Dungeons and Dragons and Pizza, Oh My!

a Dungeons & Dragons fan fiction

by

Douglas Neman

Porticus, the drow mage, entered first, since she could see in pitch blackness better than any. Spiridale followed, his wild elven eyesight almost as good. Both of them – bitter enemies by race, companions by choice – were almost identical in their grimness, with deep scowls on their faces as they slowly scanned the dank cavern for enemies.

Larissa, in telepathic contact with Spiridale, whispered to the others that all was clear. Nilton advanced, his chain mail irritating Porticus as always with the slight noise it made. Some leader! she thought.

Sandoval and Parith were next, followed by Larissa, who was always held back since she was the group's only healer.

Then ten stupid soldiers marched in behind her as if they were at drill, carrying torches and looking around in fear or boredom, not caring that their clanking noise could be heard at least 200 yards down the caverns.

Porticus and Spiridale were already through the antechamber and looking through the next doorway, only to see...to see.....

"Hang on," Jim said, flipping pages. "I lost my place."

I sighed. This was the third time in a row. Jim was never prepared to be dungeonmaster, even though he always had a month between his turns. Carla flipped her pencil onto the table in irritation and got up, wandering to the refrigerator.

"Okay, here it is. You see another cavern, but in this one there's mist covering the floor. It comes up to about your knees."

"Elven knees or human knees?" Larry asked with a smile.

"It doesn't say."

I waved my hand level in front of me, making a wave. "It just goes up and down, depending on who you are."

Carla came back from the kitchen. "Okay, what'd I miss?"

"If you wouldn't wander off, you wouldn't miss anything," Jim said snidely.

"If you wouldn't lose your place, I wouldn't wander off."

I filled her in quickly, wanting to cut them short. I was always doing that, taking care of Carla and answering questions for her. But I wanted to get on with it, so what else could I do?

"Well, Porticus isn't going in there," Carla said, protecting her character. "It's obviously a trap."

Larry was leaning back in his chair with his eyes closed. "Send the soldiers in," he said dully.

"Hmmmm," Jim considered it.

He continued reading, then said, "Okay. A huge chasm suddenly opens behind us. The ten soldiers given to us by General Bransfield fall in, plummeting to their deaths, screaming all the way. They are eaten by demons, and thus spared eternity in hell. The chasm closes back up, and all is as it was before."

Just about every module did the same thing – in case our characters couldn't handle the adventure, a non-player character would send a team of soldiers to help us. Since Jim, as dungeonmaster, would have to roll the dice for each soldier during a fight – thus turning every battle into a three-hour tour of boredom – he got rid of them ASAP. Sometimes it was a red dragon which appeared over the horizon, swooped down, turned the soldiers into crispy-fried critters without touching any of our characters, and flew away again for no apparent reason. Sometimes it was orcs. Sometimes it was gas which was deadly only to 1st-level characters. This time it was a chasm. We all waved good-bye to the soldiers and got on with the game.

"I can try Gust of Wind," Carla said, referring again to Porticus and one of her magic spells. "Just blow the mist on out of the cavern."

"Maybe that's what they want us to do," Larry said.

"Can we see where the mist is coming from?" I asked Jim.

"Which one of your characters looks, Spiridale or Larissa?"

Crud. Whenever a DM started asking questions like that, something was up. But there was nothing I could do. Whatever I guessed as a player, I had to continue playing Spiridale and Larissa in character. Just because I knew something didn't mean they did.

"Larissa," I replied, with more confidence than I felt.

Jim rolled some dice. "Okay," he said. "Larissa would see two glowing eyes rise up out of the mist which no one else would see. Before she can say or do anything, her mind is completely taken over and she runs into the mist, standing in the middle of the room."

My eyebrows went up. What did he just say?

Carla sighed, "Porticus would try to stop her." She said this with a complete lack of enthusiasm. Carla really didn't like me, and I really didn't like her. Which meant our characters never liked each other. But, she was Larry's girlfriend, and that was that.

"You can't stop her," Jim said. "You're all surprised."

