Saturday, September 22, 2018

What is Dungeons and Dragons?

Occasionally I get asked by a well meaning friend "Hay do you want to get together sometime and we can play Dungeons and Dragons?"

I try to keep the smile on my face while I cringe just a little inside.

I realized recently that with all the different media depictions, misunderstandings, accusations of witchcraft and so fourth that a majority of people don't know what Dungeons and Dragons is exactly, so here is my attempt to set the record straight.

A Different Beast

In most board games, a group of people can sit down one evening, open the box, set up the components, play, then put everything back in the box. Dungeons and Dragons though, is a whole different beast.

Let's say we're playing a basic pre-written campaign that one can buy in the store or pick up online. To start a group would need the book that explains how to make and use a character, a book that explains how to run a campaign and a book that features the creatures the adventurers may run into during the campaign and need to make sure all these components are of the same set. Usually this costs between $60 to $100.

Next each player will need to build their character. Some characters can be found online but the point of Dungeons and Dragons is to create a custom character that you want to play, unlike a video game where you slip into Mario or Geralt's shoes.

Lastly and most importantly, you need a dungeon master. This is a person who will run the game. The players each play one character in the world, the dungeon master's role is to play everything else. The creatures, the other characters the players may run into, even the cosmetology the game exists in.

So already you can see that this is levels beyond a game of Monopoly, so this alone makes it all but impossible to start a game on the fly. Usually character creation alone can be at least an hour long process for new players. Some of the more experienced players can streamline the process, but for the uninitiated a lot may need to be explained.

Oh and dice. You need all the dice. Like ever. If you think you have too many dice you don't, you're still short.

The Art Of Roleplay

Dungeons and Dragons is a pure roleplaying game. It goes far beyond moving a piece across a board then rolling dice to determine success or failure. Say a player encounters a merchant. In a mainstream board game the options for interaction may be little more than buy or sell items. In Dungeons and Dragons though, the player could buy from the merchant, sell to the merchant, attempt to rob the merchant, attempt to fight the merchant, attempt to seduce the merchant, attempt to befriend the merchant, try to capture the merchant to use as a slave, try to buy the merchant's entire store from him and set it up as a franchise, or burn the merchant's store to the ground then use the ashes in a dark unholy ritual.

These are just a few options I could think of on the fly. Honestly a player could do whatever they can imagine to varying degrees of success. The player needs to know that all options are available and what they can and need to do based on who their character is, what their motivation is, what the quest is and where their morals lie. A degree of acting, improvisation and imagination are all required for this exercise, which can be a major departure for most new players who aren't used to getting to be people.

Length and Sessions

So let's say you've got everything together. You've got your friends, someone's a Dungeon Master, character sheets are made, and snacks are within arm's reach. An average campaign of Dungeons and Dragons takes about 5 or 6 hours. Now that's if the players go from one objective to the next completely focused on the task at hand. Add in the players banter, the in-jokes, the references, the side talk, and the discussion as to what to do next the short 5 hours can stretch out to a good 20+. Now of course few have the constitution to sit for 20 hours straight playing a game, so this means the game usually takes place in sessions over months and even years. Some games have been rumored to have been going on for decades, as new players are added and others retire, move or even pass away. Being in a campaign isn't a casual game night, it's also a commitment to help your buddies take down the bad guys and save the world.

Still Want to Play?

This may all seem intimidating, but if you still want to give it a try know that they're are people who are happy to teach newcomers to the game. If we didn't the game would probably be dead. Some Dungeon Masters are even informally tutored by veteran players eager to pass on their skills. THe point is that if you want in you're welcome to join but just know what you're in for.

Also, never split the party.


Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Salt Lake FanX, gender normativity, and the awesomeness of geekdom

Another FanX has come and gone, leaving behind some very poor geeks and a downtown covered in discarded costumes. As a massive FanX fan, I was excited to attend this year's events.

And even more excited (And scared) to premier my latest cosplay.

Some background: at my first FanX (Then called Salt Lake Comic Con) I cosplayed as a gender bent Harley Quinn, who I named Harvey Quinn. It was my first time cosplaying anywhere, and I was a bit nervous to try one that wasn't only labor intensive but a little unusual. My favorite character in all of fiction is the Joker's favorite hench-girl, so I definitely wanted to make sure I got it right. Long story short: Few people could tell who I was and my wife's Invader Zim tee shirt got more compliments than my outfit.

...Okay kind of a fail...

Right before my wedding I went as Captain Hammer from Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog with my buddy who was a dead ringer for Neil Patrick Harris's character. I spent most of the time getting pictures of him with other people who loved his cosplay but once again kept having to ask who I was.

Okay a major fail.

Next I tried the world of onesies. Full sized fur outfits with hoods that resembled characters. I went through Stitch, Baymax and Sully, all with various degrees of recognition. Most people at least knew who I was which was a step, and I since refined my Harvey Quinn costume to the point where I was recognized.


This year though, call me egotistical, I wanted people to not only know who I was cosplaying as but would want pics with me because of how good my cosplay was. After some careful planning and throwing my last few inhibitions out the window, I put together this year's costume: The Bearded Lady.

I found a winner.

Now it wasn't EXACTLY the Bearded Lady from the film The Greatest Showman, it was more of a Bearded Lady along the lines of Spaceballs or American Horror Story: Freak Show, but I had a beard, I had a wig, I was in a dress, and off I went.

I got my results.

The intial terror was the standard fear of leaving the safe gender normative world and entering briefly into the world of cross dressing. We're still in an age where even an homage can be seen with intolerance and misunderstanding, plus I'm always a bit shy about showing any skin in public. Temple worthy Bearded Lady dresses are just not found at DI so bare shoulders it was.

I wasn't stopped by everyone, certainly there were far better cosplays than mine (Even of the Bearded Lady) but what was awesome was that as far as I saw I was the only man as the Bearded Lady. After getting a picture with another cosplayer, my niece whispered to me "Yours is better Uncle Joe" which made my heart soar.

To me this is the heart of FanX, comic con, and other geek events. Since The Greatest Showman came out I have been in love with the Bearded Ladie's character and the message her story both in and out of the movie portrayed, one of acceptance and being who you really are despite adversity. Cosplay is about expressing the characters we love, what they mean to us, and celebrating them with the world. To have a good cosplay for me means that I did it right, I celebrated my character not only in how I dressed but in how I did it.

What are your cosplay stories? Is there something you've always been afraid of dressing as?


Monday, September 10, 2018

15 Obscure Cosplays that Deserve a Shout-Out

One of my favorite parts of any Con (whether we call it "Salt Lake Comic Con" or "FanX"... that's another rant for another time) is checking out people's cosplays. Of course you'll see a million Doctors and a few dozen Deadpools, but my favorites are the iconic, notable characters who aren't so common. So those are the ones that get a shout-out today, the obscure, memorable characters.

Magician's Valkyria and Dark Paladin from "Yu-Gi-Oh!"
Sora, Donald, and Goofy from "Kingdom Hearts"

Darla from "Finding Nemo"

Gadget from "Chip & Dale: Rescue Rangers"

Teen Girl Squad from "Strongbad"

Shego from "Kim Possible"

Cosmo and Wanda from "Fairly Odd Parents"

Miss Piggy from "Muppets"

Team Aqua from "Pokemon"

Flight Attendant Genie from "Aladdin"

Pacha and Chicha from "Emperor's New Groove"

Moss, Jen, and Roy from "IT Crowd"

The Seventh Doctor from "Doctor Who"

Killer Frost from "The Flash"

Miss Frizzle from "The Magic School Bus"