Chapter 3 of a multipart serial, new chapter every week.
Music blaring into her ears, Patricia rolled smoothly down her walk, over the rounded curb and onto the smoother asphalt of her cul-du-sac. They’d recently repaved the streets in her neighborhood and the smooth black top made for a great surface for street hockey games, a number of which the warm summer had already allowed for. Finding a good stride she pushed down the street and out of her neighborhood. Her mom preferred her to skate on the sidewalks and bike paths when available, but the uneven surfaces were harder to navigate and lead to more scrape ups. Patricia began navigating the labyrinthian passages to get out to the main bike path. Marty’s card shop was a 15 minute push from her home and Patricia had done the route enough that she had already begun settling into a rhythm and thinking about other things.
Today was important as it was going to be her first chance to be the Dungeon Master of their weekly D&D meetup. Normally Seth DM’d but Patricia had really wanted to try and Patricia had managed to convince enough of the other players and Seth to let her try a mini-campaign when their main quest hit a lull (The death of the Lich King who had been Seth’s main baddie). It wasn’t that Seth was an especially bad DM, his obsessive personality took well to the rules and minutia of the complex game, but after a few months of living in his world the players had gotten raw on some of his quirks and the break would hopefully be welcome. There was the usual stuff, like time wasted around trying to follow all of 2nd editions overly complex encumbrance rules, but it was the stuff relating to the story that Patricia was more annoyed with. Seth had a habit having a non player character (one that he controlled) in the same party as the players who was almost always high level, these power NPCs were normally (and often incongruously) inactive, but would suddenly speak up when Seth felt he needed to guide the players back to his story line, or save them from a party wipe. While this kept things rolling smoothly Patricia felt that it kept the players from feeling any real sense of discovery or danger. She was going to do a number of things different in her campaign.
Patricia had kept secret in her trapper keeper for the whole school year a whole section for the world she had been secretly building, with a 3000 year history, detailed maps, a number of dungeons for characters of a variety of levels, and a rich and interesting multi-race political intrigue. She’d spent all of Saturday, and the non-smash bros. part of Sunday in her room polishing a starter quest and mini-campaign to introduce her friends, and was nervously optimistic as she skated her way out of the neighborhood glancing over her shoulder as she merged into the dedicated bike lane of the multi-lane artery street that was a straight shot to her destination. She really hoped that they’d get into the world she’d built and her trial run could turn into a longer running campaign. She continued her planning all the way to the strip mall.
The parking lot of the strip mall was a rough older asphalt which made Patricia’s vision bounce and discman skip after a few seconds, so she took off her head phones as she stepped onto the sidewalk and up to the door of “Marty’s Card Emporium”. The card, comic and game store filled one entire section of the mall it inhabited, and the owner had purchased the adjoining shop as well. This side car shop was furnished only with 2 vending machines (Soda and snacks), and a number of folding card tables and chairs. A door between the two stores was opened allowing for the potential for commerce, but most of the towns teen aged nerd population basically lived on that gaming side. There was always a table for playing collectible card games, normally Magic the Gathering, but sometimes other games like Star wars or L5R CCGs to break up the cycle. The rest of the tables fluctuated and could be reserved by D&D groups (like Patricia’s) or tournaments. Sliding straight into the door of the linoleum tiled game side (Patricia often would just leave her blades on all day or sit in her socks as it was easier than packing shoes) she saw a number of the tables had detailed terrains setup, some with the little robots of BattleTech, and others with fantasy creatures which could be anything. Seth and James were already there and were sitting across from each other cards in various orientations with dice and counters on them.
Patricia could see the back of Seth, a line between the #2 on top and the #1 on the bottom bowl cut showing on the back of his head. They’re friend James could easily be seen past Seth’s scrawny frame as James was Seth’s opposite in many ways. James was very calm and almost never spoke, his long somewhat curly brown hair which he either put back into a ponytail or just let fall over his shoulders in their luxurious waves combined with his demeanor was the reason most people called him Jesus instead of James. Seth was talkative, outgoing and a bit neurotic, either genes or his all soda diet had left him mostly skin and bones and was just shy of 5’. James on the other had a massive physical presense, he was tall and obese. Patricia worried about his health, but the topic was uncomfortable for the whole group as none of them were individually close enough to him to risk hurting his feelings, and so, outside of a brief comment on eating better when he would bring in a greasy brown sack from nearby fast food for lunch, they largely ignored it.
At the moment Patrica could see a furrow on Jason’s brow as he thought about the next move to make. As she rolled over to his side of the table and pulled up a seat next to the friendly giant, Jason sprung into action, carefully tapping, untapping and playing a series of cards as he somewhat mechanically described the series of actions to Seth. Seth watched intently for the first few steps, but put together the end result somewhat before it’s completion, looking up at Patricia with a sigh. She had saw it coming too and gave Seth a reassuring smirk and shrug. “Hi Pat” Seth intoned ruefully, no longer following the game, waiting for Jason to finish the elongated play before looking to him and adding “Good game”.
Jason nodded, “You too. I think if I hadn’t top decked the Aluren you’d have had me in a turn or two.” The two players began to cleanup their cards, and Patricia began disassembling, pausing her music, removing her helmet and wrist guards, and grabbing her card box from her messenger bag before un-slinging the bag and adding it to the pile of skate equipment. They had the table they were now at officially reserved from 1pm for the D&D game, but had unofficially snagged it early for the players who, like Patricia, for the most part had nothing else to do during the summer would show up throughout the morning to play cards or work on character sheets and back story for the upcoming game. Patricia played a few of the decks she brought with her against Jason, and a 3 way game of L5R adding Seth before some of the other players from their group began to show up, at which point she pulled off to another table and began helping the players more secretly one on one to develop and secure their eventual backstory before the game.