"Um, are you forgetting that Larissa's a wild elf?" I reminded Jim. "Ninety percent resistant to charm?"

"Doesn't matter. She's been completely taken over."

I wanted to throw my Player's Handbook at him. Dungeonmasters always hid behind this I-know-something-you-don't-know attitude, and you really had to remind them what your characters could do or they would just run right over them. And you.

"Spiridale would run after her," I said resolutely.

Spiridale was my pride and joy, a wild elven ranger, my favorite character of all time, the one I'd poured my heart and soul into. Larissa was his betrothed, a wild elven ranger/druid (elves weren't allowed to be druids by the rules, but we ignored whatever rules we didn't like). Even though I knew it was stupid to rush forward as a player, it was what Spiridale would do without hesitation when he saw Larissa in danger. I had to play him in character.

Before Jim could say anything further, I had another question. "Has Larissa's body been taken over, or her whole mind? Is she aware? Can she change shape or can she do nothing? She's still got the Telepathy spell going with Spiridale, you know."

Jim read some more, then said, "She is dimly aware. She can't exchange thoughts with Spiridale any more. She has no control over her thoughts or body. No, she can't change shape."

"Porticus will now try to grab Spiridale," Carla sighed.

"Parith will do the same," Larry added, speaking for one of his two characters. We all ran two characters to double our fun, except the DM, who only ran one, and he had to keep that character rather subdued, as he already knew what the adventure we were playing held in store for us.

"Roll initiative," he said. Carla and I each rolled a ten-sided die to see which one of us moved the fastest and got the drop on the other. I won.

The dungeonmaster looked at the die rolls, then narrated the action to fit the results. Thus was life and action and adventure added to our little table there in Larry's apartment.

"Okay. Porticus and Parith lunge for Spiridale at exactly the same time, but Spiridale nips through the doorway just ahead of you. You each get a hand on him, but collide with each other, so he gets away."

Carla threw her dice bag down in disgust. She really was irritating, throwing little tantrums whenever she didn't get her way or her characters didn't get the spotlight. Jim and I both ignored her, partly because of Larry, partly because we both knew she did it on purpose. Larry was the only one who truly seemed not to notice. He really loved her, the idiot, but damned if I knew why.

"Spiridale rushes forward," I said, "and since Larissa's not responding through the telepathy, he just tries to grab her and take her back."

"Roll initiative," Jim said again smoothly.

Crapola granola! I thought, Here we go. Had I mentioned earlier that Spiridale had his bow out? I couldn't remember. Jim was a stickler for that kind of thing. If you didn't specifically say it, he considered it hadn't been done.

I rolled initiative – against the DM this time – and lost. Oh, well. I would just fire arrows at whatever enemy appeared, and if Jim didn't mention the bow, I wouldn't either. Hell, I knew he had his weapons drawn! Why wouldn't he, unless he had a death wish?

But no enemy appeared. The initiative was to see whether or not I – er, I mean, Spiridale – got to Larissa in time. He didn't.

"A hole opens in the roof," Jim said, "and Larissa shoots upward into the sky, where you see a gigantic bird catch her in its claws and fly away. You have just enough time to tell that there's a whole swarm of them up there before the hole closes again, leaving you in darkness."

I grunted.

"Spiridale, get out of there, it's too late!" Carla said, playing Porticus. Porticus was to her what Spiridale was to me – her favorite, and she would never lose her.

"Spiridale steps onto the spot where Larissa was standing." My voice was cold, resolute, as if, for a moment, I was Spiridale, and his fire was mine, his spirit was mine, and nothing could stop him. Nothing at all!

"Fine. Kill yourself," Carla waved me away. Larry had to smile – he, at least, understood.

Jim just sat there, looking at me with a sadistic smile. A smile which said, 'Don't do this, or you'll be sorry.'

I ignored it.

"Are you sure?" he asked, being as obvious as he could be.

I nodded. "Spiridale has his sword in one hand and his bow in the other so it won't get crushed."

He shrugged his shoulders. "You shoot up into the air. It's cold. Your body is snatched violently in mid-air by a huge, powerful bird. It takes your breath away. Roll a constitution check to see if you lose consciousness."

