Does your Dungeon Master call you by another wizard’s name? Does your cleric always seem to heal you last? Is your rogue’s chainmail extra shiny? The signs are all there.
Your D&D party is cheating on you.
Seventy-five percent of Dungeons & Dragons players have multiple groups they play in. Okay that number is entirely made up but I didn’t have time to do a formal market research study. What I did do was ask around the office and came up with a really high percentage of D&D players who have multiple D&D partners. A really high percentage! Have these people no respect for the sanctity of the party?
I’m not totally naïve. I know members of my party have been two-timing me or (gasp!) still playing in other groups. (This is what the rest of Duran Duran must have felt like when Andy and John ran off with the Power Station.) Adam has played with friends outside of work for years so if anything, they’re the ones who should feel slighted by the new, younger, fresher group he moonlights with. Scott was coerced into another group, but that was playtesting so I don’t count that … not to mention we were on a break when it happened. And Marty -- that commitment-phobe! He’s the epitome of a player player, subscribing to the "open gaming relationship" theory. And he’s a bi-player -- DM’ing and PC’ing depending on the group. He’s got two games going at work (including ours) and two others outside of work. That’s four D&D groups, in case you’re counting. FOUR. I have no idea how he has time for all of this, let alone how he keeps us all straight. The first time he calls me by another wizard's name, it’s over.
I knew Teddy, our old DM, was doing double duty. In addition to our group, he DM’ed another group at work. We referred to them as The Wednesday Group.
According to Teddy, those overachieving sewer rats were a level ahead of us because they had less table talk, made quicker decisions, and got through more than one encounter per session because they didn’t treat their characters like tiny, newborn bluebirds perched on dainty tree branches. Man, what a snoozefest they must have been. What Teddy was really saying was The Wednesday Group was bor-ing, but he was too much of a gentleman to come out with it.
I tried to be mature about Teddy’s fling and give him his space, figuring he’d have his fun and be over it. The real kicker came when a television crew wanted to come by and film a D&D game. When they saw how much fun we were having, we’d no doubt be asked to star in our own pilot. I could hardly wait! Monday rolled around and we sat in our usual spots around the table in our finest threads. Our hands -- perched on the table in front of us -- made us look more like kids in Sunday school rather than coworkers about to embark on a journey through the wilds of Khorvaire. This, coupled with our demure attitudes and softly articulated commands, such as "I’d like to take out my longsword and stab the offending party in the gut," gave Teddy pause.
"What’s wrong with you guys?" he asked.
"We don’t want to look bad on TV," Adam answered.
"Yeah," Linae answered. "We’re practicing."
"Where is the crew anyway?" Scott asked.
"And where’s craft services?" I asked. "I’m starving."
Teddy’s laugh was vociferous -- the kind that made cartoon characters look windblown. We half expected tumbleweeds and cows to whiz by our heads. He was practically doubled over and had trouble catching his breath.
Scott rushed to help him.
"If you want to be on TV," he said between hiccups, "You’ll need to be here on Wednesday."
Scott returned to his seat.
Oh ha ha. Funny, Teddy! Be here Wednesday? Like we’re understudies? Why not just come home late one night reeking like The Wednesday Group and tell us how bad we would look in high definition. Why not just turn us all into NPCs and let your other group off us one by one? What did they have that we didn’t have, Teddy?
Undeniably, my trust had been compromised, but now that I have a new DM I’m looking for a fresh start. Fortunately, my fellow party members don’t flaunt their D&D discretions. Scott never talks about it because he signed an NDA. Adam hardly talks about his other friends, and when he does it’s usually in regards to some peripheral event that happened while he was playing. Marty, surprisingly, has become so adept at polygamous play, I’ve never heard him mention his other 43 groups unless provoked. Once, I caught him sneaking back to his desk on a Friday afternoon, probably assuming everyone had left for the day. When I asked him what he was still doing there he answered sheepishly, "I need to get more minis," which is really not a weird response for just about any question asked at Wizards.
"What are you doing in the supply cabinet?"
I need to get more minis.
"Do you want to go to lunch?"
Sure. I need to get more minis.
"Did you have a good weekend?"
Nope. I need to get more minis.
It wasn’t until I saw the telltale blue and green dry-erase smudges on his fingers that I realized where he was taking those minis.
