#1: Dungeons & Dragons 

#1: Dungeons & Dragons 

Nerd Curious is a yearlong monthly series in which Todd VanDerWerff tries the nerdy things he missed as a kid, either due to lack of access, time, or ability. He has a rough schedule planned out, but feel free to use the comments to suggest more nerd experiences he needs to have.

It’s when I’m facing down a lich whose evil spirit has been imprisoned inside of an accursed gemstone that I finally “get it.”

My name, for the session, at least, is Lenore. I’m a cleric whose abbey was overrun by the undead horde at some point in my recent past. I was one of the few survivors, and I still bear a burning desire for revenge. That desire has carried me here, to a city built of bone, filled with evil spirits, dark shadows, rats that turn into men, and vice versa. Earlier, I nearly died when facing off against a giant spider. I grabbed hold of a book filled with evil spells. And now I’m at the lowest levels of the dungeon, where the lich who holds me prisoner has offered me a choice: Stay imprisoned in here with him until my companions find a way to release me, or be freed, only to have my alignment turned toward pure evil.

I’m not going to lie. The idea of starting out as kind of an irritating goody two-shoes—indeed, playing a character I designed myself to be specifically that—and ending up as a traitor to my own god and a dark terror whose thirst for revenge warped her beyond recognition appeals to me. But at the same time, I think “No, Lenore wouldn’t do that.” Lenore is both me and not me. She has a lot of the same qualities I have—that goody-two-shoes thing, namely—but she’s also a woman and a cleric and adept at all manner of things, while I’m sitting here, clutching a die I’ve only recently learned how to interpret, and trying to place myself in her headspace.

It’s possible, I realize, to put myself in two different places. Todd thinks it would be cool to see what happened if she turns evil. Lenore knows she’d never take that deal. And in that instant, I can see what this whole role-playing thing is about, why it holds so many in its expensive thrall: For an instant, you aren’t seeing with your eyes. You’re seeing with someone else’s eyes. And it’s intoxicating.

I say no, and hope for the best.


When I was a kid growing up, there were few things more evil than Dungeons & Dragons. A short-lived Saturday-morning cartoon followed some other show I watched that morning (probably Muppet Babies), and I remember one time when my mother, on the phone, came racing in to change the channel for me when I began screaming about how Dungeons & Dragons was beginning, so terrified was I of Satan finding his way into my fragile little brain. Some kids would have hunkered down and seen what was so forbidden, stolen a moment to start questioning just what it was their parents didn’t want them seeing. (My sister was one of those kids.) But I was terrified of the world to come, the lake of everlasting fire, the idea that a demon might reach up through the floor and snatch me down.

Lenore and I had a lot in common.

As I grew up, though, I felt robbed. The culture and town I grew up in had allowed me to pursue some geeky pursuits that called to me (our local library had a surprisingly robust science-fiction section) while stifling others. (Good luck trying to get comic books anywhere nearby.) When I turned 30 and started thinking about a third of my life—if I’m lucky—being gone, I realized that I had a chance, now, to pursue the things blocked to me through religion or geography. I could have a sort of second adolescence and a chance to get my nerd on as a relatively successful adult, not a sheltered teenager hoping to avoid damnation. That’s where this column comes in.

When I started planning this series, playing tabletop role-playing games was first on the list. I’d poked my way through a handful of computer RPGs, and I was more or less familiar with what D&D was from seeing it on TV and from the enthusiastic recommendations of friends who’d come to the game late in life, like my colleague David Sims, who’d wax rhapsodic about a game he’d begun with some friends and the various romances that had sprung up between their in-game characters. I love stories, and I love storytelling, so these games seemed like a natural fit for me.

I probably would have loved them if I’d come across them in high school, like most people do, but I lived in a town of less than a thousand people, with no easy access to larger cities where one might spend the amount of money and find the right materials needed to set up a D&D game. Now that the Internet exists, it’s hard to conceive of these places being so cut off from the rest of the world, but my hometown seems stuck in a pocket out of time, roughly the same now as it was in 1986, just smaller, and with fewer operational businesses. And let’s face it, even if I’d had access, I wouldn’t have wanted to play. Because of things like… well, skip to 2:10 in the video below.