I made it without even blinking. Spiridale's strength and constitution were outstanding.

"How well can I see? Is it still daylight?"

"Oh, yeah. You can see for miles around. In fact, you're already several miles above the ground. The bird is crushing you with its grip, so take 1d4 points of damage per round, starting now. Do the same for Larissa, starting last round. I forgot to tell you."

I rolled a four-sided die. "Fine. Two points of damage. I've got 83 left. I'm bleeding to death."

My sarcasm was wasted on Jim. He was enjoying this. He didn't like it when one of us played maverick. As players, we knew our characters would be okay, because otherwise, it wouldn't be any fun. So he would have found a way to keep Larissa safe. I knew that, but that wasn't the point. I had played Spiridale true to form, and Jim was going to get me for this. It was for moments like this that he loved being dungeonmaster.

"Can I see the bird that took Larissa?"

"Mmmm, yeah," he mused, "but just barely. By the way, it's getting colder."

"The cold doesn't bother me. I'm an elf."

"Since when?"

I blinked at him. "Jim – Spiridale's always been an elf."

"No, since when are elves immune to cold?"

I held up the elven handbook. "This just came out last month. It's got a lot of nifty new stuff that elves can do. That's one of their qualities. It's got to be damn cold before they notice."

"Well, it's damn cold."

I glared at him for a second.

"Does Larissa know what's going on?" I asked.

"Everything's the same with her. Nothing's registering with her right now. Your quiver and all the gear that was on your back fell off when the bird grabbed you, by the way. You don't have any arrows or any other weapons except your sword and bow."

"Why would it fall off?" I argued. "I admit it was probably crushed pretty badly by the bird, but it's strapped around my body. My wooden arrows would have been splintered, but not my metal ones. They're strong enough to penetrate rock."

He rubbed his chin. "Yeah, okay."

I sighed and rubbed my eyes. What now, Einstein? I asked myself.

"Andrew."

I looked up to find Carla on the phone. "What kind of pizza you want?" she asked.

"Anything with meat, nothing with vegetables," I replied, then sank my head again. Jim is not going to let me do this, I thought. But I had to try.

"Is there still a swarm of birds around?" I asked.

"Yyyyyyyep."

"Spiridale will wait until he is over one, then reach up and slice off one of the bird's legs with his sword to free himself. He's going to land on the back of one of the other birds."

"Does he have an airborne riding proficiency?"

"Nope."

Jim paused. "Does he have a land riding proficiency?"

"Nope."

"Is he nuts?"

"Yyyyyyyep." I could say it just as well as he could.

"Okay," he shrugged. "You're as over a bird as you'll ever be. Roll it. Take a minus two to hit because the bird is holding you, and you would have to twist upward to strike at it."

I rolled and hit. "Did the leg shear off?"

"Not quite, but it's pissed. It's shaking you violently and cursing your ancestors. Take 1d6 of damage."

"You mean the bird is talking?" I asked.

"Evidently."

I rolled my damage and marked it down. "Spiridale will try to grab the leg above the cut so he won't fall, and hack it off the rest of the way."

"How can he do that if he's holding his bow in his other hand?"

I breathed in deeply. Why did he have to remember these things?

"He'll hold his bow in his mouth!" I replied, exasperated.

I rolled again and hit.

"The leg is cut off. The other claw has let you go. It's screaming in pain. You're hanging three miles up in the air with one hand."

"Spiridale will sheathe his sword and draw his whip." I knew he still had his whip, as it was strapped to his side. That part of him was inspired by Indiana Jones.

"You do realize that by this time, the bird you wanted to land on is gone?"

I gritted my teeth. "Then I'll choose another one."

"There's plenty to choose from. Roll a dexterity check at minus 5."

"How about minus 4?" I haggled. "He's going to use his whip to latch onto a bird in case he misses."

"Then do a DEX check at minus 5 and roll to hit with the whip."

"Which do I have to make?"

"I don't know," he replied. "Lets see what happens, first."

I made the DEX check, but missed badly with the whip. I almost dropped it, in fact.

