Back in the day, during the long, hot summers, my parents would ship me away to a sleep-away camp called Mohawk Mountain. They said it was good for me; to have some fun and outdoor adventures. But my friends and I knew it was just two crucial weeks that would be taken away from our epic D&D summer campaign.
This go-round I met a couple kids within the first few days, who like me, would rather spend our free hours in a role-playing dungeon, than a murky pond filled with mind-eating amoebas and crying, snot-nose kids.
Daryl and Ryan were experienced players, and their parents let them bring all of the books, dice and other materials to the camp with them. We agreed we would meet up in the evening; there was a lighted cafeteria where we could play until about 11pm, when the camp went lights-out.
During our first adventure, I played a cleric for the first time. I usually preferred to be a fighting man, but they were pretty fighter heavy as it was. We were having a great time and we completed our first module over the first couple of days. Then I met Gabby.
Gabby was the cutest, most adorable girl I had ever met. She was sweet, friendly and loved to laugh. Her giggle was infectious. I felt so comfortable being around her, which at that time said a lot. I desperately wanted to hang out with her so I invited her to join us for our next D&D campaign. Of course, it was all new to her, so she was both skeptical and non-committal. I felt silly afterward for asking, as all the guys in the camp wanted to be with her.
Yet lo, and behold, that night Gabby showed up and wanted to join in. Daryl and Ryan were a little confused at first, as I never mentioned her, or my invite. None of us had ever played D&D with a girl before. But they were both instantly enamored with her. They agreed to make every exception to add her to the campaign. They spoke over each other, vying for a chance to provide explanations as she sat beside me asking how it all works. We created a character for her together, and she was hooked right away. She decided on an elvish magic user named Dispara. She got really lucky with her attribute dice rolls – I think she had like three 18s, one of which she insisted on using for Charisma. Fitting. She even drew a remarkably cool picture of her elvish mage on her character sheet while the game progressed. She was clearly enjoying herself, and took to the gameplay naturally. Daryl and Ryan were both so impressed, and grateful I brought her into the game. We played until lights out, and afterward she let me walk her back to the girl’s dorm.
“Thanks so much, that was a lot of fun.” She said, giving me a hug. She smelled so amazing and at fourteen, that was the most ‘action’ I had ever gotten. I was crushing on her so hard that I barely slept that night. I couldn’t stop thinking of how exciting it would be to have a girlfriend that was also into D&D. What were the odds? Evidently, I had struck gold.
However, the next evening she didn’t show up at the prescribed time. Mind you, this was before the age of cell phones so we weren’t sure if we should wait or continue on without her.
“This is why adding girls to the game is a mistake”, said Daryl, “They always flake out on you.”
“What are you talking about? You said that was your first female player?” I chided him. “I’ll play Dispara, until she gets here.” I offered; confident she wouldn’t let us down. They agreed. Just then, Gabby arrived. But she was not alone. She had a big guy beside her. He looked like a football player, a jock that was clearly after my girl. He was not happy to be there. He looked angry and disinterested.
“I’m sorry guys.” Gabby said sweetly. “This is my friend Corey. I told him about the game. Is it okay if he joins in?” Before I could deny entry for Corey forcefully on the grounds that our campaign was already mid-stream, Daryl and Ryan had already agreed. Gabby sat at the table and Corey sat in-between us. My heart was crushed. I was so upset. I didn’t think I could continue. Then ‘he’ spoke.
“Isn’t Dungeons and Dragons for like, total dorks? I mean, you don’t do anything but roll dice and talk about imaginary people? Where’s the fun in that?” Corey said.
“Oh. C'mon. Don’t be such a jerk.” Gabby said. “It’s fun, and these guys are so excellent to play it with. Give it a try.” Gabby invited. By this time, I was seething and thinking of any acceptable excuse possible to go back to my dorm and cry myself to sleep. But before I could articulate a reason, they were asking me for Gabby’s character sheet. I gave it to her, despondent. Her smile warmed me up, a bit. I watched, with more than a hint of bitter jealousy while she explained everything about Dispara, the character we created together, to him.