In the video, Christian singer Carman, a staple of my youth, has accepted the invitation of a local warlock, who wants to taunt him about how Satan is going to defeat God when all is said and done. In the ’80s, Satanists and witches were always doing this to innocent Christians in the various fictions we told ourselves, simply because Satanists made for convenient straw men. None of us would likely ever know any of them, so it was easy to say whatever we wanted, to project onto them our own fears about how we must come off as confrontational and preachy when we were pushing our own faith on those around us. (If you watch enough of the video, you’ll see that Carman eventually gets in the warlock’s face about how great God is. There’s always a moment like this in these stories. Unlike in real life, there’s always something to prompt it, beyond an imagined affront.)

The paraphernalia Carman confronts included some fairly obscure items kids my age would have been unlikely to have, like crystal balls and hanging pentagrams. But they also included the big two, the ones we had to be on the lookout for at all times: Ouija boards and Dungeons & Dragons. You never knew when you might be at a sleepover, and someone would break out one or the other, and the next thing you knew, your soul would be the devil’s, without so much as a second in between. When I watch the video now, I see how silly it all is, how overwrought Carman is about the need to feel persecuted in a land that will do no persecuting. 

But I still feel the faded scars of claws digging at me from below.


What I didn’t know until I started researching this article is that TSR, the onetime publisher of D&D, tried to eliminate references to demons and devils from later editions of the game, like the second edition of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, which I played for one of my last games over a long weekend of role-playing excitement. Created by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, the original Dungeons & Dragons was a paradigm shift in gameplay mechanics. It built off previous game models—particularly miniatures-heavy war games—but it did so in such a way as to mostly remove competition between players from the model. What emerged was a weird combination of raw luck, collaborative storytelling, and improvisational theatre.

Gygax and Arneson’s creation exploded in popularity, soon prompting edition after edition of the original game and its advanced version. The template is always the same: A group of people get together, build characters, and go on a quest, usually in a fantasy setting. The mechanics are always the same: Dice are rolled, monsters are slain, and treasure is gathered. But the game itself constantly shifts, in such a way that makes it impossible to pin down. It depended on so many elements. Would the other players be ready to quest with you, or would they wander off on their own adventures? Would the game leader—the dungeon master—be a solid storyteller, capable of keeping the story moving along without railroading his players through plot points? Would the dice cooperate just long enough to let everyone survive to the next room?

The characters, ultimately, are just sheets of paper, sheets filled with numbers and names of items. But they become so much more when developed in tandem with a number of other people, when tossed together into friendships of convenience. The DM (dungeon master, also known as a GM, or game master) for my final game that weekend is a man named Brett, exactly the sort of person you might picture when imagining the perfect DM: soft-spoken, bearded, wryly humorous, bedecked in a faded tie-dye T-shirt. He’s explaining to a couple of prepubescent girls in our game that it never quite works when someone picks up a character someone else developed and tries to play him. The time it works, he says, is when you love the character, when you feel something as real for that sheet of paper as you might feel for a flesh-and-blood friend, at least as long as the DM is weaving the spell around you and the magic is working just enough to help you let go.


I’m at Orc-Con, a four-day event held at a hotel near the airport in Los Angeles. I’ve been turned onto it by Mike Olson, an A.V. Club reader who designs RPGs professionally. (He gives me brief glimpses into two he’s working on, and the process sounds complicated.) He contacted me about role-playing after I wrote a bit about wanting to pursue nerdish pursuits in an AVQ&A last year, which evolved into this column. I initially asked him if there was a local group he could recommend for me to join, but he quickly got me interested in the notion of Orc-Con, which would allow me to sample many different game systems and try many different things, to get a feel for what I liked.

During my first session, I’m not entirely certain I’ve made a good decision. The game is called Traveller, and is set in the far future of our own solar system, in a weird sort of film-noir/cyberpunk/Western hybrid, with no aliens and not much highly advanced technology. It’s a game that sort of feels like if Blade Runner and Firefly had a baby, honestly, and I’m hopeful it will turn out well. I get added to the game late, which throws everything off, leading to the original players still equipping their characters two hours after the session began. The adventure gets a late start, and the GM is a rambling, discursive sort, who leaves us the freedom to immediately jump off the trail of his planned adventure, but doesn’t hesitate to start rushing us through what he had planned when the hour grows late. Everything I feared about role-playing games as an adult was present here: The story is rushed, the players seem slightly at odds with the GM, and the female characters are present solely for T&A appeal. 

With a little over an hour in the session to go, one of the players looks at the GM for a long, silent moment. He shakes his head, with what appear to be tears brimming in his eyes. He’s sure, he says, that this game could be so cool if there were weeks and weeks to play it out. He’s sure this GM is a good guy. But this is not a game for a con, he says. It’s not a game for a con.

