rambling

Rolling the Dice: Adventuring and Learning With New D&D Players

I found myself standing knee-deep in a river at the mouth of a pitch-black cave, with small orbs of light dancing around me. One of my companions stood between the river and a large rocky incline about twenty feet ahead of me, and, unluckily for him, this spot was visible from a bridge overhanging the river and the path we were following. Our enemies atop the bridge spotted us with no trouble.

“Roll for initiative,” my brother said. Two of us rattled off our numbers with no trouble, and another two needed gentle reminders of where their initiative bonus was on their character sheets. Three of our rather large adventuring party were brand new to the game, and we helped them calculate their initiative before my brother set up our turn order on his DM screen.

It was the Sunday night before Memorial Day, I wasn’t working, and eight of us were gathered around our huge extendable/retractable table to play and/or learn Dungeons and Dragons.

For those not in the know, eight people sitting at a table to play D&D is a ridiculous number of people. This means that one of those eight is the DM, or dungeon master, and they guide the party along as they experience the trials and tribulations relevant to the overarching story. They set up combat encounters, ability checks, and anything else necessary to progress the story. If you, as a player, decide to do something a little wacky, the DM’s duty is to adapt to your action and come up with a suitable outcome. The best DMs are flexible and creative, and even though I’ve only played tabletop role-playing games with two people at the helm, I can tell my brother is a skilled DM.

On this night, he has to be, because he’s introducing the game to three of our friends, and for another two of our friends, it’s only their second session. My stepbrother and I are the only people in our adventuring party who have extended prior experience with the game, so we help our brother create characters for the new players.

It may be easier to follow along if I set up a short list of players and their characters. Without further ado:

Alex, aka my brother: DM and general D&D wizard

Chris, aka me: Reynard, level 1 rogue

Kit, aka my stepbrother: Raath, level 1 fighter

Jack, aka a great childhood friend of ours: Morthos, level 1 warlock

Alyssa, aka Jack’s girlfriend and our friend: Naivara, level 1 sorcerer

Cody, aka another childhood friend of ours: Danger Dan, level 1 fighter

Luigi, aka our friend: Leeroy Jenkins, level 1 paladin

Savannah, aka Luigi’s girlfriend and our friend: Sage, level 1 wizard

Keep in mind that I may have gotten some things wrong; I can’t quite remember which class Raath actually was, since level 1 can make many characters who don’t wield magic seem almost samey, but I do believe Raath was a fighter. If I find out the truth later, I’ll amend this post.

Anyway, the final three people on that list were brand new to the game. We had plans to meet around 8 o’clock since I was working until 7 and everyone else had plans of some kind until the late evening. As it turns out, I got home around 8:15 to find Kit and Alex extending the table to accommodate our huge party, and everyone else filtered in until Luigi and Savannah capped off our party around 9 o’clock. By this point, Cody’s character was mostly finished, and Kit and Alex rushed like mad to make characters for Luigi and Savannah.

Let me say it here: if you’re planning to be committed to a D&D group, it helps to at least skim the player’s handbook, and think for at least a little while about the sort of character you want to inhabit every session. In this instance, extenuating circumstances pushed us to rush things a bit; Jack and Alyssa were only visiting town for a few nights, there was only time to play one session, and the likelihood of all eight of us getting together again to continue this campaign is rather slim. This being said, it’s not as though Luigi, Savannah, and Cody have to dump their characters completely in the future, or stick to them – the options in D&D are many, and depending on the make-up of any future groups, these characters can be edited, altered, and/or completely ignored to fit the preferences of the players and the needs of the story. Contrary to popular belief, Dungeons and Dragons is a flexible game, and it may bend to the will of its players.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes. We sort of rushed the three brand new characters out of necessity, and if any of those players was disappointed in the outcome, I can understand their feelings. Still, we had set up a group that could jump into a pre-established quest we were already going through, and I think my brother handled it with finesse.

So I stood behind Naivara as goblins started shooting arrows at Raath, and I calculated my chances of getting through this cave alive. I had, moments before (in-game, although many months had passed since that previous D&D session), been washed out of the cave by a cascade of water let loose by the crafty goblin bastards. I took a lot of damage during that underwater tumble. I only had 3 of my 9 (lol squishy rogue) hit points remaining. I was justifiably afraid for my life.

