The more atmophere, the better, right?
I stepped into the new game shop on the outskirts of town, awed by the stone masonry that made up the place. I mean, sure, it was paper-mache or something, but it was cool. A very lifelike bird in an old iron cage sat on the counter, between the Magic: The Gathering cards and a dusty Catan box. Plenty of variety. There were cases of figures and map tiles, well-painted to the point that they looked natural. Bookshelves decorated with sigils, and only one employee, a man with a leather vast and short-cropped brown beard. I only nodded to him as I entered, enraptured with the rest of the place. Were those… oil lamps, for lighting? I probably wouldn’t be able to afford anything in this place.
Luckily, I hadn’t come here to shop.
As I rounded a corner into the back room, I saw the group I’d joined online. And that was when I started to feel a little underdressed.
“Kancles!” one of them called to me. He was probably Hagglefart, the planned fighter of the group, judging by the freaking FULL PLATE ARMOR he was wearing. A sword sat by his side.
I didn’t sign up for LARPing.
The other player was Giggly88, our rogue. She wore a full black robe, with a belt of many satchels and a staff leaning against her chair.
Oh, but our DM was in casual clothes. A v-neck t-shirt and cargo shorts. I guess my jeans and sweater weren’t that out of place.
“Hey guys,” I said, pulling out a chair. “No luck finding a fourth player?”
“‘Fraid not, buddy.” The DM, a guy we met on line with the moniker of ‘Trancendent_Molucool’, handed me a sheet.
“I already brought a character sheet,” I said, pulling out a folded sheet of paper from my pocket. “You told us to come prepared.”
TM shook his head. “No, not that. This is a DM slash player agreement.”
I rolled my eyes. “Like, what, I agree not to go murderhobo or break immersion or rape or whatever?” I jotted down my name on the dotted line, then shoved the paper away. “I know we met online, but you can trust-”
We were in a tavern.
A tavern. Of course a tavern, it always started in a tavern. Beautiful barmaids, rowdy dwarves, dusty air a half-empty mug of ale, and an offer of employment soon to take place. Sure, fine, okay, I’ve seen worse.
But I was in a tavern. Me, Kyler, wearing my sweater and jeans. Not my character, Jason Thawly. ME.
“Guys?” I asked.
Giggly88 pushed back in her chair, propping her feet up. “Well met, the two of you,” she said, then winked at me.
“Wait, no,” I said.
“Forsooth,” Hagglefart said, his voice a deep and preposterous baritone, “I have yet to fight alongside you, but it warms my heart to know that nay, my adventure shall not be alone. How fared thy travel, strangers?”
“Hold the freaking train, ‘fart,” I said. There was a tinge of rising panic in my voice. “What just happened?”
“Train? Whatever is this ‘train’ you speak of?” Hagglefart gave a boistrous laugh, then cocked his head and glared at me. “I’ve ne’r heard of such a thing. Perhaps you’ve had one too many of those ales, my ally.”
“Hmm,” Giggly88 murmured. “We’ll handle negotiations, if you don’t mind.”
I had about three responses to that, and none of them were sane.
One, what in the names of the various gods was going on? I was supposed to be in a shop, rolling dice! Having fun with a pretend world!
Two, why had he glared at me?
Three, did they really want to leave the level 5 bard out of negotiations? I had a charisma of 20, for gods’ sakes.
“Guys,” I said weakly. My voice was beyond weak, it was shaking. “Don’t you think we’ve taken the game a little too-”
I thought I was going to die. A jolt of white hot pain nailed me back in my chair, and I gasped. My heart skipped a beat or two, and my vision was flooded with stars. I tried to move, scream, think. Nothing happened. Only a warning popped into my head, one in the calm voice of our DM.
“Do not break immersion,” he said. “This is your first strike.”
And then I was back in the bar.
Hagglefart and Giggly88, or no, it was Leonin and Vaila Strongard, gave me sympathetic looks. They knew. They weren’t saying anything, but they knew.
Another man was at our table, a commoner with a mohawk and a lip piercing, and holy crap he was a half-orc. Leonin slid a piece of paper across the table from the orc, to me.
“Our employer,” he explained. “Their tribe has been attacked over the last several months by the undead, and they need someone to stop the evil before it wipes them out completely.”
I tried to speak, but my mouth was too dry.
Leonin gave me a sad, and understanding, smile. “Before you accept,” he said, “you might want to read the contract.”