Saturday, March 6, 2010

Dork Quest

In high school, my group of friends could have been described, with a large degree of accuracy, as social intermediaries. On one hand, we were far too socially inept and dorky to be seen with the popular kids, those of the sport-playing, partying, and getting-laid variety. On the other, we were far from the kind of kids with the Pokemon sketchbooks, Magic the Gathering cards, and vast array of anime knowledge. We were a group comprised of diplomats, with members sending emmisaries to all groups. We had connections with jocks. We had connections with nerds. We had connections with cheerleaders, academics, punks, goths. If one of us knew someone, they knew all of us by proxy.

In truth though, we were more closely pigeonholed as the experimental nerd. We would dabble in drinking, and dabble in sports, and do a bit more than dabble in videogames. But one summer put us squarely in the category, and it is both with hidden pride and hidden shame that I share this particular adventure.

I believe it was the summer before any of us had jobs, or cars. It was when our mothers would give us money, and we'd bike or walk to eachothers houses (though our central base of operations was at Foley's house) and literally spend a week there. We would do some stuff outside, sure. But it was mostly spent in basements, in air conditioning, doing nothing but eating pizza and playing videogames.

It was the summer that Eric, one such member of the group, had picked up an old NES at a flea market, along with a veritable shit ton of games. After hooking it up to a shitty old TV in Foley's basement, we'd spend an outrageous amount of time playing everything from Tecmo Bowl, to RBI Baseball, to the classic Marios and Metal Gears. It was fun, but grew a bit tiresome after a while.

One day, we ventured across the street to Nick's house. Now Nick was older than us, but not by much. He still didnt drive, and he was still just as much a transient youth as any of us. But Nick's house was a palatial estate compared to Foley's, so we took whatever opportunity we could get to change to a more favorable accomodation. But the boredom was the same, and we needed something to do. Rooting through Nick's brothers closet, we came across an old board game. "Hero Quest."

Now "Hero Quest" is exactly the kind of game you think of when you hear the name. It's essentially D&D lite. I can't recall why we thought it would be a good idea to try it out, but I think it had something to do with the boredom.

So there we were, four kids playing Hero Quest. The rules, as I recall them, were fairly simple. Basically, you create a character, of the pen and paper variety. Each character had certain attributes and strengths to aid in the quest. The object of the game was to recreate these scenarios outlined in the guide book, for which each scenario was a dungeon. The dungeon was mapped out on the same board every time. There were fake plastic doors, and racks of weapons, and desks and scrolls and all that jazz. Whenever you entered a room, the dungeon master, a character named Zoloft or Zoltan or something(Eric, who was also playing as a regular quester...a huge breach of protocol), would set up the room as the players looked on in wonder. Each dungeon had an objective, but there were also plenty of traps, loot, and enemies to encounter. There was lots of die-rolling, and leveling up, and things of that nature.

Get the idea? D&D lite. Just like I said.

My character was Floppy Stumps, the noble dwarf. Myself, along with Eric's Barbarian, were the powerhouses of the group, dealing pain wherever our fake people wandered in the fake dungeon. If I remember right, Foley was the Theif, or Rogue, or something like that, and Nick was a Wizard. I forget a lot of the details, but it really isnt the details that matter. What matters is just how far we were sucked in by this game.

There were 20 odd scenarios. Each one lasted anywhere between two and three hours. For a period of two weeks, we did NOTHING but play Hero Quest. We would wake up, around noon, order pizza, play Hero Quest until six, order more pizza, and play even more until about two in the morning. Then we would crash in Foley's basement (which was essentially a giant litterbox for his was fucking gross) only to repeat the process the next day. We BECAME these characters. We would make every decision like it was our last. When we got a new piece of loot, we would bicker over who would get it, and for who it would make the most sense. What I can remember is that I had some badass shit. Some mystical axe that added +2 to my attack rolls, a mystical shield that added +3 to my defense rolls, and an amulet of ressurection, which would revive me to full health once per dungeon (or something like that). Like I said, some badass shit. When we finished a dungeon, the screams of ecstacy that came from that basement were deafening. We were fucking dorks, and it was awesome.

But we were also dorks playing a D&D knockoff with a finite structure.

When the scenarios ended, we started going through withdrawl. It was nuts. We thought about replaying it, but we realized that our characters were too powerful at this point. It was agony. But Eric came to the rescue. He had been researching all things "Hero Quest" online and found that there had been TWO expansion sets, featuring new maps, new loot, and new class structures.

Now anyone reading this who has ever become obsessed with something dorky knows that when there is something that adds to something that you already love, you lust over it. You covet it. You need it, like geek heroin.

We had to fucking have it.

So Eric used his ebay account, and we pooled our parents money, and we waited.

And waited...and waited.

Then, it finally came. Complete with beat up 80's packaging, much to our shame and delight. The moment had finally come where we could continue the quest. The Hero Quest.

Except...something was different. Somewhere in that week or so that we waited for the mail to come, the allure had faded. Or perhaps it was the charm of it all. Either way, the expansions, of which we got through one, seemed lackluster. The peril wasnt there. The loot wasnt uber. It had failed to capture the magic crack in a bottle of the original title. In a way, it was kind of like a major catharsis for us as a group. A passing of the torch. In that small window of time, we went from the biggest of dorks to something more, or less, depending on how you look at it. But we felt the pang of regret, and longed for more.

But that's a tale for a later date.

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