Luckily for me, Naivara is a clever sorcerer, and she had a plan. She launched a firebolt at the distant bridge, and the damn thing caught fire. Six goblins also caught fire. The whole plan was a success, and I felt a little less fear knowing that my companions could thin our enemy’s numbers while we pushed on.

As goblins shrieked in pain and fear, Morthos walked forward to explore more of the cave, and Raath attempted to climb the rocky incline. He was unsuccessful, and slid back down to his original spot.

Meanwhile, our three new players found themselves chained to a rock in a dark cave, with nothing in their possession but the clothes on their backs and a stick. That stick, it turns out, was actually a wizard’s staff, and those foolish goblins let the wizard walk in with a vengeance. Before she could wreak revenge, however, her hands had to be free, and this is where Danger Dan rocks the room. Quite literally – Danger Dan found a rock, hefted it in his chained hands, and utterly smashed the manacles chaining Sage’s hands together. With her freed hands, Sage cast Mage Hand and picked up the keys that were hanging on the wall close by. She succeeded in freeing everyone except the mysterious human next to them, until Leeroy Jenkins accidentally tossed the keys far away. He couldn’t see, you see; every character but Leeroy and Reynard had Darkvision, and could see in the cave’s darkness. Naivara cast Dancing Lights on Reynard so he could see a bit, but poor Leeroy was blind. When asked to pass the keys, Leeroy heard echoes, thought the person was far away, and threw the keys away.

This created a small setback, but Sage only needed to cast Mage Hand again to retrieve the keys and finish freeing everyone. This group of four (three players plus one NPC controlled by the DM) proceeded down some stairs to a storage room that contained their weapons; this was fortuitous, as the groups of goblins that escaped the carnage of the burning bridge were making their way back to the prisoners’ area. A fight was in the making.

Cut back to Reynard, who has watched Raath attempt a climb only to slip and fail. Reynard is dexterous and acrobatic – he knows he can make it up this incline. So he steps past Raath, says “Let me show you how it’s done,” and wall jumps up the rocky rubble with a flourish. Bolstered by this show of confidence, Raath attempts the climb again – only to fail a second time. (Let it be said here that Kit’s history with dice rolling is a grim one, and he tends toward bad rolls, as he puts it.) Still, Naivara wishes to stick with someone from her group, so she follows Reynard. Ever the helpful sort, Raath uses the Assist action to help Naivara climb the rocks. She makes it up to Reynard easily, and vows to help him climb the next incline.

If only things were that simple. Naivara clasps her hands together to make a foothold, and Reynard steps into her grasp only to find that helping climbers is harder than it looks. Naivara’s hands slip, and Reynard stumbles forward to hit his head on a rock. He loses 1 hit point to bludgeoning damage, and in his concussed state, he attempts to tie his silk rope to a hold and pass it to Raath. One failed survivalist check later, and Reynard has tried to set his rope under a rock before tossing it to Raath, and when Raath pulls on the rope, it flies from under the rock and falls down in a heap at his feet. Let this be a lesson: don’t try to tie down ropes while you’re concussed. Things just go wrong from there.

So Reynard vows to assist Naivara in climbing the incline he just failed to climb, to make up for his tomfoolery. Reynard clasps his hands together to make a foothold, and Naivara steps into his grasp only to find that helping climbers is harder than it looks. Reynard’s hands slip, and Naivara stumbles forward to hit her head on a rock. She loses 1 hit point to bludgeoning damage, and at this point both she and Reynard think on how to climb this stupid rock face. That’s when Naivara remembers: she has pitons and ropes in her pack. After some head-slapping and grumbling, Reynard and Naivara manage to make a pretty solid rope system that extends from the top of the rocky incline to the bank of the underground river. Naivara climbs her rope system to find …

Danger Dan, Leeroy Jenkins, and Sage all preparing for a fight. Goblins are making their way down the passage that starts at the burning bridge, and Sage doesn’t want to meet them face to face. So she casts Sleep, and the foremost two groups of goblins zonk out in the middle of the passage. The third is stopped in their tracks by their friends sleeping on the ground, and they spend precious time waking up their companions. But it’s too late! Leeroy Jenkins is a dragonborn, and he can spit acid breath. This he does, and all three groups of goblins melt into a gooey, messy puddle as Leeroy basks in his success and Naivara talks to the NPC (who happens to know the same person our whole group is trying to locate).