Unlike me, Ryan and Daryl had older brothers that were mean and bullied them often. So they naturally obliged Gabby and let Corey’s criticisms roll off their back. I sat quietly while they built Corey’s character. A berserker with 18 strength. Even when he rolled the dice he cheated. But they were just happy to have Gabby back in the game. Traitors! I thought.
When we took turns explaining our characters, and I mentioned my cleric, Corey joked. “A Priest? What’s your power, commanding little altar boys?” They all burst out laughing. Suffice to say, I was not amused.
The game got intense quick as we were embarking into an abandoned keep filled with zombies and skeletons. When the combat started, Corey had a mad case of Beginners Luck, rolling crits twice on his first three attacks. He was crushing the zombies. I kept missing with my mace after my attempt to turn the undead had failed. I had never had such a horrible night with the attack dice – it was all so embarrassing. I could see Gabby was enjoying having Corey’s hulking berserker around. It was like my cleric Aldrith didn’t even exist.
We broke for the night and Corey agreed that it was a lot of fun, unfortunately he too wanted to continue with us. His character ‘Conan’, was the star of the show, registering a bunch of solo kills. Ryan was the DM, and of course, like any classic case of Stockholm Syndrome, was pumping him up as a bad-ass throughout. The intense embarrassment of the evening was when Gabby left with Corey while I was in the bathroom. I didn’t even get to say good night, no hug, nothing.
The following day I called home demanding my parents take me as far away from that camp as possible. I wasn’t even half-way through the two-week stay. My mother insisted I was just ‘a little home-sick’. She and Dad needed this time together, they were enjoying a weekend away. My father told me to buck up, I’d be fine. But I wasn’t sure I would be. He could tell I was suffering from a difficulty ‘making new friends’. He told me the key to overcoming any disappointment was to hang in there, because you never know what could happen in the end.
“Don’t give up. Just try to enjoy yourself and don’t let them bring you down.” He said. I obliged him, but didn’t tell him what was really bothering me. It was my first experience with true infatuation and total heartbreak – I had never felt such emotional pain. Why did my first crush have to break my heart, and also ruin the love of my favorite game at the same time, within a matter of hours?
The following night we re-commenced. Like the night previous, Gabby showed up with Corey. I decided to take my father’s advice and man-up. I think Gabby actually responded better to me when I wasn’t sulking. I tried to get into my character, figure what he could do that Conan couldn’t. There had to be something. But unfortunately, Conan continued to thrash everything in sight, and rarely if ever got scratched. Not that I would’ve volunteered to heal him.
We had reached the final phase of the adventure. It was a deep dungeon which housed a web filled pit. I picked up on Daryl’s description and realized that there might be giant spiders nearby. I warned our party to be careful.
“Spiders? No problem. I’ll stomp on them.” Corey said. Electing to march right into the hall of the giant, momma-spider by himself.
“Are you sure?” Daryl tried to warn him.
“Of course. Bring it on!” Corey insisted, like a true mindless barbarian. Within a few minutes the room was filled with giant venomous spiders. Conan decided the key was to charge the largest, momma spider and end the threat by taking her out. Only trouble was he got bit almost immediately and was forced to roll a saving throw against a deadly poison. He rolled a 1. He was a dead man.
Suffice to say, Corey did not take it well. While we all continued to fight off the spiders as a team, he was already despondent about the death of his seemingly invincible hero. He tore up his character sheet like a real sore loser. He then asked Gabby to come with him since his game was finished.
“I’m still playing. C'mon, hang out and watch the end. This is getting good.” She told him.
“My guy is dead. This game is lame.” He sulked. He then got up and left. Gabby waved it off with her patient smile and we continued on the quest without Corey. I thanked whichever deity I was associated with. Nothing could have made me happier. The feeling in the room improved drastically after Corey had left.
Later, we had nearly completed the mission. We had destroyed the spider queen. Our party discovered a vault filled with treasure and magic items.