"Okay, you land squarely on the back of another bird. Roll initiative."

I did, and won, then rolled to hit. "I grab hold of the bird with all my strength."

"Just in time. It starts bucking wildly to throw you off. Roll a strength check."

I made that one, too. "With one arm around its neck, I put my whip back on its latch, snap my bow back on, and draw my sword. I put my sword around its neck completely, and say, "Follow the bird carrying that girl or I'll cut your head off, and I don't care what happens to me!"

"It would obey."

"'As fast as you can!' he would say."

"The bird would fly faster. You would begin to catch up to Larissa."

Larry was busy working on which spells Parith would memorize when the group next rested. Carla was reading a novel in an easy chair, obviously irritated because the DM was having to attend to my little side adventure, leaving everyone else out for the time being. I pursed my lips, feeling guilty, knowing that I shouldn't. She often did the same.

"Roll a ten-sided die," Jim told me.

I did so, and rolled a three.

"Okay, you would hear a 'whoosh' and a beating of wings behind you. You would turn to look, and the bird whose leg you cut off is attacking you with its beak and remaining claw. Roll for initiative."

"It doesn't matter. I'm pulling my whip this round. Wait a minute – wouldn't that bird have bled to death by now?"

"Nope," he said.

"Why not?"

"It just wouldn't," he said, keeping his face blank.

As dungeonmaster, he was not obligated to tell us anything our characters wouldn't know – and, indeed, that was as it should be. However, with Jim, I never really knew if it was in the module or if he was just doing this to be an asshole.

He rolled. "It attacks. Hit with the beak, missed with the claw. Take 12 points of damage and roll another DEX check."

I barely made the DEX check, then actually won the initiative for the next round, which was almost impossible against such an opponent. "I would yell to the one I'm riding, 'Keep flying!'" I said. "Then Spiridale would lash his whip around the neck of the one he's on, and with his other hand, attack the other bird with his sword."

The whip maneuver was completed successfully, but I only managed a glancing blow with the sword.

The bird hit Spiridale twice, doing some hefty damage, and he failed his DEX check.

"Spiridale falls off," Jim said with a smug look.

"I'm hanging on to that whip," I told him.

"All right." Jim was really smiling now. "The bird you're hanging on to is choking, and you're dangling right in front of its claws. So guess what it starts to do?"

"Fuck!" I exclaimed. This was going to get nasty.

"Oh, by the way," Jim went on. "About this time, the paralysis wears off for Larissa."

I slumped forward with my head in my hands. Larry grinned, and Carla laughed out loud.

"She comes to and finds herself in the claws of a huge bird being borne through the sky. What does she do?"

"She changes into a sparrow," I sighed. "It's small enough to escape the bird's claws, and it's fast."

"All right. She would escape. See there? All you had to do was wait a few minutes, and she would be fine. But no, you had to jump right into it, and now you're about to lose your favorite character."

"Yes, but Spiridale didn't know that, Jim. He wouldn't have reacted any other way. Why would he have just let her go?"

"It's called 'rationalization,' Andrew," Jim said. "We've had this conversation before. Find a reason for him not to go. Say he's dedicated to the group, that Larissa knew the risks, so he's not going after her."

I grimaced. Easy for him to say.

"Look, I'll try in the future, okay? Just let me get on with this now. Does she see Spiridale?"

"Oh, yeah. She's still a little disoriented, when suddenly she sees Spiridale fly right by her, hanging by a whip and being attacked by two birds."

Carla laughed some more. I had to admit, it was pretty silly, on the face of it. Of course, it wasn't her character's ass in a sling.

But then, Carla had no character. I grimaced at my own stupid joke, and congratulated myself for the wisdom not to say it out loud.

"Spiridale fights back with his long sword."

Two rounds later, it was obvious he wasn't going to make it. Bleeding and down to his last hit points, Spiridale was about to black out and fall. Larissa could keep up, but was powerless to help, as she had to change back to her natural form in order to do anything.

Jim rolled the dice one last time. Two powerful claws were ripping Spiridale to shreds every round, and they did so again.

