Into the Dungeons of Madness: Part 5

  • Rodney: Bruce “One ‘e'” Le, human monk and angry contrarian
  • Shannon: Crom, elf wizard and meglomaniac
  • Ryan: Kunu, dwarf cleric and Parrothead priest
  • Charley: Honeysuckle, halfling thief and brothel born
  • Murph: the DM or dungeon master

“So how do you want to proceed guys?” I said to the group. “Alongside the stream flowing from the cave, a path leads further into the darkness from which you can hear the gurgle of water. Those with darksight, that’s Crom and Kunu, spy a side passage from which you hear the growls of . . . something and . . . Uh, Ryan, what are you doing to your hammer?”

During my introduction, my brother Ryan had duct-taped a bottle opener to the side of his prop hammer. Grabbing a bottle of Guinness, he then wedged his prop/bottle opener along the glass neck and flipped the metal cap a foot or two into the air and into Shannon’s empty mug. A frown passed before Shannon’s face at the violation of his drinking vessel before he decided the trick deserved applause. The others followed suit while Ryan refilled his own mug.

“Kunu is like this party priest dwarf, right?” he explained. “So it made sense to me that he’d install a church key into the side of his hammer. He’s always ready for a fight because he’s an adventurer, but he never forgets the important things either.”

“That my friend is true innovation!” Charley beamed.

“Crom approves,” Shan nodded.

“Bruce ‘one e’ Le does not drink but applauds your adaptivity,” Rodney agreed.

I am hardly the most practical one in this group. Most day-to-day commonsense chores like matching clothes and taxes are ignored until someone reminds me that it’s the adult thing to do. However, when it comes to my imaginary worlds I can become quite defensive about the details.

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Into the Dungeons of Madness: Part 4

  • Rodney: Bruce “One ‘e'” Le, human monk and angry contrarian
  • Shannon: Crom, elf wizard and meglomaniac
  • Ryan: Kunu, dwarf cleric and Parrothead priest
  • Charley: Honeysuckle, halfling thief and brothel born
  • Murph: the DM or dungeon master

“So we have the party of goblins and wolves coming upon Honeysuckle, Kunu and Crom in the middle of the cave,” I said summarizing the group’s current predicament. “Bruce is currently unconscious, beaten and bound to the back of one of the wolves. Honeysuckle, a halfling, cannot see in the dark so he does not notice the approach of the goblin band, while Kunu and Crom are in the midst of an argument about the party’s direction. This will mean the goblin group will surprise you in the dark so . . . “

“Wait!” Charley exclaimed. “We definitely saw the approaching goblins, Murph. No surprise attack here.”

“Oh?” I smiled. “Okay, I’ll bite. What’s going on here? None of you cast a light when I left to check on Bruce a moment so Honeysuckle, who isn’t distracted, cannot possibly see any group of enemies and one unconscious monk . . .”

“Hey, just so you know,” Rodney interjected. “I was just faking, playing dead so that I could render my enemies helpless when they least expected it.”

“Nope,” I said. “The dice decided this one for you. You’re out for the count, dreaming of kung-fu babes and flying fists. As for Kunu and Crom . . .”

“Kunu stopped arguing with me,” Shannon said, “as I suddenly asked Honeysuckle about mom. You see . . . um, the initial argument gets rather heated. I may have called Kunu a ‘millenial mud midget’ . . .”

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Into the Dungeons of Madness: Part 3

  • Rodney: Bruce “One ‘e'” Le, human monk and angry contrarian
  • Shannon: Crom, elf wizard and meglomaniac
  • Ryan: Kunu, dwarf cleric and Parrothead priest
  • Charley: Honeysuckle, halfling thief and brothel born
  • Murph: the DM or dungeon master

“After the death of the third goblin, you turn to face Dave but find that the goblin has disappeared, leaving a trail of blood into the dark woods.”

I took a long chug from my wine goblet and wait. Everyone at the table stared at me like concertgoers at an empty stage. While DMs in Dungeons and Dragons create the worlds in which the players inhabit, the players themselves choose how — or even if — they interact with that world. Some video games utilize multiple choices to steer players down possible paths, but D&D removes even these handholds, providing far more freedom and creativity to the players.

Often it takes a while for players to understand this level of freedom and how to exploit it.

“Alright boys,” I said, wiping a dribble of wine from my chin. “What’s the plan?”

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Into the Dungeons of Madness: Part 2

Our party:

  • Rodney: Bruce “One ‘e'” Le, human monk and angry contrarian
  • Shannon: Crom, elf wizard and meglomaniac
  • Ryan: Kunu, dwarf cleric and Parrothead priest
  • Charley: Honeysuckle, halfling thief and brothel born
  • Murph: the DM or dungeon master

“Righto,” I sighed. “So the wagon just turned East onto Triboar Trial. From around a bend, you spy two lumps blocking the middle the road. As you draw near, the lumps materialize into two dead horses with several arrows protruding from their flanks. On either side of the path, deep thickets encroach the wagon which has come to a halt before the dead animals. Alright, what do you guys do?”

” . . . .” Silence. Two minutes pass.

“The party stares dumbstruck at the pair of dead horses laid out before them,” I whispered to my wine goblet. “The first sight of these brave majestic beasts of burden pierced by dozens of arrows has transformed these hardy adventurers into dumb mutes.”

“No,” Charley laughed finally finding his voice. “What can we do?”

“Anything,” I reminded him. “That’s kinda how the game works. I present a puzzle, problem or challenge and you guys try to drum up a solution. Admittedly two dead horses in the middle of the road is not the most intriguing of conundrums, but then if the batter is expecting a fastball, a lob can be quite effective.”

“Wow, Murph,” Ryan cooed. “A sports metaphor in the middle of D&D. You are feeling — dare I say — adventurous?”