She spent the most time between helping out a new member to their group who asked to join when he’d heard about the game from another table. He introduced himself as Pete and had played D&D before, but needed a lot of help trying to add some depth to the Orc Warrior he wanted to play in the campaign. Patricia had a nice balance of personalities and character skills in the party she had already done, and Pete’s Orc was really going to throw things off, not the least of which it was a totally different faction than most of the existing good or neutral characters and races. With a little bit of work though, she was able to give the character a little bit of personality beyond “Kill all the things” by making it a half-orc half human, who was raised by his human mother and actually harbored resentment to his other race, if not his father. Pete showed some depth in being able to understand that, but kept going back to the killing bit. Oh well. If he couldn’t blend then he’d probably be killed by James’s true neutral assassin. That work led right up to lunch where they walk / rolled across the street to a nearby standalone pancake house and had a mix of late breakfast pancakes, and the not terrible burger combos. Seth ate nothing but did leverage about 4 unlimited refill sodas while they continued to play cards at the bench wrapped tables.
After lunch, it was back to Marty’s to set up the DM screen, and settle in to start the campaign. James sat down a little too hard on the metal folding chair and the cheap furniture buckled under his weight, causing a fairly large disturbance and leaving James and the chair in a pile on the floor. James looked around embarrassed but quickly and quietly apologized as he stood up and began trying to put the chair aside and replace it to move past the situation. Patricia felt sorry for him but stayed quiet to help him preserve his dignity. This wasn’t the first chair that James had broken, but the shopkeeper at Marty’s and the owner (Oddly not named Marty) were both very understanding and kind.
Pete broke the silence with a mean hearted jab, “Don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone fat enough to break those chairs just by sitting on them”. Resulting in a few uncomfortable chuckles from some of the patrons, and deepening the look of shame on James’s face.
Nope, thought Patricia. That would not fly. She barely knew this guy, and without thinking spoke directly and clearly to him, “The hell you don’t Pete. James is family. Those cheap ass chairs can barely hold a child much less a full sized adult and you will not make fun of him.” Patricia looked to James to decide if she should demand Pete apologize but thought better of making more of a spectacle, instead she looked back to Pete sternly hoping that he had the presence to do it on his own.
“Lighten up Pat,” Pete said, already taking to using the nickname that the other guys used for Patricia despite having just met, “I was just making a joke to lighten up the situation. I don’t think they make a chair that stay-puft over there wouldn’t crumble”.
Patricia inwardly raged, but instead put on a smile, picking up Pete’s completed character sheet. “Oh, in that case, I should be thanking you then.”
Pete’s face looked a little confused at the change of pace, “Oh yeah? What for?”
Patricia began ripping up his sheet as she responded with her fathers dead pan, “For making my campaign work better. Your one dimensional kill orc would only have delayed the real game play by a session or two before he was taken out.”
Pete stared at the sheet aghast, but had the presence to look around at the crowd in the card shop before making a retort. While he had a couple of friends at a different table, they weren’t making eye contact. Those that were clearly were on the side of the likeable James and Patricia who had been coming for years. “Whatever, drama queen”, he shrugged, and walked to the table with his friends to fein interest in the card game they were playing.
James who had been watching the exchange with one hand on the bar that would open the back door threw Patricia a mouthed “Thank you” before pushing open the door and tossing the broken chair into a nearby dumpster. Within a minute the usual group, 6 of them including Patrica, Seth and Jason, were back into their chairs and ready to begin. Patricia had already walked each of the players backstories driving them all, for various character matching and independent reasons, into a chance meeting at a Tavern in a large and lawless town between a few of the major kingdoms.
The next few hours were some of the most fun that Patricia had ever had playing D&D. While she missed growing and developing her own character, being the mother of her own world was exciting and interesting. Even the smallest NPC’s could have their own stories, her friends were enlivened and laughing the whole time, reaching the first major battle (a scuffle with a small tribe of goblins) by the time that Marty’s was ready to close. Even Seth, who took a while to warm up to not being in charge, was super engaged by the end, and led a player push to run the battle they’d just walked into tomorrow rather than waiting a week. Patricia agreed, they said their extended goodbyes and were ushered out of the shop a little past close. Seth offered her a ride home in his grimy Corolla, but Patricia wanted to blade home in the cool evening air. It was getting dark but the sun still lit up a bit of the evening sky from behind the Rocky Mountains. By the time Patricia had gotten her gear on, everyone else had gone their separate ways, either in their own cars or to head off to the nearby bus stop (in the opposite direction as Patricia’s house).
Patricia put on her headphones and popped “Americana” out of her CD Player and pulled the older “Smash” album out, as she could never get enough of that one. Pressing play she began to skate home, heading the wrong way down the same bike lane she came up, as there was less traffic this time of evening on the busy street that conjoined it and it was easier to turn into her neighborhood from that lane than crossing twice. “Ahh, it’s time to relax, and you know what that means…” came the calming voice over her head phones, followed shortly by another round of raging guitar, Patrica found her groove by the time track 3 came on as she approached her neighborhood, and she began to sing along to one of her favorite parts, “Drivers are rude, such attitudes, when I show my peice, can plain see, somethings odd, feel like I’m god you stu-pid, dumb-shit, god-damn, mother-…”, and then Patricia was hit by a car.