Ephesians, Faith, Games

Armor Class, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the DM

I played Dungeons and Dragons for the first time at age 40. Pure Luck, then my boyfriend, had a long D&D history, and he offered to run a game for my boys, as a way they could all get to know each other better. The only trouble was, he wanted me to play, too.

For several years, I had been aware the boys were playing pencil-and-paper D&D with a good friend and his siblings, but this would be a major production. Pure Luck had created his own world (with a little help from some favorite books) with a particular pantheon of gods and goddesses. He had cases and cases full of little figures, carefully hand-painted by a savant of the art, a fellow unusual enough to be a character in a game himself. Pure Luck held back the biggest, most terrifying monsters and brought them onto the game table shielded behind a screen, that they might be revealed to the greatest effect.

Until #1 Son left for college, we played as often as Pure Luck's work schedule would allow: #1 Son and Snowman and Snowman's friend, J-Bass, and even yours truly. We changed characters to please someone, then no one was all that happy, and finally college and jobs brought us to a halt.

Then #1 Son asked if we could play when he came home this summer, and we decided to bring back the old crowd, and Pure Luck allowed Light Princess to roll up a character of her own, and thus we all gathered around the dining room table with our little figures last Wednesday night, to play "The Game."

My character is a druid priestess, Trillium, and she is pretty powerful in many respects, but because she is a druid and therefore a follower of the Earth goddess, she can't wear metal armor. Leather armor is at best a 13 armor class, as compared to the 18 J-Bass's Paladin sports or the 20 LP's new Fighter wears. So I'm much more vulnerable to damage, since all that stuff is subject to twenty-sided dice rolls for damage, and it's harder for the bad guys to injure someone with a 20 armor class than a 13.

I must admit I worry about these things while we are playing. I worry about the hit points and the risk of character death, and you would think after eight years I would stop catastrophizing and just play the darn game, but I am so invested in everyone's enjoyment that I sometimes ruin mine.

Here's why. At the near-climax of last week's gaming event, while fighting some sort of robot (which I didn't even know we HAD in this universe, but apparently there was always a lesser god named Teknos in the pantheon and maybe I should have been paying attention to him) in the tight hallway of an evil, modernist tower, J-Bass our Paladin rolled to hit and got a 1.

If you've ever played D&D, you know that's bad. A 1 is the worst roll you can get. You roll some percentile dice to determine whether it's just a losing effort at that part of the battle or something worse: a critical fumble. And if it is, you roll percentile dice again, and the DM looks at his list to see what terrible thing is going to happen next. Some of the terrible things are fairly lightweight. You knock yourself unconscious and are no help until the battle is all over, or you accidentally hit your companion with your staff and he takes several points of damage.

But Sabin the Paladin was standing right next to Snowman's character, Timballisto the Elf/Fighter, and on Pure Luck's chart, the number indicated, "You sever your companion's arm at the shoulder joint."

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Armor class made no difference.

An odd mixture of shock and hilarity ensued, nervous laughter that went on until tears welled in some of our eyes. Snowman went around the DM's shield to see the words on his computer screen, then left the room. I, the Mother, began to worry that the character would die, would simply bleed out, then quickly realized it was my job to keep him alive until the DM figured out something more permanent.

He was surprised, too, you see. It took a few minutes for all of us to gather ourselves and continue.

Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but
against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers
of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the
heavenly places.Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able
to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand
firm.
(Ephesians 6:11-13, NRSV)

I really didn't need to worry, but I did. I forgot something important.

In a world threatened by elementals and dragons and giants and trolls and owl bears who drop wizards with few hit points from terrible heights, the ultimate goal of our particular DM is not to harm us, but rather to stretch our imaginations and employ our complementary strengths as people and characters to make the game a good one. Whether our armor is leather or plate or happily enchanted by elves, the maker of our game will be sure we are equipped for what is coming next, whether or not we realize it.

We can count on this in our spiritual lives, too, that whatever befalls, we will be equipped if we draw on our natural gifts and turn to those around us for support and call upon the God who made us, whose spiritual armor, worn faithfully, will not fail us. 

(Yes, I'm thinking about Proper 16B…)

From left to right: Trillium the Druid, Sabin the Paladin, Timballisto the Elf, Marlowe the Wizard and his bodyguard, Gwyn the Fighter. Oh, and an Owl Bear, just because.

Our Party Dark

11 thoughts on “Armor Class, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the DM”

  1. I love this piece. I’ve been playing D&D myself recently, for the first time in about 20 years. It’s been an interesting experience, but I don’t (yet?) have anything so eloquent to say about what meaning I find in it.

  2. I’ve never played a “real” D&D game, only on computer. The real thing sounds like way more fun.

  3. I have NO idea about D&D, but I do know about the Ephesians passage–and have you seen these pjs?

  4. wow. I’ve been learning how to play Bridge, and I thought THAT was complicated! cool post!
    Oh, and also, because I work for the UMC, when I saw your post title, I thought DM stood for District Minister – I thought, “wow! I can’t believe she’s gonna talk about learning to like her boss… online!”

  5. I am constantly in awe of the connections you make between the activities of everyday life and scripture. Thank you for sharing your insights.

  6. Some friends and I have been playing 4th edition for a few weeks now. Last week, we were in a fight and one of the creatures was gunning for our Wizard. The DM was playing it straight–the Monster Manual explained that this creature went for the low-hanging fruit when it came to AC–but he was nearly bloodied only two rounds into the fight. I was the only one trained in healing, so I got him close to me and used my healing skill to give him a second wind. As soon as we were able, we all gathered around him so that he could use his magic and we could protect him from melee and ranged attacks.
    D&D really is a fascinating game with plenty of opportunities to show instances of faith and goodness. Unfortunately, it’s had a bad reputation for a very long time. Thank you so much for bucking this trend.

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