Kid Dungeon Master’s Neighborhood Reign: Nostalgic Confession Inspired by “Die”

Die 1!

Teen RPG fan Solomon brings foreboding gameplay setup to Die #1. Art by Stephanie Hans, words by Kieron Gillen, letters by Clayton Cowles.

1. A Long-expected Party.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: my annual comic book reviews included a promise of a future entry inspired by Die, the new Image Comics series by Kieron Gillen and Stephanie Hans that I encapsulated like so:

What if you took the structure of Stephen King’s It, but instead of fighting a murderous super-clown, the kids and adults in their respective eras were reliving the ’80s Dungeons and Dragons cartoon as a horror story, and the Big Bad was Tom Hanks from Mazes and Monsters turned into a truly mystical, manipulative interdimensional overlord?

Painted art by Stephanie Hans is like a high-end gallery showing on every page, while writer Kieron Gillen is engaging in ambitious, phenomenally detailed world-building, worrisome in its six-digit word count and rising. He’s exploring fantasy tropes and toying with them from within, but he’s also designed an entire RPG from the ground up to facilitate his vision, one that’s dredging up so many childhood memories for me — some I would dare label “definitive” in regard to my personal backstory — that I’ll need to devote a separate entry to this series in the near future. I have a lot of baggage to unpack here, and I blame Gillen for wheeling the baggage cart right up next to me.

I had the pleasure of meeting painter Stephanie Hans at this year’s C2E2, where I gave her the elevator-pitch version of this entry and she encouraged me to share it. I got a kick out of meeting Kieron Gillen at C2E2 2013, where we briefly chatted about his Britpop-magic fantasy Phonogram and he asked me which character I identified with most. I honestly hadn’t given much thought to it and was ashamed to have no answer, either prepared or improvised. I’m not used to pros at a con asking me a question beyond “Where are you from?”

(Having had time to think later, my answer came to me, obvious if twofold. As a young adult from 1989 to 2000 I imagined myself Seth Bingo, self-anointed tastemaker and DJ, bringing my boom-box and tapes/CDs to entertain at work after-hours — no requests allowed, sharing my collection with peers who just didn’t get me or my nightly playlist. For my life 2000-present I’ve been closer to Lloyd, engaging with music intellectually via long thinkpieces written only for the audiences in my head, but rarely physically and never socially, thus arguably denying its greatest powers. If only I could’ve written all that on an index card before approaching Gillen’s table. Or narrowed my answer down to just one of those two alienating dudes.)

The farther I’ve read into Die, the more I’ve found myself reflecting on my own experiences with Dungeons and Dragons, an integral part of my preteen years. It was a compelling confluence of entertainment and imagination. It was a big hit with the other kids who joined in. It also ushered in the end of my circle of childhood friends.

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GenCon 2012 Photos, Chapter 4 of 4: Games People Played, and the Mascots Who Sold Them

For those who didn’t attended GenCon 2012 in Indianapolis last weekend and are beginning to wonder: yes, the gaming convention had games, for playing as well as for buying. Participation in most gaming sessions and tournaments requires extra ticket purchases above and beyond your admission fee, so your personal budget has to be drastically inflated accordingly. Foreknowledge of the game and its rules is a plus, thus shutting me out of a good number of opportunities. Also, I always worry that my first try will devolve into an hours-long heated debate about everyone’s variant rules they use back home versus what the rulebook actually mandates. And then there would be egos involved, followed by machismo, expressed through the throwing of dice and props at me, and then my whole weekend is in shambles and I have to forfeit the game and fees out of concern for my safety and mood. Rather than risk this ludicrous scenario coming to life, I leave the gameplay to others.

My wife and I did play-test one game in the exhibit hall. Luckily for us, the folks at Smirk and Dagger Games are always accommodating to inexperienced passersby who seek something that’s different instead of alienating. It helps that they never seem to have crowded tables. The last time I attended GenCon, I bought a copy of Run for Your Life, Candyman, a spoof of Candyland that adds a violent gingerbread-man-on-gingerbread-man combat system, after they impressed me with a demo of its then-upcoming sequel, Shoots and Ladders, in which the armed cookie-killers are transplanted into a familiar, interconnected, 100-square setting. This time around we tried Sutakku, in which those frustrating small and large straights from Yahtzee are given slightly relaxed rules, then adapted into a tower-building scenario using a handful of d6’s whose standard pips are replaced with Japanese kanji. The game master handily beat us, but I’m proud that it wasn’t a shutout. $24 seemed steep for a handful of designer dice, a cardboard circle, a rulebook, a scorepad, and a deck of tiny penalty cards that worked much the same as the “Share the Wealth” cards from Life, but it was fun while it lasted.

Beyond that, the following photo parade captures an assortment of sights and statues from our GenCon 2012 thumbs-up experience:

Dungeons & Dragons booth entrance

The centerpiece of the exhibit hall was naturally Dungeons & Dragons, one of the reasons GenCon was created in the first place back in 1968. The booth entrance looms large and bids you welcome!

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