Dungeons & Dragons, and Grimrock with friends
Upon starting up Legend of Grimrock for the first time, all it took for me to get excited about the game was the possibility to have an adventuring party composed entirely of minotaurs. Instead of recycling the same generic races of elves and dwarves of every other fantasy game, Almost Human included the options of Insectoids, Lizardmen, and Humans. For me though, it was all about the minotaurs.
Having read tales of them being the great evil locked away inside labyrinths, I immediately began to spin a new story of false imprisonment and a grand adventure of a group of minotaurs escaping the mountain prison together. I got excited about the prospect of spending time walking down long passageways and fighting monsters in the dark. The reward, I imagined, was going to be guiding this unlikely band of warriors to their freedom.
“It’s like playing Dungeons & Dragons,” I tried to explain to a friend of mine a few days later. “You put together a group of people, pick their skills, and then go through the campaign.”
“But you’ve never played D&D,” my friend replied. “How do you know what it’s like?”
I haven’t. It’s true. Despite trying for years to convince my local friends to try a campaign, they keep turning me down. For nearly a decade now, I’ve wanted to play with nothing but paper, figures, and our minds for the story, but I can’t seem to get them to want to try it.
It’s what I was thinking about as I was telling him about Legend of Grimrock. As I described solving the puzzles and fighting in first-person, I’m thinking how much fun it would be if we could translate the game back into its roots and all take part in the game. Each one of us could be one of the four prisoners and battle our way through the depths together.
Of course, I say nothing about this. I merely talk up how interesting the game has been to me and how I want to interview the developers to ask them about their game.
After I’ve gone quiet for a few seconds, he finally responds. “It sounds like a neat game. But the minotaurs don’t actually talk or anything, right? They’re just pictures on the screen like the others in the party you mentioned.”
“They’re not just pictures though. It’s the idea behind them. Minotaurs.”
I get excited about the simplest of things. Although, “fixated” might be better word. In my group of friends, I’m the creative one. I’m always writing strange stories about ancient gods being caged under subway stations or trying to convince them to help me with my next game project. Dungeons & Dragons has become, to me, more than the board game engine and rules, but an idea of how groups tell stories and interact together.
It’s the dream I have of us all playing games together again, something we haven’t done since high school coming up on nine years ago now. We’ve all gone down our separate paths, but still manage to discuss video games every now and then. It’s become the glue that still connects us as friends. We get together sometimes over coffee and drinks and talk about our lives, yet it always comes back to video games with us.
I pressed one friend on why he didn’t want to play Dungeons & Dragons with me, despite us still talking about video game we first played together many year later. It wasn’t that he was in his late-twenties now, or couldn’t spare the time. “I’m just not much of a writer,” he admitted. “I play games to experience a story, not to write one myself. I want it told to me and to make some decisions about it, not have to do the work myself.”
I restarted Legend of Grimrock the other day. It was starting to get tough for me and I wanted to start over. Faced with the character selection screen once again, I decided to make another party of minotaurs, but this time name them after my friends. For each one, I paired them with what I imagined their statistics and skills would be in this fictional world. In my mind, I wrote our story and began to pretend this was our campaign.
Even though it isn’t really adventuring with them, I like to think it is. That maybe, somehow, we were finally able to take this journey to discover the mystery of Grimrock. That all I have to do is load that session again and there we all are, standing around in the darkness trying to find our way forward together.