, who held hands with Jennie for two weeks in the eighth grade, she only dated outside her little circle of friends. Meanwhile, Martin has liked her as long as he has been aware of girls. For the two weeks that Jennie and Ron were a couple, he refused to talk to either of them. At the height of the animosity, he wrote “Judas” in pen on Ron’s character sheet on the line where his Class should have gone (a barbarian who went by the name of Varshak Cleaveskull). “Ask her out,” Ron tells him. Ron tells him this every day. Every day, Martin shrugs and mutters something about how it’s a conflict of interest because he’s the game master.
I cried when Spock died in “The Wrath of Khan”
My heart skipped a beat when Leia kissed Han
But when I saw you at the Bi-Mon-Sci-Fi-Con
I didn’t feel like a loser
You’ll forgive me if I seem a little timid or shy
I’m not what you’d call a self-confident guy
And I’ve never kissed a girl, but I’d like to try
So I’ll ask you if you like Doctor Who
Then I’ll sweep you off your feet
Take you to Sha Ka Ree above
We’ll sweat through my blood fever
And fulfill our geeky love
When you laughed at Leonard Nimoy’s jokes, you changed my world
I could be your Captain Kirk if you would be my green-skinned girl
I get a little queasy every time you appear
My heart is like a starship, and you’re the one who steers
I know I’m pretty smooth after a couple of beers
Or a flagon of Romulan ale
So I’ll lock my phasers, set my sights on you
This isn’t no-win, no Kobayashi Maru
And now here you come, I don’t know what to do
I’m like Spock without his brain
I’m staring at my feet
With Ewok fireworks above
I’m not dancing with the princess
I can’t express my geeky love
You hold the cards; you turn the screws
I’m trapped in Carbonite
You’re every fanboy’s fantasy; I should take you home tonight
But love is a Thoalian Web of contradictions
And my fear controls my movements like the Force
You don’t know your own power
You could let me off the hook
With a single Vulcan mind meld
Or a sly come-hither look
Then you’ll hit me with a smile
Like a rainbow up above
Within seconds, I’m unfrozen
Falling into geeky love
I will lay you on my Star Wars sheets
We’ll make like it’s Pon Farr
And we’ll live in our obsessions
With our heads caught in the stars
Lyrics by Steve Millies and Matt Springer
Music by Matt Springer
‘Meddling fool!” Nicodamion snarled. Limned with arcane lightning, his fingers tracing the sigils of the Infernus Charm in the air before him. “You will not keep the Eye of Thaumastor from me!” Spittle flew from his upper lip, dewing in his scraggly necromancer beard.
Cannick Candlecrown somersaulted clear of the wizard’s fiery blast. He was scuffed, bruised and slightly disoriented, but not seriously harmed. Rex, on the other hand, didn’t fare so well; he was blown into the palace courtyard’s far wall by the explosion, collapsing in a heap of clockwork, broken brick and dust. Though Rex looked like a gnome – mostly – he was an automaton, and his gears whirred and clicked as he attempted to regain his feet.
“CANNICK,” the gnomebot intoned, “REQUEST: AFFECT DEFEAT STRATEGY. SUBJECT: EVIL WIZARD NICODAMION THE NIGHTWISHER.”
Crouched behind a bronze statue of a rampant hippocorn, Cannick assessed the situation. Mere, the warrior, was down. Axel the dwarf was hunched over Mere’s unconscious, armored bulk, trying to get him back on his fumbling feet. Nathalie and Drasus were engaged with the wizard’s bugbear henchmen and Rex…well, Rex was typically useless anyway. It was risky, but there was no other way. Cannick had to defeat the Nightwisher singlehandedly. He hated wizards.
Muttering a quick spell to invoke his own wizardly gifts and smirking at his own hypocrisy, the mage/thief rolled between the hippocorn statue’s legs and sprung forward at the enemy caster. He was counting on winning the opposed Bluff roll, which would give him a tactical advantage that made it easier to hit his intended mark and to also deal bonus damage. The pale blue fire of his enchantment danced up the blades of his twin mastercraft longswords as he drove the +3 weapons, which were gifted to him by the master of his old Thieves’ Guild (an organization that Cannick now opposed in the wake of his alignment change), in for the kill with a wicked SLAM.
STOMP. STOMP. STOMP.
We all looked up from the table.
The noise was the heavy, deliberate tread of someone descending the stairs into Dreiser’s basement. I knew who it was. Looking around the table, I saw that everyone else knew it too. Corey mouthed, “Something wicked this way comes” as we made eye contact. Dreiser made himself busy, scribbling notes behind his Dungeon Master screen. Jennie made herself small, her body trying to will itself into inconspicuousness. Ron just kept looking at Cannick’s character sheet, d20 held firmly in his right hand, ready to throw the die just before the interruption. The tension in the room was half concern for Ron, half concern that the week’s game session had just been ruined. At least, that’s what I was feeling. He just keep looking at Cannick’s sheet, at Dreiser’s hand-drawn maps, at the initiative chart Corey had jotted down for reference. Looking up acknowledged that something was wrong. Looking up gave her the win.
The footsteps stopped. She was here now. Five and a half feet of torment, dressed in Forever 21 and a permanent scowl that could kill the Nightwisher for us. Sam.
Dreiser dared to peek up from behind his screen, proffering a weak wave. “Hi, Samantha.” Sam, thin-lipped, spat out “Martin” as if it were a gypsy curse, then leveled her glare at Ron. “We need to talk. Now.”
