I'm an awkward guy. For as long as I can remember I have felt uncomfortable in many social situations, desperately aware that I might look weird, odd, maybe even a little strange. Standing more than 6 foot tall, I appear gangly, yet have strong child bearing hips. I am equipped with an accent befitting of a mentally handicapped swamp monster, which will rarely start a sentence without the phrase "Erm". Whenever I am locked into deep conversation, the meeting of eyes will force me into spasms of errantly wiping my face, convinced that the residue of dinner is slowly bungee jumping from my chin. What I'm saying is that I am a slightly pathetic human being.
As you would might imagine, doing the ordinary tasks of everyday will frequently challenge me; I struggle internally with an appropriate greeting message "hello" sounding too formal, "eyup" too regional, and "hiya!" punishable by death in my own inner court. But I muddle through, introverted and in my comfort zone. That is until I decided I wanted to be a journalist and headed to RuneFest.
I liked the PR people over at Jagex. Friendly people. The type of folk that you might easily recommend to others. That is until they betrayed me. Wandering around at RuneScape's annual convention, I idly asked for a recommendation on what to do next. Wrong move. Several staircases later, and with a slight wooziness in my head I found myself staring at the words "Live Dungeoneering" while my guide wandered away bidding me farewell, cackling I presume.
Now I enjoy role-playing games. I'd go as far as to say they are my "thing" but I have never entered into the lie. I realize that it is and will always remain a game, a piece of software. No matter how many virtual, jiggling cleavages, the reality of PC and man sitting in increasingly smelly underwear will always remain. The idea of live role-playing is alien to me, and I wish it to stay so, I needn't remind you of my weirdness.
But now I was staring down the barrel of a gun, waiting in line for RuneScape's signature dungeon crawl experience. My only saving grace was the amount of people in line waiting to engulf themselves in fantasy. People stood on tip toes eager to get a glimpse at the chamber beyond, their homemade capes and robes fluttering in the air conditioning. I simply stared down, thumbing my skinny jeans and muttering "go to your happy place".
After a minute or two, I resolved to slink away into the darkness and find my way to the in-house cocktail bar, ready to drink myself out of the embarrassment - but I was stopped. Just as I was ready to turn tail and run, a man in a red t-shirt wandered into view "any single adventurers?" almost everyone stopped and accounted for a partner or identified as a team. Slowly the line parted, turning heads back to see the lonely warrior, all eyes met mine - subconsciously I wiped my chin convinced of a small piece of pie stowed away upon it.
Within seconds I was ushered to the front of the queue. This was a nightmare! At one moment I was standing ready to leave and now I was thrust into the fast lane, a stranger in someone else's group. I mumbled my greeting to the 4 teenagers that I faced. They were at least a cheerful bunch, each asking for my "99er" (RS level) credentials, shocked when I revealed I had but a single "50" in baking. Their disappointment was almost palpable when I showed no signs of homemade clothing or cardboard sword.
Waiting in that small cavernous room for our adventure to start was like waiting for the electric chair. I gazed at my shoes convinced the answer to my troubles lay in the fabric. All around me the various assembled groups whipped themselves into excited frenzy "what if we get to slay a goblin?" one said "I bet it's ghosts, Halloween, gotta' be ghosts" came another. Everyone around me beamed with anticipation, my own team slapping hands and congratulating themselves for a teenage well spent, leading up to this moment - I smiled weakly, heart in mouth.
And then the moment came. An over-enthusiastic developer ushered us all behind a curtain and began to explain the scenario. In the darkened room lay a large circular plate, with several pieces of a puzzle laid scattered around it. "You must make these pieces into a star and a cradle; your time starts now!" And with that he overturned a sand timer and sauntered into the shadows.
After much prodding, fiddling, dropping and cursed words, my team admitted defeat. I was simply gracious that I was not appointed a magical name and told that I was a level 39 Paladin. We moved onto the next room: a simple jigsaw puzzle, I could do that!
Several minutes later we are at the final challenge. I had even begun to enjoy myself. There were no mentions of being in character, aside from a ginger fellow only going by the name Star Duck, and I had yet to slay anyone with a rubber sword and an active imagination. I was on the home stretch.
Approaching the final challenge, I knew this one was different. A robed man paced the far side of the room, his eyes wild, smile contorted with wickedness - what was his game? After a few seconds I had convinced myself that I was about to transcend into role-play and have at this man in a battle to death involving the words "Fireball! Fireball!", and "No fair, I fire-balled you twice! No one has that kind of heat defense!"
The challenger finally acknowledged our arrival, tension built, Star Duck even let out a little squeak. "Welcome adventurers!" our host exclaimed, leering at us individually, and sweeping back and forth "to complete your trials you now face the most difficult challenge!" I shut my eyes slightly, he wanted to me assume role didn't he. I was to be Dane, son of Danöl, Lord of the Mountain. I knew it. Those bastards in PR.
My face was contorted, cold sweat dripping from my head and then the robed one announced "TIME FOR THE RIDDLE!" I could have kissed the old crone from head to foot. I slowly ushered myself into the shadows as he spouted gibberish. I was no Bilbo Baggins, and had no penchant for riddles in the dark, my team saw to that as Star Duck guessed correctly inside of 5 seconds and had us sweep to victory.
Outside, released from my dungeon prison I breathed the sweet air of victory. All around me came the cheers and whoops of my victorious comrades, Star Duck looked moved to tears. Reclining against the wall like the surviving teen in a slasher flick, I exhaled with comfort and finally relaxed. The nightmare was over; I smiled at my joyous allies.
Slowly standing from my slouched position, I was about to utter my goodbyes and find my way back to normality, when Star Duck grasped me by the shoulder "the rest of us are going to the tavern (I assume he meant bar) to talk to the role-playing guilds: you coming?" He looked me deep in the eyes; I faltered, "ermed" and shook my head into nervous spasm. Just when I think I am out, they pull me back in again.