Make a Performance Check: Agile and the Bard

My wife is a fan of Felicia Day. She’s watched The Guild and read her biography. We went to see her speak when she came to town; like my wife, there were a number of women and girls in the audience, all who seemed to glow and find inspiration in the way Felicia Day finally makes it okay from them to like gaming. So, she decided she wanted to give Dungeons and Dragons a try.

She said to me, “You’re a nerd. You must know somebody who plays D&D.” I was going object, but I couldn’t help admit that she was certainly right about the nerd part and very likely right about the rest.

It took me two days.

So, for the first time in about thirty-five years, I’m playing D&D — now, along side my wife.

When I was kid, I played D&D with friends from school. We lived in a college town, and we inherited in the public schools many of the habits of the students on campus — for better or worse. D&D was one of them.

I hadn’t thought of this for years, but the BDMOC — big dungeon master on campus — was named, and people swear this was his real name, Grandolff. He ran a ridiculous campaign of some twenty or more players, some of them from the high school.

In my circle, none of us could stand the guy.

In our view, there were two types of players: there were people who were trying to re-create the narratives of the novels that inspired them and there were ‘munchkins.’ Munchkins preferred the fantasy world to the real world, and they seemed to want to bring the fantasy world in to the real world. Grandolff was a munchkin.

We thought about it the other way around. For me, especially, D&D was a place for me to figure out who I was. We took ourselves into that space and experimented in an unbounded world.

Get this: I’m the youngest of five, with two older brothers, both of whom I played D&D with. At first, and for years, I always picked diminutive races to play: hobbits, dwarves, gnomes — always small. And, I picked classes that hung back and supported the group, leaving the heroics to others: clerics or thieves. It doesn’t take a Freudian, you know?

So, as I got older, I discovered the Bard, a class who all about history and music. I started playing a half-elf race for no other reason for the bonuses that race got. There was no more and no less to the reason why I picked “half elf” from the list than utilitarian value.

And, so, for years, I was a “half-elf bard.” I listened to a hell of a lot of music and read a hell of a lot of history. These interests were now reflected in the way I played D&D. And, the way I started playing D&D was more assertive and self-directed.

You could have predicted my college career from my D&D game play.

In the game space, players can explore being good or evil, ordered or anarchist, greedy or selfless, cruel or generous: we could give ourselves a try and see how it felt.

Of course, we stopped playing all about the same time and all for about the same reasons. School work — and at least the part that I actually did — became more demanding. We got jobs. Some of us (not me, but that was a self-inflicted idiocy for another memoir) got girlfriends. We applied to colleges. We started careers. And, so, exploring our identities in fantasy worlds was left behind as we explored our identities in the material world we were growing into.

Once, a few years ago, my brother and I speculated whether we would revert to our high-school selves if we re-joined a campaign as adults. I wrote a short story about it, which is unreadable.

Something like that has actually happened, however: as I’m re-discovering D&D as an adult is that I’m bringing my career as an Agile Coach into the game. It’s more or less the standard parade of folly that I bring into just about everything I do. I am, after all, an idiot above all, and if I’m bringing anything into gameplay, I’m bringing that.

What follows is a journal of my journey trying to bring Agility to a Dungeons and Dragons campaign, mostly because I’m far too stupid not to.

(Next: “Orc and the Tuchman Model: Storming the Keep)

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