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A Vast, Indoor Mockup of a Sleazy Medieval Slum

June 2nd, 2006

A vast, indoor mockup of a sleazy medieval slum, shrouded in perpetual darkness, in which a vast and perpetual game of live-action D&D is played. I stumbled upon this phenomenon somewhat by accident, joining with a band of six or seven adventurers including Charlie Finlay as human ranger/party leader and Toby Buckell as disgruntled halfling thief. (Note disturbing parallels to Order of the Stick throughout.) I played (surprise) a dwarf fighter pretending to be a burglar.

In the absence of moderators or DMs, the adventuring and combat systems were based on a set of tradable cards printed with objectives and spells and combat regulations. These cards also functioned as currency; accomplishing an objective was worth certain stated quantities of gold and XP.

On my first attempt I rather made a mess of things; my objective was to retrieve some pulsing blue orb from the hoard of a rival band of adventurers who were hoarding it. The card was worth quite a lot, but what with my clumsy misunderstanding of the rules and my general roleplaying rustiness I severely fucked up my group’s chances, leaving Tobias, if not the rest of them, rather resentful.

I vowed to improve.

I returned the next night with a newfound resolve and a black cape lined in red silk slung over my shoulders. Again my allies made sharp remarks about my poor performance, though Finlay, being a good leader, remained diplomatic. I kept silent, resolving to prove my worth by actions, not words. Our objective that evening was an ambitious one: to infiltrate and loot our rival band’s very lair: an expansive set of apartments next door to a popular and thoroughly raunchy cabaret theater.

As our band made its way through the evening’s crowds, I jostled my way to the front, paying only half attention to their debate of the strategies of frontal assault and subterfuge. Being the newest member of their band, I knew I was the least recognizable, and relying on my high charisma and dashing black cape, I figured I could infiltrate and scout their stronghold without their ever catching on to my malicious intent.

In retrospect, I should have given my fellows more credit and let them in on my plan. As it was, I assumed they wouldn’t give me the chance, and anyhow they’d probably still be arguing by the time I got back. Alas, I failed to anticipate how well my ruse would work.
I was making for a side entrance to our enemies’ compound, running over plausible excuses for my intrusion in my head, when one of their number reached over the railing of a low balcony to pluck at my cape. I recognized her: a low-level witch draped in flimsy black gauze (played here by Natalie Portman), who, by her dress and demeanor, seemed to have taken advantage of her proximity to the cabaret by offering her services as a lady of the evening.

She invited me to join her. Not wanting to seem too eager, I declined. “I am going to the cabaret,” I told her. She made a pert face and released me.

I strolled on to the cabaret box office and made brief perusal of the bills pasted in the window. Then I returned to the foot of the stair that led to Ms. Portman’s aerie. “This evening’s show has already sold out,” I told her.

“What a shame,” she said, and held out a hand.

As she led me in through the balcony door, I craned my neck behind me to search for my allies in the crowd. They were nowhere to be seen.

Our arch-rivals’ lair resembled one of Tufts’ Hillside Apartments. Every available surface was cluttered with pizza boxes, empty two-liter soda bottles and fake weapons. A television flickered in the common room; a few of her housemates lay sprawled on the couches, oblivious to our presence. Realizing I was as-yet unarmed, I plucked a plastic basket-hilted dagger from a countertop and slid it through the back of my belt.

Natalie’s room was actually on the ground floor; at the top of the stairs she turned to me, wrapped her fingers in my cape. “So I hear you’re a burglar,” she said.

“Not tonight,” I answered. “Tonight, I’m a kidnapper.” I lifted her up in my arms and carried her down the stairs.

Near the bottom, an enormous foam-sheathed broadsword leaned against the wall, as tall as Natalie herself. I set her on her feet and reached back to grab it; just as I did so she caught me by the other wrist and pulled me into her room.
She kissed me.

My response might have been more convincing had there not at that moment been a loud crash, followed by shouting and the clash of plastic swords. Over her head, through the half-open door, I saw Charlie and Toby and the rest of my crew battling their way past. Apparently they’d chosen the brute-force option.

Natalie pushed me back towards the bed. I sat down, resting the broadsword on the floor between my legs. The plastic dagger in my belt dug into my back. She got down on her knees, wrapped her hands pornographically around the hilt with an utterly mischievous expression on her face.

Then the door swung wide, one of her housemates toppled through it to the floor with Toby roaring on top of him, and I started awake.

It was quarter to seven. I went back to sleep, and found myself seated in the lair of my own adventuring party with Charlie and Toby. It was morning, with sun streaming in through the windows. They were about to critique a short story of mine. I was nervous because basically what I’d done was a complete retelling of one of Toby’s old stories. But we never got the chance to discuss it, because just then another member of our party burst in with some kind of security tape of what had happened the night before. It showed the melee in Natalie’s room, just after I had woken up. It showed me pulling the dagger from my belt, grabbing Natalie around the waist and slitting her throat. Absurdly bright red blood flooded everywhere.

I couldn’t figure out what the hell was going on. I had no memory of what I was seeing, and I couldn’t believe I would have done such a thing. We fell to arguing. Every few minutes somebody else from the group would arrive and the argument would escalate. Before long everybody but Charlie was shouting themselves red in the face.

Then Natalie herself came in, and there was silence.

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