While we were inspecting the exciting new magic items, and divvying up the loot, Daryl says, “A baby spider descends slowly from the ceiling. It lands on Dispara’s shoulder.” His words seemed to echo. I couldn’t believe he would do that to me, to us. Why put her in unnecessary danger, right after we lost that big jerk sitting between us?
“Before you realize it's on you. It sinks its fangs into you. You need to make your saving throw.” Daryl said to her. Gabby looked scared. She had managed to avoid death skillfully through these many hours of treacherous adventure. She had already made two successful saves already tonight. Why Daryl? I thought. Why would you do that to me, when everything was finally right with the world?
As Gabby picked up the see-through, amber colored D20 unease grew in the pit in my stomach. I knew something bad was going to happen. She looked nervous herself as she threw. The die was cast and seemed to roll in slow motion. All of our eyes were fixated on the die. It finally ground to a halt. It was a 3.
“Ohhhh!” Both Daryl and Ryan said simultaneously. I was speechless.
“What does that mean? Is Dispara dead?” She asked, as her face became red and tears welled in her eyes.
“Yeah.” Said Daryl. “Dispara starts to gag and convulse on the ground.” I could see all of Gabby’s joy and excitement leave her, like her very soul was vacating her body. She loved that character. She was having so much fun. She had just acquired some amazing new magic items, had added them to her character sheet. She was already talking about using them in the next adventure.
“Isn’t there anything I can do?” She asked desperately. My heart was aching for her. I was so angry with Daryl that I didn’t even think about the situation, and my character. The game was still on.
“No. Your character is convulsing. What do you want to do?” Daryl looked at me with a bit of a grin.
“Oh. Let me Cure Poison.” I yelled out.
“You can do that?” Gabby asked with a light of hope in her eyes.
“I think so.” I said and grabbed the Players Handbook. Flipping through the pages to my classes section I found the only thing I was capable of doing was slowing the poison. My cleric Aldrith was only a sixth level cleric, so I could not neutralize the poison. I wasn’t capable of that power yet. I wasn’t sure what slowing the poison would really accomplish, but the way she was looking at me, with such hope and belief in me, I had to figure this out.
“I’ll cast Slow Poison.” I told Daryl. He agreed that I was capable of that power. He explained that Dispara was now stable but we didn’t have much time.
“You have six turns.” He said menacingly. Ryan looked at me with a confused, ‘What now?’ look. I wasn’t sure. But I figured, there had to be a way. Suddenly I got an idea.
“Daryl. You said there was a bunch of corpses in the hall of the queen spider? Adventurers that had been slain before we got there?”
“Yes.” He acknowledged.
“Ok. Everyone search the bodies! Look for any potions that they might have on them.” Sure enough, we found a dead dwarf skeleton that had a pouch with a potion inside. Daryl explained the potion contained a note. Trouble was, it was written in dwarvish, he said. None of our characters are able to read dwarvish, we were all humans, except Dispara, she was an elf. “Can we revive Dispara? Long enough to read what the note says?” I asked. Daryl agreed that if I Cured Light Wounds on her there was a chance she would regain consciousness. It worked. She was awakened. “What does the note say?” I asked.
“It says, take this in case of bite.” Daryl smiled. Gabby screamed out with joy. Ryan and I high-fived. We gave Dispara the potion and she was saved. Gabby looked at me like I was the greatest hero the world had ever seen.
After we completed the session, we realized it was about 10:30. Daryl and Ryan were packing up their gear. Gabby met me outside the men’s room.
“Hey! The snack bar is still open for a half hour.” Gabby said to me. “I have a few bucks. Want to get an ice cream with me?”
“Yes.” I said. “I’d like that a lot.” Daryl and Ryan smiled from across the room and gave me a thumbs up.
Later as we enjoyed our cones, Gabby went on about how brilliant it was for me to search the bodies. She was so happy that Dispara would live to see another adventure. I was so happy that I was walking her back to the dorm again. Ice cream had never tasted so sweet.