No one knows where the dude is, but it’s possible that the boss of the goblins knows where he is, so we all band together to take down Clarg, the mysterious jerk who’s been yelling at us from his hiding spot far off in the depths of the cave. Morthos and Raath have gone ahead to find a set of stairs leading to a big room from which Clarg’s voice emanates, and they’ve decided to wait for the advantage of numbers before tangling with the boss. As Reynard makes his way to Morthos and Raath, he notices two goblins hiding behind rocks. He tells his friends about the goblins, but it’s too little, too late!

A goblin peeks out and fires a shot at Raath, who takes enough damage to be knocked unconscious. Morthos is the closest to Raath, so he decides to run forward and attack one of the goblins who threatens his friend. His magic attack goes wide, though, and the next best option is to get up close and personal while Leeroy makes his way to rescue Raath. Reynard runs forward despite his deep wounds, and tries to stab the goblin behind the rock. His swing misses, however, and he runs back to a cave passage to stay safe. The goblin’s attack of opportunity misses, and Reynard sits in silence and fear as Leeroy and the rest of the group press forward to save Raath.

Leeroy finally makes it to our downed comrade, and he Lays on Hands to heal Raath. With 1 hp to stabilize himself, Raath is back up, though he is still hurting. At this point, Morthos has finally incinerated one of the pesky goblins, and the other goblin runs back to Clarg’s hiding place in fear. Naivara follows and kills the goblin before it can make it to safety, and she presses on with bravery to get a better look at Clarg’s lair. She summons a mirror to get a better look at the cave, and in the reflection she sees a giant wolf sleeping on dirty skins and furs. So we know about the big wolf, and through deduction, we all know that Clarg is probably on the other side of the cave. Feeling confident, Morthos runs past Naivara …

Only to get whacked in the face by Clarg. It turns out Clarg was hiding just beyond the staircase, out of sight of the group and the mirror that Naivara summoned. Morthos is injured, but not fatally, and as a Tiefling, he can respond with a hellish rebuke. I wait with bated breath as Alex rolls the dice to see if Clarg succeeds in a saving throw, and my excitement is rewarded. “And Clarg dies,” my brother says with a shake of his head. “His AC is 18 and a long fight would have ensued if you’d attacked him normally, but Hellish Rebuke requires a saving throw. That’s a lower threshold, and he died because of it. Jack pretty much looked at him, said ‘DIE!,’ and lit him on fire.”

My hands are in the air and I’m cheering at this point, because we all feared this encounter. Level 1 is difficult, and we’re all pretty weak. I only have 2 hp remaining. Then our celebration is cut short as Alex reminds us “The big wolf woke up, and he’s pissed.”

Oh shit. Morthos is right there, ten feet away from the wolf, but his turn already passed and he was damaged by Clarg. The next person to go is me. With only 2 hp left, it’s possible that any fuck-ups on my part will be followed by a character death. MY character’s death. I don’t want that. If Reynard dies, I could say that this is an alternate universe, and in another universe he’s level 9 and filthy rich after slaying a dragon with his companions. Yet I don’t want this to be the case; I want him to live in ONE universe. Still, Reynard has this thing: even though he’s a thief and a gambler and generally a trickster, he cares deeply about his companions. So he runs up those stairs to attack and distract the wolf, no matter the consequences. “I want to throw a dagger at the wolf. Do I have line of sight?,” I ask. “Yes, you can make that attempt,” my brother responds. I roll my D20. It’s a pretty damn high number – 18.

“Yes, you hit the wolf,” my brother continues, “Roll for damage.”

I roll a total of 6. Not a great number, so I fear the worst – I fear that I only wounded the wolf, and it’s about to get more angry.