He gets up and packs his dice away in a big bag. He strides out. There’s an awkward moment before the GM turns to the rest of us and begins repeating the scenario, even though it’s much harder to return ourselves to whatever planet we were supposed to be on with that moment of real-life drama walking out the door. I’m pretty sure I’ve stumbled into my worst nightmare of what this could be.


The division in the world of role-playing right now, as Mike and others lay out for me, is between the “story” games and the more traditional games. Traditional games usually borrow the framework of Dungeons & Dragons in some fashion. They involve rolling lots of dice to determine what happens in encounters with non-player characters and monsters bent on your destruction. They usually involve the GM taking players through a specific scenario—no matter how detailed—and inviting them to find ways out of the situation on their own. If you’re thinking about a role-playing game, you’re probably thinking about one of these.

“Story” games, meanwhile, are much more interested in building collaborative storytelling experiences. One example of the genre is Fiasco, which aims to boil down the tropes of crime capers of the sorts the Coen brothers might turn into films and make them into short play sessions, designed for three or four people. The genre also includes games like Breaking The Ice, which simulates a series of dates between two people; Microscope, which lets players create a world and its lengthy history, often millennia long; and The Mountain Witch, which always involves samurai going to apprehend a mountain witch, but can take any number of paths to that goal. Story games are looser, more like making shit up in the backyard as kids.

There are, of course, players of both who won’t touch the other. Even Mike, an open-minded, generous player, will admit he was skeptical about Fiasco—“Not enough dice!” he says—until he sat down and played it. Now, he’ll list it for me as one of the best-designed game systems out there (along with, surprisingly, the fourth edition of Dungeons & Dragons, which has attracted much fan ire—Mike likes how perfectly balanced and elegant the core system is, which drives some fans nuts). Following his loose instructions for gradually immersing myself in this world, I pick up Fiasco next, after the Traveller debacle.

And, honestly, if you were going to pick the perfect gateway drug for me (and many others, I expect) to get into tabletop role-playing games, it’d be this one. The basis of the game is a set number of improvised scenes between characters you create. The scenarios are structured enough so that you always know what you’re doing, but freewheeling enough to leave you plenty of room to discard or hang on to certain elements. (The corpse of a dead hooker pops in and out of reality as needed in the first game I play.) The only rule is that you should try to create a satisfying story. If somebody’s got a great idea, even if it doesn’t fit with your particular vision of how the story should play out, you’ll glom on to it soon enough, as I find when I try to turn an Antarctica-based story into a spy thriller and gradually get sucked into the alternate “aliens in the ice” storyline pitched by another guy at the table.

It helps, of course, that the others I’m playing with are welcoming and so much fun to bounce off of. Two of them are a couple. The other has a blustery way of leaning forward and dictating what’s going on in his scenes, but also a sly sense of humor. We fumble our way toward a conclusion. (Fiasco’s genius lies in how it all but forces you to tell a three-act story; there’s room to explore, but never so much that you completely leave the trail.) We do silly voices. We make each other laugh. It’s glorious.

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Story games didn’t yet formally exist when I would have first been interested in tabletop role-playing. For better or worse, the genre’s reputation lived and died on D&D to a degree even greater than it does now. And that meant the controversies over the game’s “evil” nature might have buried the whole genre. The easy answer, of course, and the answer TSR arrived at when considering how it could remove the game elements that made it the target of conservative Christian groups in the ’80s was to simply remove the devils and demons, the sexually suggestive art, the “evil” character classes. Perhaps not coincidentally, Revival In The Land, the Carman album “The Witch’s Invitation” comes from, came out in the same year as AD&D, second edition, which aimed to combat that negative perception. Not that it mattered. Even today, Googling “Dungeons & Dragons evil” leads to any number of polemics, or at least an overwrought but typical Jack Chick tract.

The more I play the games over the weekend of Orc-Con, though, the more I wonder if there isn’t more to it than just the presence of demons and other fantasy elements, even though those always trip Christian groups’ trigger warnings. (See also: Harry Potter.) Ultimately, these games go against one of the foremost tenets of any fundamentalist creed, whether fundamentalists realize it or not, and that stokes tensions. See, role-playing games simply don’t punish you. Fundamentalism of any stripe requires hefty punishment for breaking the rules. Role-playing games invite you to try whatever works, and only punish bad dice rolls.