"Spiridale is at negative five," I said with a straight face. I was the one who chose his actions. I would take it like a man. "He loses consciousness and falls."

Jim meshed his fingers together in front of his face. "Well, as it happens," he said, "Spiridale only falls about ten feet before he lands in something soft. As it turns out, he managed to hold out just long enough to make it to their nest, built on a mountainside. Larissa would see him land right beside several huge eggs. Eggs which are beginning to crack. Any moment now, little big birds will be popping out, and they will be hungry.

"Now, I want you to know that their nest was farther away than that, but I moved the mountains a few miles closer in order to save Spiridale's life."

"Thanks," I mumbled. "Larissa will land on the nest, changing back to herself as she does."

"Several large birds are now sitting on the edge of the nest, including the two Spiridale fought. Both of the wounded birds are immediately set upon by the other birds, who seem to be either driving the wounded ones out or trying to eat them. You can't really tell which."

"So none of the birds are paying attention to Larissa and Spiridale?"

"Oh, no. You don't get away that easy. There are still plenty of others making sure you don't escape."

"Larissa casts Produce Flame. She'll burn the nest."

"With herself and Spiridale in it?"

"We're both wearing rings of fire protection," I said. "We'll be all right. Larissa plans to grab Spiridale in all the smoke and fire and run down the mountainside."

"All right. As soon as Larissa tries to cast the spell, she discovers it is no longer in her memory."

"What?" I exclaimed.

"It's not there. All of her spells are gone."

"Why didn't you tell me that before?"

"The module says that anyone who has their mind taken over in the catacombs will lose all memorized spells, and that they won't realize it until they try to cast one."

"Well, shitskabobs," I breathed. This was a pretty pickle, no doubt about it.

Jim was smiling again. "So – what are you gonna do now?" he asked.

The doorbell rang.

"Pizza," Carla called out. "Everyone give me money."

"Oops," I triumphantly flashed an exaggerated grin at Jim. "It seems we must pause for station identification."

"Well, you use your station identification to think up something, because the module specifically says that these birds are evil, and will not surrender or back down when the blood lust hits them." He shook his head. "I don't know, Andrew. There's not much more I can do."

We usually play on a Sunday night, so not only do we stop for pizza, but we always break at 10:30 to watch Star Trek: The Next Generation. What with that, and the fact that almost invariably someone forgets their modules or character sheets and has to go get them, we actually get in only about four or five hours playing time, even though we usually stay up until 5:00 in the morning.

And you know – now that I think about it, the pizza at the Sunday night D&D sessions always tastes like shit to me, no matter how well it's made or from whom we order it. There's just something about the constant delays, and the two liters of pop I'll drink by the time the night is over, and the cigarette breaks, and the papers and the filthy mess everywhere, and the cat which has to be thrown off the table every ten minutes, because if the cat gets your dice, you never see them again.

But mostly, I think it has something to do with the fact that we aren't quite having the fun we think we are, or are supposed to be having, or it isn't the right type, or something. Not with Carla constantly bitching, and the pounding in my head as I know I have class in the morning but don't care because this is more fun and more important, and this general feeling that I'm not really enjoying these people as much as I think I am, but it's a lot better than being alone.

The pizza brings it all out, though. It's when I eat the pizza that I feel like I'm really stuffing something, stuffing something deep down inside. The doughy stuff isn't good for me. I know that much, vaguely. But all this is supposed to be fun! So I just ignore that feeling, that intuition, like I have so many others, and push it to the back of my mind. And I pour some more soda, and fight off the sleep, and write my spell sheets with such detail and energy that someone from a foreign country would think I owned my own business, to which I would reply, No, no, it's just a game. Nay, not only a game – an art form.

An art form, yes, and fun, whenever we really get going. But I turn my head the other way whenever I pay the price.

But I can't think about all that right now. You see, I've got these two characters in a jam, and I've just got to find a way out, because I'm awfully clever, only no one has ever recognized that sufficiently. And I want recognition for my cleverness, so if you don't mind-

I'm really rather busy right now.

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