“Like a teacher, writers must cater to their audience now and again,” I smirked. “Stay tuned and I might throw in a few limericks about electrical engineering your way.”

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Into the Dungeons of Madness: Part 1

Our party, two years ago this November:

  • Rodney: human monk, named Bruce Le
  • Shannon: elf wizard, named Crom
  • Ryan: dwarf cleric, named Kunu
  • Charley: halfling thief, named Honeysuckle
  • Murph: the DM or dungeon master

“Alright guys, at this moment you are transporting a wagon of supplies along the High Road south of the city of Neverwinter. A dwarf named Gundren has promised you ‘great rewards’ with more to come if you deliver these supplies to Phandalin, a town to the southeast of Neverwinter. The cart has just turned east onto the Triboar Trail. And that’s the initial setup. Let’s go around the table and introduce our characters before we move on. You all have your backstories and characters fleshed out, right?”

I had spent the last three months setting up this D&D session for my brothers with myself as the DM. Trying to organize a morning or afternoon for five working adults and their families required a bit of scheduling and a lot of planning on my part as a first-time DM. Moreover, I splurged a bit on the decor, purchasing several candles for ambience and the heady scent of pumpkin spice.

NOTE: To this day, the scent of pumpkin spice from a Yankee Candle draws up memories of goblins in a thicket.

As far as refreshments, chips, salsa, and guacamole were a given for any event but we had also decided to dress our parts as well.

I donned a thick woolen cloak which I had purchased years ago for some Renaissance cosplay. With my hood drawn down over my face, I looked every bit the dungeon master/Sith Lord while the others used a hodgepodge of costumes to complete their look. Charley brought a vest, suspenders, and shorts that resembled lederhosen. Shannon wore his kilt, a white dress shirt, and a wand which he had bought at Universal Studios. Ryan found a beer-drinking hardhat, an Aloha shirt, and a plastic Mjolnir from the first Thor movie, which looked incredible — that is, until the wielder attempted any sound effects from the dying battery. And then Rodney had an Enter the Dragon tee shirt, which — I imagine — he had bought from Hot Topic.

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Festivus

Cancelled. Vacations. Conventions. Festivals. Concerts. All the awesome stuff that you can’t do at home and couldn’t do while teaching. Cancelled.

The news (and irony) concerning the cancellation of the state’s annual Renaissance Festival due to plague hit me pretty hard over the weekend. It’s understandable and expected, but since the festival is held outside and the ease with which masks fit into Medieval cosplay, I had hoped that at least one of my plans for this year might be salvaged. Sadly, I picked a hell of year to travel and experience life.

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Snake Pit

“So Murph,” Dad asked. “How do you feel about killing snakes?”

It had already been a long day. My job now (post-teaching) is hosting a summer camp for my younger nieces and nephews. My brother delivers my two nieces to my house around 7 a.m. in the morning before driving to work. I cook pancakes, assemble cereal, and entertain inside the house for three hours until my two sisters arrive with their (eight) kids to go swimming. We change diapers, change into swimsuits, lather everyone with sunscreen, and finally release them into the family pool so that they exhaust themselves for afternoon naps (2 pm).

Someone just wants to sit, relax, and use the ambient energy from the sun to give it power. It’s basically a Kryptonian.
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I Wander Wander Wander Who?

I Wander Wander Wander Who?

It’s funny what passes through your mind while you’re stuffing used pens and stained coffee mugs into a cardboard box on the last day of work. Unlike other desk jobs, where your belongings might consist of a stapler or a few photos of family members, a teacher’s desk evolves with each passing year into a shrine to past and current students. We accumulate countless . . . ‘treasures:’ homemade picture frames; dollar-store stationary shaped like your favorite farm animal; forgotten baked goods with that species of nut, to which you didn’t have the heart to tell them you’re allergic. Plastic and moldy memories of happy or hopeful students that I didn’t have the heart to toss on my last day of work.

On top of transferring this treasure trove, departing teachers were required to organize and prepare their classrooms for their successors. Prior to Spring 2020, this task would occupy days leading up to the last day of school. This year, no faculty or staff were even allowed on the property for the last two months.

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Puttin’ Around

Puttin’ Around

Don’t laugh. After quitting my job, I had planned to drive south this June for a southern road trip along the East Coast. The idea? To stop at the best mini-golf sites between Maryland and Florida for an in-family tournament while driving down the coast. Myrtle Beach and Orlando topped our list of vacation spots with excellent mini-golf courses, but a few off-the-beaten-trail locations in Georgia and North Carolina were also included.

Rodney has always bragged (see: lied) about his prized turquoise jacket for winning the National Mini-Golf Association (NMGA) title at some nebulous past date. He finds a way to shoehorn this imaginary title and jacket into any conversation whenever we’re golfing:

“This hole reminds me of when I won the NMGA championship and their fabled turquoise jacket. Only a man truly skilled in the art of the putt could conquer the course and himself for the sake of victory.”

To which, we’d usually respond:

“Dude, hit your stupid ball through the stupid castle.”

He’d get the final word though:

“Heh. When you’re a course record holder like I am, you see the world in a different way. You need to take your time, ya see? Look at all the angles and hone your skills, and you could have a record and a jacket too, Murph.”

A little explanation about that last statement. You see, the Murpheys are a pretty competitive family. Growing up with six brothers and a mother who cheats at all manner of card and board games (she’s quite proud of this personality flaw), bragging rights prove a valuable commodity in our clan.

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Two Roads Much the Same

Two Roads Much the Same

At my high school graduation, the class valedictorian opened his speech with a quote from Frost’s ‘The Road Not Taken.’ I imagine that a few English teachers cringed a bit. Once the speaker encouraged change and innovation, they knew that he had missed the point of the poem.

The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

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