“Yep, it’s dead.” My brother has just given us all cause to celebrate – all our enemies are slain, and my grievously wounded character will live to meet up with a whole different group of people and undertake a quest to slay a blue dragon. Reynard lives, Raath lives, we all live and we all reap the benefits. Jack and Alyssa wish they could play with us weekly. Luigi and Savannah had a good time, though they’re super tired at the end of it. Cody is sad that he didn’t get to squish enemy heads with his warhammers, but he’s excited to get another chance someday.

The new players seem to like the game, and the veterans have made it through a deadly introductory dungeon by the skin of their teeth. With 1 and 2 hit points remaining, respectively, Raath and Reynard were the hardest hit. They were also the two characters controlled by people who had played the game before. I don’t know what that means, but I do know this: I hadn’t really experienced the rogue life from level 1 before. After this awesome session, I can say that I managed to guide a rogue from level 1 to level 2. I got to my bonus actions. I earned my rogue abilities, at last.

I don’t know when I’ll get to play Reynard again, or when I’ll get to spend quality time with Jack and Alyssa again, but I hope that it’s soon. I love D&D, and I miss my friends already. Here’s to good times with good people! Keep on taking chances and rolling the proverbial dice, my friends.

Standard
rambling

The Legend of Zelda: Chris’s Awakening

About twenty years ago, I embarked on a riveting island adventure that I could carry with me in my pocket. My neon green GameBoy Color was among my favorite means of entertainment back then, and one of the first legit handheld games my parents bought for me was The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening.

At the time, a miniature colorized pixel revolution was taking place, as the GameBoy Color’s hardware allowed developers to program their games in stunning color! The days of blobby black, white, and green visuals were coming to a close, but I wasn’t yet aware of this – my version of Link’s Awakening was one of the original cartridges, made for the OG GameBoy and therefore made without varied colors. Link’s Awakening DX, the updated, colorful version, was a relatively new thing then, but I didn’t know this; I was just happy to have a big island to explore, a bunch of puzzles to solve, and some bad folks to stop.

So I played the heck out of Link’s Awakening, using my oodles of free time to find every part of The Ballad of the Wind Fish, so I could put an end to the nightmares and leave the sleeping world behind. The game had a pervasive melancholy undertone that I didn’t appreciate consciously as a child, but it strikes me now as an adult. The same sort of subtle sadness permeates Majora’s Mask as well, and this may explain why these two rank among my top five Zelda games.

Another thing Link’s Awakening and Majora’s Mask have in common is their separation from the usual Legend of Zelda setting of Hyrule; instead of traversing Zelda’s kingdom, these games pit Link against environments and forces that lie outside his homeland. While many of the faces in these games look familiar (for compelling reasons, in my opinion) they are not quite the people Link knows back home. The disengaged familiarity pushes a sense of the uncanny upon the player, as they are made to say “Wait, I remember you!” even as the vaguely familiar character introduces themselves to Link as though they’ve just met. Talk about a strange experience.

But oh, it’s a great experience. So great, in fact, that I eventually took advantage of the 3DS’s virtual console feature to download Link’s Awakening DX. This was probably a bit more than a dozen years after I first played Link’s Awakening, maybe even fifteen years … still, I hadn’t experienced the adventure in its remastered, colorful glory, and I was itching to revisit the island of Koholint.

I ended up blasting through the game rather fast, faster than I did when I was a kid; I had years of Zelda experience by this point, and I knew most of the tropes. To my surprise, by the end of everything, I only fell in battle once. The counter for character deaths had only reached 1, and I felt simultaneous pangs of pride and disappointment as I realized that I kicked Moblin ass, while I also realized that I could have finished the game without dying. I was that good, and I was so close to being perfect.

Still, the fun is in the adventure, not the results screen, and I loved every moment of my re-Awakening. Will I play it again? Well, fuck yeah. A Link’s Awakening remake has been announced for the Nintendo Switch, and I’m ready to relive the dreamy trials and tribulations of Koholint Island with brand new visuals and a tried-and-true console controller setup. Handheld consoles are wonderfully compact and convenient, but sometimes it just feels good to have a solid, standalone video game controller in my hand while I direct Link’s actions. I want to feel that control as I traverse the island for a third time and do my best to reach the Wind Fish without falling in battle.