The most comforting thing about having a belief you know to be righteous is that the second you accept it as your code, you know exactly where everything fits. All that’s terrifying or uncertain is swept away by a creed others have built for you. Things like the actuality of whether gay marriage will hurt anybody don’t matter, because gay marriages’ very existence contradicts everything you know to be true. It’s easier to use the law to enforce your preferred reality than figure out a new way of living next to a world that shouldn’t exist. 

Yet all role-playing games are about worlds that shouldn’t exist, and they’re also about essentially banishing any concept of cheating—and attendant punishment—from the game’s reality. I’m not gay or a woman, yet I play characters who are both over the course of the weekend, including a Japanese schoolgirl who gets everything she wants through sheer power of cuteness, which is about as opposite from me as you can get. But there’s also no set scenario, no game board, no comforting limit to where the reality stops. You can’t put things in boxes, because the only boxes that exist are the ones the GM and the players invent for themselves. Give four players the same sets of tiles consistently in a game of Scrabble, and they’ll probably play markedly similar games. Give those same four characters a basic D&D setup, and they’ll likely play incredibly different games each time. This notion is about as hippie-dippie and left-wing as they come. It’s a breakdown of the natural order, an installation of a new one that exists only in your head. But like most things that exist only in your head, it’s more powerful than just about anything else. Put that in the hands of adolescents, who already question everything placed in front of them, and who knows what happens.

If Carman had known this, instead of seeing D&D as a generic “bad thing,” he might have been even more terrified. The fictional witch who invited him over to his house was a familiar, friendly construct, someone who kept rubbing his “otherness” in the singer’s face, taunting him with his lack of salvation. But in a way, that fiction is comforting because it suggests that the sinners out there are just filling a precise role in the drama of the believer: They’re there to remind you of how good you are. That’s less possible for those who simply reject the game entirely, be they progressive political activists, Occupy Wall Streeters, or D&D players. You can’t yell someone into submission if they aren’t playing the same game.


Many game systems nowadays are trying to bridge the gap between the traditional games, with their dice-based structures and rolling systems, and story games, with their decidedly freer structures. My second day at Orc-Con is spent playing a variety of these types of games, including a system called Lady Blackbird (in which I am the aforementioned Japanese schoolgirl) and a system called Apocalypse World, which also gave rise to Dungeon World, which is the game where I become Lenore and finally start to figure all of this out. 

The dividing line between traditional systems and story games seems to be chance. In traditional systems, almost everything is left up to the roll of the die, to what happens when that 20-sided beast turns up with the 1 facing the sky. The story games are much more about giving players room to explore, with few dice rolls, if any. The hybrid systems have plenty of dice-rolling, particularly in combat, but they largely leave the results of that dice-rolling in the hands of the GM and players. There’s little rolling to see how much damage was taken, and if the GM wants to save someone’s skin, he can. The encouragement is less to kill off players who hit an unlucky streak but to keep piling misfortune on them and see how they crawl back out. It largely works, and the most fun I have all weekend comes at the Dungeon World table and later when playing Lady Blackbird. I’m in the game, and so are the other players and GM, and we all hit a sweet spot where the story’s momentum keeps plunging forward, and we’re racing along after it.

At first, I have trouble letting go, letting myself be someone else. The idea of narrating all of the actions my alter ego is undertaking is strange to me, and when people keep asking me to describe what it looks like when I do something, it strikes me as incredibly odd. I’m a writer, of course, and I’ve written my share of fiction. But this is so… naked, so improvisatory, so out-there. There’s no way to go back and edit, and when other players keep trying to draw my character into conversation, there’s that remove, that sense that I always have that I’m me, but also someone standing behind me and watching what I’m doing. I keep trying to deflect the game itself with easy jokes—in Apocalypse World, about a goat I’ve invented for myself as a pet. It’s a way of coping with the fact that I’m still slightly out of my depth, I imagine, but it feels almost as if I can’t give myself over to the spirit of the thing.

But in Dungeon World, it all clicks. The GM asks me about Lenore’s history, and I invent the bullshit about her abbey being destroyed by the horde and the god I worship. And then Mike—who’s playing this one with me—writes it down on an index card and pins it on a board. This is because the game I’m in is part of a series of games, constructed to build a shared universe that will develop all through the weekend. It begins to snap into place for me. What I’ve just said is real, or as real as any fiction ever is. The other players over the next few days will see that card on the board, and Lenore’s abbey will still be destroyed for them. I’ve invented a building full of people and killed them all, and as it goes up on the board, it’s thrilling.