"Right here in the building, Marty?"
"Yep. Same room even."
Ouch! The nerve, bringing them into our room. I wonder who’s sitting in my chair? Who’s throwing a magic missile at those minis of his? Is she higher level than me? Does she know how to use a crossbow and a longsword? Oh Marty, what you do to a girl’s elf esteem!
It occurred to me that maybe I’m the one the missing out here. Aren’t we all after experience points anyway? Playing in several games would allow you to try out many different characters. And you’d probably be a savvier player if you were facing three times as many encounters. You might even say polygamous play is an asset to every party. As long as you didn’t take rations from one group to feed the other, maybe having multiple partners isn’t such a no-no.
I didn’t have time to form a new side group before my next game, so I just eliminated that step. I invented the ultimate D&D super group. My side dish is so bad ass, they’re … unbelievable. By the time Tuesday rolled around, my imaginary super group and I had been storming castles for years.
At our next session, New DM was writing notes on the whiteboard. He brought homemade hummus and pita today, which my first loves were happily digging into.
"Bret, my other cleric, makes the best hummus," I said, testing the waters. No response.
…partners acting distant…
"He makes his own pitas too," I added. Still nothing.
I let it slide as New DM picked up where we left off. The whole party was bottlenecked in some hallway leading into what looks like the hobgoblin prom and we were about to crash it. Somehow Tara, my wizard, was at the helm.
"Look at the muscles on Tara," Scott says. "Has she been drinking?"
"Maybe she thought this was a general admission Bon Jovi concert," Marty says, which sets half the group off in laughter and the rest of us -- okay me -- into a wobbly rendition of Living on a Prayer. How apropos.
"Roll for initiative," New DM says.
"My other DM likes to say, ‘roll for initiative, please,’" I say.
"That’s nice," New DM says. "What’d you roll?"
Really now -- could these people be that thick? Maybe I actually should be cheating on them. Finally Scott takes the bait.
"Are you talking about Teddy?" he asks. "Man, get over it. He’s not coming back."
…prone to lashing out? …Playing the victim…?
"Not Teddy," I shout. "Murray."
"You don’t have another DM," Adam says. "I rolled a 12."
"Uh huh," I say, taking a nice big bite of pita. "I rolled a 15."
"Liar," Scott says. "16."
…easily provoked…making false accusations…?
"Name them," Marty commands in the same tone Vera, his cleric, demands we heal ourselves.
Do you ever kill time between your turns by stacking all your dice on top of one another? Just when you’re about to top it off with a d4 cherry, the whole thing caves in on itself? Well, that’s me under pressure. I wasn’t expecting the interrogation and I kind of crumbled.
"Umm … there’s Jemaine. He’s the ranger. And … Eugene … our rogue."
"Don’t forget Dave and Mel, your familiars," New DM says with a laugh, but his no-show dimples can’t belie the hurt of my betrayal. Well too bad! I’m a woman scorned so I hit him where it hurts.
"Murray smells like papaya and chocolate," I blurt out. "Best. Smell. Ever." He tries to hide it, but I see him flinch.
"Are you sure he doesn't smell like kiwi and chocolate?" he fires back apparently knowing how to hit me where it hurts.
All right. D&D is about fantasy but maybe playing with your imaginary celebrity friends isn’t the right idea. Besides, my heart can’t take obsessing over the safety of more than one character.
I managed to get Tara out of the bottleneck relatively unscathed. My pride, on the other hand, needed some healing. Just as I was about to accept the fact that committing to just one party simply wasn’t in our nature, I ran into Madeline from the Wednesday Group.
"You guys are so lucky to be playing D&D again," she said.
I agreed. Have I mentioned how much fun 4th Edition is? Sorry, Madeline.
"Why don’t you ask our New DM to run a game for you guys?" I suggested. If you can’t fix them, might as well fix them up.
"We did," she sighed, "but he declined. Said he was already committed and didn’t want to take the focus off your group."
Oh wow. New DM has had offers to spread his hummus around? From the soon-to-be Emmy-nominated Wednesday Group, no less. And he declined?
Experience may be the best teacher, but it doesn’t make you the best player. Polygamy might work for some, but apparently New DM and I had something in common. We were both saving ourselves for "the one."