Groggy-eyed and pie-shaped, I blunder into the kitchen. I have eyes only for the blinking red light on the coffee machine. I have not showered. I have not dressed. I am a lumbering arabica-bean detector. By the time I turn around from the counter, the single sip of coffee has returned me to humanity, and I see my daughter sitting at the kitchen table. Or rather, I see who I assume is my daughter -- her head is completely concealed by a book as she absentmindedly slurps Puffins-and-milk.
The book is the Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook.
It was perhaps the proudest moment of my life as a parent.
My adult life has been a process of delayed gratification. Once upon a time, I thought I'd retire and get caught up on a life of sloth and gluttony. But as it's become clearer and clearer that I will work until I'm dead, I've been trying to figure out how to maximize my escapism, rather than planning a second lifetime of leisure. My life has become a min-maxing exercise in delayed gratification.
My daughter, on the other hand, has seemingly endless resources with which to plumb the depths of the race-class array.
"I'm totally playing a Half-Elven Wizard," she declares.
"Really? Why?" I ask. I've always considered half-elves to be a bit of a pansy choice.
"Half-elves are great. Just ask Elrond."
The logic is irrefutable.
Several days pass. A random trip through Barnes & Noble leaves me with a copy of the Players Handbook 2, which I can now justify as a "gift." She disappeared to her bedroom with it, ignoring bedtime rituals -- no kisses on the hands, no tender bedside moments. Just a hurried 'I love you daddy' and a race for the reading lamp.
Morning. Father, stumbling towards coffee. Daughter, buried in book and cereal. "I changed my mind Daddy," she informs me, with a voice that implies she's renegotiated the Kyoto protocol while I was inconsiderately sleeping.
"About what sweetheart?"
"Gnome Bard. I'm totally playing a Gnome Bard."
"Really? Why?" I ask. I've always considered Gnomes to be a bit of a practical-joke race, and Bards to be be one of those almost-but-not-quite inventions of D&D.
"Well, gnomes are cool -- they can just sort of disappear out from underfoot. And bards can sing people to death."
"Really?" I haven't read the PHB2. I walk behind her and read over her shoulder. It turns out a first level bard in D&D fourth edition can in fact sing someone to death.
For the next thirty minutes we sit side by side, digging into the important stuff: Law vs. Chaos, the questionable parentage of the Half-Orc, the unspeakable importance of the ten-foot pole. I regale her with the death of my first character at the hands of a hill giant. I sing the praises of the Tomb of Horrors. She's startled to learn that the game has changed at all since I was 11, and seems both saddened that she's not walking directly in my footsteps, and excited that she's on the cutting edge.
Someday soon, we will sit across the long, felt-covered table in the basement. She doesn't know it yet, but the Lich who sits on the onyx throne will come out of hiding from the top shelf in the back corner of my office again. Her first level gnome bard will be no match, but the Lich will have better things to do. He will utter an epithet and depart in a puff of smoke, leaving minions to deal with the minor threat. Perhaps he will torment her for years to come. Or maybe the next day, my little gnome will discover boys or rock-climbing or astronomy or Britney Spears, and I will have to discover if the acquisition of lipstick will truly bar her from re-entering our own, private Narnia.
It won't matter.
Because it's the metagame that's the important part. It's the conversations about playing, about gnomes and bards, about the games of the past, and about the games we hope to play.
"Daddy, can we play right now?" she asks. I look at the clock. 8:05.
"Sorry sweetheart, you have to go to school." She looks despondent. Her eyes drop to the equipment list, where she's been considering the merits of ranged weapons.
"That's ok," she says. She gets up from the table, and puts the book in her school bag. "I can start working on her background in class."