I finally start to lose myself. When my compatriots raise the necessary gold to restore me from the gem in which I am imprisoned, I cheer.


The last day is for D&D. That’s the way Mike helped me structure my weekend, so I’d work my way up to the biggest experience of them all. I’m going to play two versions of the game, the newest, fourth edition, and the older, second edition—the one that tried to appease the Carmans of the world and failed miserably. The fourth edition has only been out since 2008, but it’s already on the way out, about to be replaced by a fifth edition. I’ve gotten Mike’s endorsement, but when I ask some others why they don’t like it, they mention that it makes everything too much like a videogame, specifically World Of Warcraft. (WOW hangs heavily over everything here.)

I end up liking fourth edition quite a bit. After a weekend of rules-lite games, it’s a bit of a shift to have to roll a die for so many things, and to roll a second time in combat to determine damage (after determining whether I’ve even hit the monster), but the game really is beautifully designed. The common complaint is that the sorts of crazy scenarios that were common in earlier editions—where players with one hit point left would eliminate some all-powerful dragon via a lucky shot—have been massaged out, replaced by a game where everybody’s a hero, the monsters are life-sized, and the game is all about a steady accumulation of skill. It works perfectly as an introduction to D&D, but perhaps the problem is that so few people are still trying to be introduced to the game. Like many specialty, geeky pursuits, tabletop role-playing is battling the fact that its audience is graying, with few younger people coming in to replace the old-timers, who have very specific ideas of what a role-playing game looks like. Paradoxically, this comes at a time when the barrier to entry into the industry is almost nonexistent. Anyone can design a game, play-test it, and put it up on the Internet as a PDF. That’s how Fiasco got its start.

The fourth-edition game I play is a goofy lark about a bunch of fraternity brothers who end up transported to a medieval world, which may or may not be a computer simulation. To get back to reality, they have to fight their way through a bunch of cats who’ve been turned into dragons. I’m pleased when my choice to be friendly to an earth elemental (a giant stone man, not unlike the Fantastic Four’s The Thing) gets the monster on our side in close battles, and the jokey tone of the whole thing is a nice immersion into a far more complicated world. The GM is the closest thing we have to a celebrity here, a co-host of a role-playing podcast called Happy Jacks, who keeps having his podcast catchphrases shouted back at him as we play. He grins and bears it, but it’s evident that it’s wearing on him just a bit. The camaraderie among the people here—slightly over a thousand, though many of the players here are here for videogames or board games or LARPing or miniatures—is one of the chief selling points for me in the case I’m rapidly building for myself on why I should keep doing this. But if you’re someone everybody recognizes, it can have its drawbacks.


One of my strongest memories from childhood is when I was 4. We were in North Carolina, visiting my aunt’s family, driving toward the ocean. I was sitting in the back of the car, and we pulled up to an intersection. At the other side of it, I could see another car, with another little kid in it, about my age. As the car pulled away from the intersection, never to meet our car again, I was stabbed with a sudden, piercing realization: I was always going to be myself.

I started to cry uncontrollably. It was one of those seismic shifts. Up until then, I’d always felt as if I might grow up into someone completely different, or might randomly become my best friend someday. And, obviously, the man I am today is nothing like who I was at 4. But at the same time, I can remember and somewhat sympathize with the fact that, in some odd way, my body was a prison. It was a place I didn’t mind being, a place I was comfortable, but it was still a place that limited me. I could look at someone and imagine what it was like to be them, but I couldn’t actually be them. And for all the seven billion on the planet right now, this is true. You drive down the highway and are surrounded by other people who have thoughts and dreams and desires and hopes that are just as real and pressing to them as yours are to you, and you will never know what that’s like. And it’s always going to be that way. 

Perhaps because I was adopted, I was more acutely aware of this. If I had been born a girl, I would have gone to a different family. If my biological mother had chosen some other family profile, I could have ended up in Oregon or Indiana. Or what if she and my biological father never had an ill-advised encounter? Maybe I never would have been born. What if my grandfather died in World War II? What if the break-up my adoptive parents endured their sophomore year of college stuck, and stayed permanent? What if my wife’s grandmother never left her alcoholic husband and dragged her young son back to her South Dakota home? So many things, so many tiny things, have to go right for you to be here, whether your life is good or bad, that you will never even know just how different it all could have been with a few different knocks here and there. There’s something miraculous about that, and something terrifying.