The Legend of Zelda is one of my favorite video game series, and I’ll throw down as many rupees, er, dollars as it takes to get the latest installment of Link’s adventures. Okay, I won’t overpay, that’s just silly … but I’ll pay the going price for a Nintendo Switch game in order to set sail for fun once again. Put me on that boat and hand me a lightning rod, ’cause I’m pretty damn sure that lightning will strike a third time … luckily, this lightning leads to dreams and discovery!

Standard
rambling

Dedication: A Few Musings

I’ve been feeling the tug of this blog, waking up every day thinking that it’s probably a good day to let my fingers meander along the keyboard, and today I’m finally giving in to that drive. I’ve had a few other tasks pulling at my attention, the most pressing of which was a deep cleanse of the apartment I share with my brother. It’s not that the place was super messy or covered in grime or some crazy filthy shit like that; it’s just that I know myself, and I know that if I let things slide for too long, I convince myself that I was better off not doing them anyway.

So I cleaned the apartment today, and it feels good. I’m sitting in the dining area now, with my laptop set on our big-ass wooden table (it’s great for board games AND tabletop role-playing games!), and thinking about the things I’d like to share with all of you.

I like to make promises, small or large, and sometimes I dedicate myself to an idea or a task without giving it a second thought. In retrospect, I’m fairly certain I’ve mentioned two topics I wish to ramble about: Game of Thrones, and Link’s Awakening. The latter, I’ll get to soon – I’ve been reminiscing, on and off, about my times spent with The Legend of Zelda and the wonderful adventures I’ve had. I set myself up for even more (and more intense) Game of Thrones ramblings, however, so we’re going to continue with those today.

SPOILER WARNING! I am most likely going to write about the very latest developments in the series as I ramble on, so if you haven’t been watching the final season of Game of Thrones, read on at your own risk.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s jump to two of my favorite characters, either of whom I really wanted to destroy Cersei Lannister. I’m talking about Jaime Lannister and Arya Stark, respectively.

Arya has been a fan favorite for a long time, and I must admit I’m just like many of the folks who read the books and/or watch the show: Arya is among my top five characters in the series, I would say. She’s always had a problem with the trappings of nobility, eschewing the whole political performance necessary to a savvy regal operator (Sansa excels at the political side of things) and dedicating herself to the rough and ragged shadows instead.

For her blatant dislike of pretense and her desire to train herself in various martial arts, many of us love Arya. This isn’t to say that loving Arya totally disavows a love and respect for Sansa – I love Sansa for her struggles and strengths as well – but Arya sticks with people faster, I think. Lol, “stick ’em with the pointy end” – she sticks in people’s minds faster and now I think that’s hilarious.

Anyway, back to Arya destroying Cersei. Early in the series Arya made a list of the motherfuckers she wanted to kill for their parts in murdering her father, Ned Stark. Cersei was and has been on the top of that list. Many fans, even before the show started and we were just plowing through pages, ardently wished for Arya to survive whatever ordeals beset her so that she could return to King’s Landing and deliver a vengeful end to Cersei’s bullshit reign. Many of us have thought that this would be a badass and fitting cap to Arya’s narrative arc: she learns to survive in the shadows, hiding and biding her time, until she’s trained enough to tackle a stealth quest to destroy the awful lioness.

A few weeks ago, Arya did end a bad motherfucker, but it wasn’t Cersei. It was the Night King. And it was fucking awesome.

Has Arya’s training and struggling paid off? Hell yes. She managed to sneak up on that arrogant blue bastard and then feign helplessness as she swapped her dagger to her free hand and killed that evil fucker. She saved, well, the whole world, really. Yet the show goes on, and Cersei continues to sit on the Iron Throne. With Arya demonstrating supreme stealth and martial prowess in dispatching the Night King, would it even be fair to give her another huge kill?

Personally, I didn’t think so. Yet, true to her character, she sets out for King’s Landing anyway, with the intention of killing Cersei once and for all. Now the fear sets in: Arya’s done so much badass stuff already, she’s bound for a failure at some point, right? And with the show ending soon, this failure could be her last – she might fucking die!