“We need to talk,” is the last cigarette of male-female relationships. It always comes about a month too late for actual talking to do any good. It meant, “I’m about to destroy you verbally, but let’s call it a talk so you can save a little face.” I’m married, so maybe I’m not qualified to talk about failed relationships. But they didn’t all work out, right? I know a little something about this maybe.
There’s a pause. The air’s got weight to it. We were all not looking at Samantha so hard that it’s like we were staring straight at her. She cleared her throat.
This is how much of a bitch Sam is. She can’t even wait until this encounter is over before dumping our striker.
Wordless, Ron pushed his chair back, stood and let the die fly onto the table with an air of forced nonchalance, like being called out in the middle of ‘guys’ night out’ by his fiance was not a huge deal. He was already heading up the stairs – the plodding gait that shouted “Dead man walking!”- when the d20 stopped spinning, the ’20’ face up.
A critical hit.
While Sam was outside eviscerating Ron, Cannick Candlecrown was doing the same to the Nightwisher, his enchanted blades driving into the ancient wizard’s gut, the last vestiges of his unnatural life spilling out onto the base of the bright metallic hippocorn in front of him.
Justin, who we all just ignored a lot of the time, let out a whoop. Which might have been the second most awkward moment of the evening. A few minutes passed in silence and a round of anxious glances. Dreiser and Jennie and I were the ones who’d known Ron longest – we’d picked up Justin up in college and Corey less than six months ago when he moved here from Brooklyn. The two of them looked at us for guidance on what to do next. I looked at Dreiser because Martin was Ron’s best friend. Dreiser looked at Jennie because she was the only person in the room smarter than he was and also the only one who might know Ron better than he did.
I was fed up with inaction, so I said, “Axel uses his Axe of Severing to behead the wizard’s corpse.” That thing I said about me knowing things? Disregard that.
Jennie smacked me in the back of the head and stage whispered, “Shut up, Matt.” Dreiser made more notes.
Ron came back fifteen minutes later. Having decided to roll for treasure next week, we were packing up for the night when the basement door opened again. He looked drained, like he’d just fought a ghoul. The opening was there for us to ask him how he was, but we weren’t the kind of friends you talked about your feelings with. We were the guys.
Justin explained the outcome of the fight to Ron, who seemed completely detached from the whole thing. Justin high-fived him and Ron put on a fake smile and doled out the customary hand slaps and respect knuckles that came with the defeat of a major antagonist. We could pretend all was right with the world.
(Click to download. Or click here.)
1. Merry Christmas, Batman! – Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy
2. Charlie Brown Cut-Up – Colossus
3. Last Month of the Year – Blind Boys of Alabama
4. Ain’t No Chimneys in the Projects – Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings
5. Santa Came on a Nuclear Missile – Unknown
6. Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) – Darlene Love
7. Peace on Earth/The Little Drummer Boy – David Bowie and Bing Crosby
8. Father Christmas – The Kinks
9. Winter Wonderland – Booker T and the MGs
10. Ralphie… Melinda Dillon
11. Hot Christmas – Squirrel Nut Zippers
12. St. Stephen’s Day Murders – Elvis Costello and the Chieftains
13. Mr. Heatmiser – Big Bad Voodoo Daddy
14. The Christmas Song – The Raveonettes
15. Why Do We Have to Have a Holiday Season? – Charlie Brown
16. Last Christmas – Florence + the Machine
17. Merry Christmas Baby – Otis Redding
18. What Christmas Means to Me – Stevie Wonder
19. Come On! Let’s Boogey to the Elf Dance! – Sufjan Stevens
20. Step Into Christmas – Elton John
21. I Wish it Was Christmas Today – Julian Casablancas
Ho ho ho!
I know you didn’t ask Santa for this. I know you wanted that BB gun, or the new Outed CIA Handler Barbie, or chalk or whatever it is you kids like today.
But Santa ain’t here! So you get my first official holiday mix, which – I am happy to say – doesn’t overlap with Matt’s at all! I give you Beary Chrismas and a lump of coal, ya brats!
As part of the festivities this year, we encourage you to donate a few dollars to Child’s Play, the awesome charitable organization for gamers & geeks that helps put toys, games, and other essentials into hospitals for sick children.
For those of you in a rush and no time to walk through a series of online transaction steps, you can text the keyword GAMERS to 50555 on your mobile phone to have a $5.00 donation to Child’s Play added to your bill or deducted from your prepaid account. Please consider it.
Beary Chrismas, Vol. 1 (2010)
1. “I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas,” Gayla Peevy
2. “Winter Wonderland,” Doris Day
3. “Holiday On Skis,” Al Caiola & Riz Ortolani
4. “Winter Weather,” Squirrel Nut Zippers
5. “Deck The Halls,” Manheim Steamroller
6. “Little Saint Nick,” The Beach Boys
7. “Sleigh Ride (Chandilicious Remix),” Bran Van 3000
8. “Keep Me Warm,” Josh Mease
9. “Another Lonely Christmas,” Prince and the Revolution
10. “Christmas Time,” The Darkness
11. “Merry X-mas Everybody,” Slade
12. “This Christmas,” Donny Hathaway
13. “(Simply Having) Evergreen,” mc chris v. Wings v. castewar
14. “Winter Time,” We v. Machine
Don’t forget Matt’s 2010 mix from yesterday.
Cover art by Unknown, from some Batman comic where he fights a brown bear. I changed it. If anybody knows the issue, please let us know.