I started writing shortly thereafter, started reading voraciously around the same time. I’d always been into both, but there was a shift at age 4, a shift to finding a much-needed path into the other lives I’d never lead, at least so long as I was in this incarnation. I like being me, and I like who I am, but I’m followed all the time by shadows of other places and other selves, worlds where I’m the son of a grocer and work at the store now, or where that car accident was a little worse and I’m in a wheelchair, or where I’m a female cleric who barely escaped an undead horde and can’t put that behind her. Why do these people play? I wonder. Do they, too, want an escape? Do they find something fun in exploring a shadow life? Or are they just enjoying themselves, not thinking about it too much, as I’m always forced to do?

Around that same time, I started asking my mother more questions about my birth parents. She told me, alternately, that they “didn’t have time for a baby,” and that if my father and her had been able to conceive naturally, they would have had my sister and I, because that was God’s plan, that was the way everything shook out every time, the way things settled into their perfectly labeled and marked boxes. I accepted it at the time because I believed it, I guess, but I also doubted it, thinking of that other kid in the car I would never be, but maybe could have been. If you start digging down, start tearing up the asphalt, there are no rules, just constructs, just clattering dice and a universe where we’re all storytellers, making it up as we go.


The last game is a second-edition game of AD&D. The second edition gets a bad rap from many players because of the way its rules often seem counterintuitive: You need to roll low on certain things, and high on other things. But it maintains a cult audience for many reasons. Among them is the fact that it was many players’ first exposure to the system, and the idea that it’s the best system for producing the kinds of crazy outcomes Mike listed, which is an attraction for some. Fourth edition might provide the best experience, but second edition allows for the most compelling, most insane story.

Brett’s the guy running the game, and he has a philosophy that the players can do whatever they like, so far as they’re largely in the confines of his dungeon map, an intricately drawn and designed little world filled with secrets he reveals to us only after the session has wrapped. We’ve budgeted five hours for this session, but it soon seems like we’re going to need much more, as two younger boys, brothers, keep separating from the main party to go off and try to steal random artifacts or fuck around to test the world’s limits. 

It’s driving me a little insane. I’m a slave to story, to the idea of charging straight forward. Plus I’m playing a paladin, a protector of holy virtue. Another guy at the table—who’s brought his daughters to a game that will last until 1 a.m.—is even more irate than I am at the two kids bouncing around, jumping on chairs, loudly crowing about how uninterested they are in anything but their own path.

But then I realize maybe they, more than anyone, are playing the right way. The dungeon is full of secrets. Why not try to find some of them, try to figure out what’s going on? Why not see what Brett has in store for us and take things as they come? Why charge forward because that’s what you’re expected to do? Why not try and screw the head off an ancient, evil statue and try to steal it?

I check in and out of the game. I’ve been at this for three days straight, and I need to start getting back to my everyday life, to start settling back into my real role as a TV critic with -3 dexterity. I go through the motions of playing the good guy, of standing in front of doors as we open them, in case they’re booby-trapped. This, of course, is how I end up getting splashed with copious amounts of acid, which begins to eat away at my health. (“It’s not a second-edition game unless there’s a room full of acid,” Brett says, and everyone agrees.) Instantly, I’m into it. So are the kids. So’s the guy who was so upset with them. I try to leap atop a nearby statue to get out of the way of the growing pool eating away at me, even as the others trudge for the stairwell, taking the hits.

I end up facedown in the acid, dead, the victim of terrible die rolls. Chance eats away at all of us sooner or later. I beg Brett for one more chance, one chance to redeem myself on one last roll of the dice. He shakes his head. That’s just how it is. You can’t roll that poorly and expect to live.

Unless…

Unless I’m a paladin—which I am—and unless I’m in good with my god—which I am—and unless I roll a perfect 0 percent on two dice. Rare, but possible.

It won’t happen. It can’t happen. It’s not going to happen, but I pick up the dice, and I do that thing where you breathe on them, and there’s a moment of anticipation, both from me and from the  others, and somehow, the one who kept me from this when I might have needed it most, even if He had nothing to do with it, really, is the one who’s going to resurrect me, even if He just turns out to be somebody in Brett’s head.

I breathe on the dice one more time, and I roll.

Next time on Nerd Curious: DC Comics

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