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Ninth-Level Dork
By Ali Davis

This is difficult for me to say in public, but I miss my Dungeons and Dragons Group. I had one back in Chicago and I haven't hooked up with a new one in the few months since I've moved to Los Angeles. Which, when I think about it, is fine. I mean, it's a big commitment - you don't want to just rush into one. Besides, my group back in Chicago was my first group, and you don't ever forget that.

That's right: I am no ordinary D&D nerd. I started playing as an adult. I wanted to play back when it was age-appropriate, but none of the boys in my class would ever let me into a game. I had the D&D basic set, I had the dice, I had my first module. I rolled character after character. My dad, who had no sons, even gave me the little lead figurines for Christmas. Dad gave me a Balrog so big that his wings came separately and had to be soldered on. I was all armored up with nowhere to go. I tried to get a game up with my girlfriends and they wouldn't do it. They couldn't even get through my explanation of the four basic character classes (which are, of course, Fighter, Magic User, Cleric and Thief).

So you can imagine my thrill when, at 29, one of the guys at the theater where I was performing sidled up to me and asked me to go into the green room with him for a minute. From his manner it looked like he was going to offer me either drugs or state secrets, but no: he had a game going. There was a possibility of a spot opening up and he'd heard - I still have no idea how - that I might be into it. Oh, I was into it. He said good, and to keep it quiet or else everyone would want some, and that he'd be in touch.

So I was waitlisted for a Dungeons and Dragons group. For a year. I finally joined my first campaign at the age of 30.

I had assumed, just based on my personality, that I would be a sort of intellectual character. A brilliant sorcerer or a clever thief. In a pinch, I'd accept being a wise cleric. (Though, honestly, nobody really wants to be a cleric. They can turn the undead and all, but they're still boring.) But what the party needed, it turned out, was muscle. I was not going back on the wait list, so I became a fighter. Specifically, an Elven warrior with a specialization in longsword. And that's a full elf, by the way. You can talk about how half-elves are more balanced characters 'til you're blue in the face: Life is about making strong choices.

Being a fighter changed me. I had to learn to think like a warrior. Or rather, to not-think like a warrior. My normal life strategy when faced with a difficult situation is to think hard about all my possible options, try to understand the points of view of the other people involved, ask for advice from a few trusted friends, do a little research on the internet, ask those same friends about the new information my research uncovered, do a little writing in my journal, and then think some more before coming to a careful but not intractable decision. My job as a warrior was to immediately wade in and start kicking ass and then keep kicking ass until there was no ass left to be kicked. I caught myself audibly sighing and rolling my eyes during extended peace negotiations.

I began to think about my body differently, which is to say, at all. Once I no longer had to worry about those damned Presidential Physical Fitness tests, I'd pretty much decided that my relationship with the region below my neck was over. Sure, I took it to the gym regularly for a grudging ride on the stationary bike, but even that was secretly an excuse to get some reading in. I stayed away from company and theater-league softball teams because I was certain that I'd suck and drive people crazy. I just assumed that noncompetition was my best course of action. When, in the middle of an August afternoon game, I looked up at my dungeon master and said, "Wait. I have blindfighting skills. Can't I get out of this circle of darkness by doing a flip off the top of the wagon?" and all he said was "Sure, just do a dexterity check," I knew something good was going on.

My character approached her romantic life differently too. Oh, yes, they can have romantic lives. Dungeons and Dragons is still at heart a game for 14-year-old boys: Trust me, your character can get laid whenever it wants to. In real life, the surest sign that I've got a crush on you is that I've stopped speaking to you altogether. You might, at most, get the occasional e-mail along the lines of "Good show last night!" If you're exceptionally observant, you might notice that the time stamp is a bit off, which is explained by the fact that said e-mail took five hours to compose. I'm not good at telling if my interest is being returned, so it takes a little extra effort on your part. I mean, there are so many other reasons why a man might choose to drop by at 3am. Holding up carefully-lettered little signs is helpful, but you have to be sure that they're clearly worded. This is a true story: A woman once painted a picture of two naked women for me and brought it to my apartment and I still couldn't tell if she was interested in me or not.

My character, on the other hand, would see something she liked across a crowded tavern, slam him, her or it against the wall, and make her chosen target understand through the sheer power of her gaze just how good a time they'd be having if they joined her upstairs.

A side I'm less proud of came out too. It crept in slowly; I only really noticed it after our battle with the Swamp Hag. She was incredibly powerful and had been dogging our party for months: swooping in for a nighttime raid, kicking our butts, and then using her invisibility - which in a swamp hag is an inherent ability and NOT a spell - to escape before we could lay a finger on her. We'd finally tracked her to her lair and I was going to take her down. T.J. the cleric had rigged his staff to let us see her even when she was invisible and I was whaling on her (+2 intelligent longsword, thank you very much). Finally after months and months we were fighting, woman to woman. And then, just as I had her, just as I was about to deal my deathblow, she dropped her weapon, sank to her knees, and begged for mercy. My dungeon master even demonstrated, looking into my eyes and clasping his hands in supplication.

I am a fourth-generation bleeding-heart liberal. I have marched for peace. I have donated to the ACLU and written sternly worded e-mails about the treatment of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. What I did to the unarmed, gravely wounded woman kneeling before me and pleading for her life was cut off her head. Specifically, I stuck my sword straight forward through her neck, then gave it two quick whacks to the sides to sever the head completely.

I stand by my actions.

It is true that we later found no evidence of potions or magical weapons in her lair. Nor, true, was there any reason to believe that she had had any time to memorize more spells. But I couldn't afford to take that chance! It was for the good of the party! DON'T YOU FUCKING JUDGE ME UNTIL YOU'VE BEEN OUT THERE IN THE TRENCHES YOURSELF! That hag ripped the left half of my face off! Do you know how many healing potions it takes to get over a thing like that? BECAUSE I DO!

I'm still glad I did it, even though I got my alignment busted down from Chaotic/Good to Chaotic/Neutral. Well, it wasn't just because of that. It was that plus the fact that I'd killed a prisoner earlier in the game, also for a really good reason: I didn't want to have to drag him through the swamp with us while he ate all of our food.

So Dungeons and Dragons did a lot for me. It made me a little more understanding of rabid, war hawk conservatives. That part of me may be deeply, deeply buried, but all the gods of the Forgotten Realms know that it is, indeed, there. Sitting around in Jason Chin's living room pretending, oddly enough, is the thing that's made me most conscious of and confident with my body. I'm not saying that getting into that whitewater raft less than a year after I started playing was a direct result of D & D, but choosing to sit in the front seat was.

And, most importantly, Dungeons and Dragons taught me that sometimes it's important to just wade in and be direct about what you want. So if there are any other dorks out there, I'd really, really like to get a game going.

I'll even play the cleric.

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