Anna Andersen
September 22, 2015 8:30 am

It’s Tuesday, so when my husband Chris gets the green light from Brooklyn, we settle in the office to play internet Dungeons & Dragons with the rest of our party, the Danger Gang. The DG’s current lineup—Noah, Mike, Phil, and Ed—is attempting to prevent the destruction of the moon and/or the creation of a substitute moon that will bring the world under the control of the sinister Dr. Yue Lao (Ph.D.). For tonight’s session, we’re not sure what to do next: assemble an ecumenical posse to fight Lao’s demon henchmen, or pursue the magical means to repair the damage they’ve already done.

Also, we seem to be trapped in a pocket dimension? It happens.

In a way, Chris and I met over Dungeons and Dragons—or rather, Mazes & Monsters, the legally distinct role-playing game (or RPG) featured in the enjoyably awful movie of the same name. Mutual friends had planned a bad movie night during my visit to Brooklyn in 2008; Chris was there, he was totally cute…and for a year, said mutual friends told us how perfect we were for each other. I moved to New York and our first date was eight days later. We’ve been together the six years since, marrying in 2012.

I often say joining Chris’s D&D game was how I knew things were getting serious. RPGs had never been part of my particular brand of nerdery, though I’d laid good groundwork: I was a drama kid in high school, played a lot of Magic: The Gathering with my little brother, and had a soft spot for any novel with dragons in it (blame Anne McCaffrey). So when Chris asked me along one Tuesday, I was flattered and excited, never having been invited before. But I was also nervous, especially when he told me I had to participate, not just observe. What if I didn’t play right? What if the guys in the game didn’t really want a girl around?

I needn’t have worried. Dungeonmaster Hal’s game has been going on for over a decade, with a changing cast of players trying to thwart the forces of chaos in the alternate history he’s woven out of global legends and esoteric lore. While the party may be currently all-male, they’ve never once made me feel out of place because of my gender or relative lack of experience. I still sometimes wrestle with the complicated mental arithmetic required for battle—we play Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, 2nd Edition, which has an inelegant and confusing combat system—but if the game comes to a halt for thirty seconds while I add everything up? It’s cool.

Five years (and five in-game deaths) later, I’m still playing the character I came up with that first night, walking with Chris through the streets of midtown Manhattan: Marcella, a Sicilian half-elf ranger. She’s loosely based on comic-strip icon Mark Trail, with whom she shares a love of cute animals and a penchant for beating up bad guys. Marcella was quiet at first, as I got to know the other players and the story so far; I gained confidence as she racked up experience points and acquired a couple of badass swords, and now I play her with a blend of belligerence and soft-heartedness that I aspire to in real life. She’ll bathe in the blood of a slain dragon, sure—but she’s still mourning her pet mouse Frederick, who fell victim to a nuckelavee, the only monster in the whole Manual whose presence is fatal to small mammals. RIP, little buddy.

Chris’s current character, the avaricious gnome Karl Shinyhands, is Chaotic Neutral. Gem-obsessed Karl is a high-level thief and a tough fighter; while he’s certainly an asset to the Danger Gang, Karl’s true loyalty is to his own amusement. Unpredictable hijinks result: for example, peeing on a rug belonging to a horned crocodile demon, straight-up punching a dragon in the nose. Chris plays Karl to the hilt, using a ridiculous grizzled-old-prospector voice, and his shenanigans make me laugh until I cough on a regular basis. But Karl isn’t just comic relief—he’s id personified, giving Chris an excuse to shed inhibition, to behave impulsively and even recklessly, as he never does in real life.

Occasionally, Chris also plays Arben, a Romani bard with a wooden leg and charisma out the wazoo. When Arben travels with the DG, he’s the voice of the party, always seeking to “build bridges in the community,” rather than fight first and ask questions later. His True Neutral alignment, though, means he’ll seek to build those bridges with pretty much anybody, whether they’re hostile or friendly, or whether their goals align with the party’s. Sometimes, his gift of gab has kept us out of battles we were sure to lose. At others, he makes polite but counterproductive decisions: eating the food offered by the Tuatha de Dannan, for instance, thus trapping himself in their realm.

In real life, Chris isn’t the easiest guy to read (I, on the other hand, am an open book). He’s been accused of being emotionless or robotic; D&D gave me more context to understand him. While to my knowledge, Chris has never made a Faustian bargain with a lich, I’ve come to realize he otherwise approaches life like Arben does: be friendly, be reasonable, and listen to everyone, whether you agree with them or not. Their shared neutrality isn’t apathy at all, but openness, thoughtfulness, and kindness.

I asked Chris how he thinks my own personality shows through when we’re playing; the first thing he mentioned was empathy, “how much you wanna stand up for the little guy”—for instance, Marcella’s carving out a chunk of her own thigh to feed to an enchanted snake, rather than sacrifice a mouse. That’s less revelation than my usual self dialed up to 11, he admits: “You’re less restrained than I am, so you need less of an outlet that way? I’m very guarded.”

I don’t have to wait for a Tuesday night to see Chris with his guard down, of course—despite the differences in how we experience and express emotion, we have an easy, comfortable relationship. But playing D&D together helps keeps us strong: whether we’re fighting giant mummified bees or dealing with the insurance company, we face the world as a team. We’re in this adventure together.

[Image via Wikipedia]

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