But wait a second – there’s another would-be Cersei killer on the show. This one’s more of a stretch, but in my heart of hearts, I thought it would be poetically just if Jaime Lannister would be the one to end his sister’s cruel reign. He’s tried several times to turn his back on Cersei and live a more honorable life, the sort of life a knight would be proud to call his own, and for the most part, he’s succeeded. His travels with Brienne show him what a real person of honor does with their time and their deeds, and with Jaime abandoning King’s Landing to assist in the fight against the Night King and the end of the world itself, it looks like he’s ready to embrace a full knight’s life, ending evil doers and helping the common people.

So killing Cersei would make some sort of sense for him, I think. She has historically shat all over the common people of Westeros and treated anyone not herself and her children as less than dirt, so, like, she needs to go, man. Would it be difficult for her twin brother to accept this and end her life? Of course. But not impossible.

My pipe dreams of poetic justice did not come true, however, as Jaime rushes away from Brienne and Winterfell to be with his sister in the big battle to destroy/defend King’s Landing, depending on which side a person is on. I held out hope that Jaime would rush to his sister’s side only to watch her make dreadful, murderous decisions and finally commit to stopping her destructive ways. It wasn’t to be, however.

No, a far more emotional and destructive character went full fucking crazy and ended all kinds of lives. The most recent episode showcased Daenerys and her insane, callous vendetta against Westeros, culminating in the utter destruction of King’s Landing and the nearly one million lives within it. That’s right: one million. Dany ended up causing the deaths of almost a million people, all because things aren’t exactly going her way on this side of the sea.

Do I feel for Dany? Yes. She’s lost most of the people she’s cared about and called friends throughout her struggles, and her most devoted voice of reason, Ser Jorah, was silenced during the Battle of Winterfell. Fuck, right? She’s losing all the people and things she holds dear, so it’s all too easy for her to say “Fuck it” and lay waste to a lot of people.

ALL THOSE PEOPLE! Dany says she doesn’t want to be the Queen of the Ashes, but she sort of is, now. And what does this have to do with Jaime and Cersei, and even Arya, for that matter? Well, Cersei dies, ostensibly, by Dany’s extended hand – Drogon’s fire has caused the Red Keep to crumble, and Cersei and Jaime are crushed in the collapsing rubble. Jaime makes it to his sister’s side after Euron Greyjoy (damned be his name forever) stabs him fatally in several places. Euron is killed by Jaime, but Jaime is still mortally wounded – anything he does at this point is one of his final acts.

So he dies with his twin sister. He doesn’t kill her for any sort of poetic justice, and I’m okay with this. Despite all the terrible things she’s done, she’s still his sister, and the love of his life. He’s done some bad things too, but I still believe that after all is said and done, he had a good heart and he did more good than evil in the world. He became the Kingslayer by stopping Aerys from doing exactly what Dany did – destroying King’s Landing. Jaime saved the whole damn city and the million people in it, but everyone thought he was just an opportunistic power grabber. Well, fuck that, I say. He was a righteous and honorable man, in the end, and I’m sad to see him go.

Not even Arya got to twist a dagger into Cersei’s dilapidated heart, but that’s all for the best. Heeding Sandor Clegane’s (The Hound’s) advice, she gives up on death and revenge to focus on life instead – she runs through the beleaguered city, dodging dragonfire, panic-stricken soldiers, and desperate people, all while trying to save as many lives as she can. She’s a capable bringer of death, to be certain, but it was wonderful to watch her embrace life instead and devote herself to the cause of saving people.

I’ve been a supporter of Arya from the very beginning, and even though it was initially difficult for me to accept Jaime’s place in the narrative, I grew to love him too. He’s one you have to get to know before you like him. So now, two of my favorite characters are dead, and the rest are at the mercy of a pissed off, sad, and desperate Targaryen queen. Theon and Jaime died well, in their own ways, and I’ll miss them dearly. But Arya, Tyrion, Jon, Sansa, Davos … my list could go on and on, and damn, I wish for all of them to make it to the end. Please, make it to the end and build a better world.

Still, Daenerys may just burn everyone alive. At this point, it’s her against the world – at least, she probably sees things this way. She has dedicated herself to claiming that throne, and she won’t back down. Arya dedicated herself to killing Cersei, and she did back down, at the last second – thank the Old Gods and the New that Cersei was as good as dead anyway. Jaime was dedicated to Cersei from his birth to his death, and despite how sad it makes me, it’s also weirdly heartwarming.

I’m trying to dedicate myself to the promises I make, no matter how small, so I’ll keep writing about the nerdy stuff that brings me joy. I rolled a few Game of Thrones characters into one post today, so next time, I think I’ll take a break from that and focus on Zelda instead. Put me on a boat but make sure to give me a lightning rod – Link’s Awakening reminiscences are on the way.

Keep on nerding out, folks.

Standard
rambling

Time, That Thief

Time can be a strange concept. Some days it feels like it passes by faster than usual, with hours flashing by in what seem mere moments. Other days it slows to an agonizing crawl, every elongated minute digging ragged knuckles into your brain. It hurts and it feels weird.

I write of time for several reasons, one of which is my poor handling of the hours I am given. I make promises just to break them, it seems. I don’t know if people actually expect me to stick to some schedule here, but it’s probably become obvious to anyone spending any kind of time reading my haphazard posts that I do not write like clockwork. I said way back when that I want to write one post a week, and I’ve fallen away from that. Let’s amend things, shall we?

I won’t make any more promises. I’ll write when I feel up to it. I get the feeling that some weeks, I’ll skip writing entirely. Other weeks, I may be ready to crank out two or three posts. My poor handling of time, and my whimsy in ignoring it more often than not, is only one of the reasons I’m writing about time today.

The other reason is that time helps us ground ourselves in some kind of world or reality that we like to call authentic. The days and nights make more sense to us when we can break them down into hours, minutes, sometimes even seconds. The usage of time as a foundation or a crux isn’t limited to the real world, oh no – time is also used, and even explored, in video games.

I have the sudden urge to wax poetic about Chrono Trigger, but that’s not why I’m feverishly typing at 1 A.M. No, I’ve been playing another down-and-deep, you’ve-gotta-devote-dozens-of-hours-to-this sort of role-playing game. Okay, enough fucking around: I’ve been playing Octopath Traveler again. I’ve been playing it a lot. Ever since I said that I wouldn’t buy any more games until I finish the ones I have, I’ve been sitting in front of my tv for hours at night, with a Nintendo Switch pro controller in my hands, while I delve into caves and ruins to fight super bosses and even pixelated deities in my quest to rid the land of scoundrels, beasts, and ne’er-do-wells.

The other day, as I reflected upon my on-and-off again gaming habits, I realized something: sometimes, time has a way of matching step with our pastimes. “But what the hell does that even mean, Chris?” Well, secondary voice in my head, let me explain. Some video games eschew “realistic” timing systems altogether and, for all intents and purposes, play out during an indefinite day or night, depending on the developer’s and/or writer’s preferences. A scant few games embrace real time systems, following our 24 hour clocks as close to the second as they can get; Animal Crossing, one of my favorite series, is noted for this real time feature. Then there are games that leave wiggle room, or use time systems that can be controlled a little bit by the player. Bethesda tends to use a system that follows hours, days, and months much like the real world, but sped up so ten minutes of real-world time equates to an hour of game-world time. In their games, however, you may perform activities which pass the time – waiting, resting, or sleeping, for example, allow the player to pick a number of hours and pass through them quickly.

I didn’t pay much attention to this, not at first. I just never slept and ran from place to place as days and nights went by in a surreal haze. When I started role-playing in Skyrim, though, I started paying attention to the things that made the game more immersive: clothing choices, sleeping habits, food and drink, the works. I tried to have my character sleep at least eight hours in every 24-hour period. I would have him eat and drink. When I found a bed for the night, I would have him take off his armor and wear pajama-esque clothes. I was way fucking into it.

Let’s jump back to Octopath, though. This is a sprawling adventure which entangles the stories of eight unique characters and covers an entire continent’s worth of regions and cities. In short, the game takes up a lot of time.

Yet it doesn’t follow any set time system. Sure, the game clocks how many hours, minutes, and seconds you spend playing it, but this passage of time doesn’t affect the daily rhythm of the game’s people or locations. This wouldn’t bother me, necessarily, but there’s one component of the game that seems perfectly suited to a time system: the inns.

See, to heal your party of adventurers while in a town or city, you may choose to rest at the inn. It is assumed you pay for a room (or maybe even separate rooms) because the game prompts you to confirm a payment of the game-world’s currency to “spend the night.” Wait, what? Night? In most cities, it looks like it’s daytime, like, all the time. So now I have to stretch my imagination and say that oh, well, no matter what time I arrive at the inn, I pay to commandeer a part of the establishment until the morning after a night passes. There’s a whole attempt to mesh the healing system in the game with the sleeping habits of real-world people, and it would be really cool, if the rest of the game played by the same rules.

Am I nitpicking a bit, here? Sure. It’s just that plenty of video games do this sort of thing. I’ve been in countless video game situations that demand a sense of urgency, such as a rescue mission or a quest to stop the big bad from opening a portal to Hell, only to find myself using valuable time to heal, or sleep, or eat, or whatever.

Does the video game want me to win? Of course. It’s entertainment, at its core, so it’s not gonna say “You lost this time because you chose to sleep at the inn and heal your party in the middle of a dungeon dive.” Sometimes, though, I think a game that plays with time mechanics like this may be really entertaining. Maybe even compelling.

Imagine it: you’re in the midst of chasing down a gang of bandits who stole the town’s valuables, and you’re low on health and healing items. For some reason, though, you have the option to warp back to town and rest. So you do it, to get refreshed for your fight with the bandits. Only, you know, you took time to rest; those bandits escaped. Now the town is out some money, some people may not be able to afford rent or whatever costs of living they have to pay, and your reputation with the town goes south. Now you get to choose whether or not you make finding those bandits your life’s mission; if you don’t, maybe you can choose to root yourself in the town for a while and work off the debts of the people you failed. Maybe there are even more choices – you can even choose to walk away if you want, angering the townsfolk you promised to help and letting the bandits go free.

I’m basically sketching some rough drafts here, but doesn’t it sound kind of neat? A video game that treats time way too seriously, but in a way that offers choices, consequences, and lessons. Shit, in Octopath, there were definitely chapters which involved taking care of seriously ill people. They probably needed 24 hour care. Yet in the middle of all this, I could go to the inn and rest for a night. Game breaker? No. Immersion breaker? Yes.

And yet, the game is a blast to play. I didn’t buy Octopath Traveler to experience some messed up real time adventure simulator that would punish me for compulsively healing my party. It just so happens that I slept at the inn one night and thought “Wow, how messed up would it be if the time I spent here detracted from some other objective of my adventuring group?”

There are ways that the length of Octopath Traveler works well with my personal on-and-off gaming habits. I assume that a continent-spanning adventure would require weeks and even months of travel and effort. I’ve had the game since the end of November, 2018. So I’ve been playing it, off and on, for half a year. When I run into a character several towns over and my party reacts as though it’s the first reunion in weeks, it actually is the first reunion in weeks. I’ve spent months traversing the world of Octopath Traveler, just like all eight of the characters I compel through the adventure. The beginning seems like a far off memory, and it is. I kinda like it.

So those are a few of my wacky thoughts regarding video games and their handling of time. I didn’t really think too hard about this post before I wrote it; this was basically my stream of consciousness riding fast across the page. Er, across the screen. You know what I mean. I say this because I hope the read wasn’t too rough for anyone. I know it’s good to polish pieces of writing, but sometimes I just want to let everything out. So there it is.

Next time, I’ll ramble about another of my favorite Game of Thrones characters. You thought I forgot that whole plan? Fuck nah. SPOILER ALERT – I miss my boy Theon, and I cried for him, but I’ve got some other characters I’m watching real closely.

Anyway, until next time, keep on truckin’ and chucklin’.

Standard