September 17, 2022 AD. Sunview University, California, USA, Earth
“…And after you all read the note, we’ll end today’s session” Cam said. “After that successful fight, you will all level up.” The three hours had passed in the blink of an eye. Cam was pleasantly surprised how quickly Bekah and Annette, both total novices at the game, had picked up the rules. The four had a good group dynamic considering they were near strangers. Still, Cam had one question.
“Why the ‘Sunviewers?’” he asked Bekah as they all packed up. “I get it’s a reference to our school, but why’d you pick that for the name?”
“I was wondering the same thing” chimed in Ella.
Bekah smiled. “Maybe I was led to pick that name,” she said. “It just jumped into my head. Well, actually, ‘The Daughters of God’ was the first thing that I thought of, but I think Sunviewers is more appropriate.” As Cam finished putting away his computer that held his game notes, Bekah said “I know it’s a little early, but does anyone want to get dinner at the cafeteria? It’s Saturday, so they have bacon mac n cheese.”
Ella said “sorry, I have to go to practice after this.”
Annette said “not tonight. I promised a friend I’d help her out with something.”
Dinah just wordlessly shook her head.
“How about you, Cam?” Bekah asked.
“Ah, well, I don’t want to keep you from eating with your friends…” Cam said awkwardly.
She shook her head. “Don’t be silly. Besides, if I went to eat dinner tonight, I’d be eating alone.”
Cam felt awkward about getting dinner with this girl who was still nearly a stranger. But as his gaze fell on the table still strewn with the paraphernalia of a game of Dungeons & Magic, he realized something. Don’t be stupid he told himself. You just spent three hours doing funny voices with her. There’s nothing to be awkward about. “Ok, I’ll go with you,” he told her. “Let me finish cleaning all this up and then we can go” he said gesturing to the grid-like map on the table that they had used to visualize the battle scene. The genuine smile she gave in return was almost enough of a reward by itself.
As he bustled about, putting the material in whatever spaces it fit in his closet, Ella, Dinah, and Annette departed. That left Bekah alone waiting for him to finish. He took a deep breath. C’mon, Cam, this is just a quick dinner. Nothing to get excited about he told himself. The two stepped out into the warm California evening.
In the cafeteria, Bekah ordered the bacon mac n cheese that she had mentioned. Cam got pizza. The place was nearly deserted, so they sat down at a random table. For the first few minutes of the meal, they ate in silence. The food was like the food normally was at Sunview’s cafeteria: neither good nor bad enough to remember. Eventually, Bekah spoke first.
“That really was fun,” she said. “Is Dungeons & Magic always like that?”
Cam nodded. “Actually, it gets even more fun. Once you get used to the other people in the group and their characters, you can start building off of each other. You tell a long story in real time with a group of protagonists. As long as relationships out of game between players stays good and the Dungeon Master has a plan, things keep going well.”
The short girl took another bite of her mac n cheese. “I’m so glad we met. I never would have tried it without seeing your profile on that dating app.”
“Mm” Cam said, unsure how best to respond.
“But it’s so funny,” she continued, “that we met that way. I mean, I would never consider dating you, and yet we met over a dating app.”
Cam had sort of known it was true. She was way out of his league in basically every way. Still, it hurt to be told how undesirable he was straight to his face. He silently took a very sad bite of his pizza.
If she realized the effect her words had on him, she didn’t show it. “But the whole time during the game, I was wondering something. Do you not have a character that you play that could join the Sunviewers? I felt bad that you were left out.”
“Most of the time, the DM—that’s me—doesn’t play a character,” Cam explained, happy to change the subject. “He is busy controlling all the other characters you meet and the enemies you fight.”
“Your voices were very funny,” she said. “I could barely keep a straight face!”
“Plus, the DM writes the story,” Cam plowed on, trying to ignore the heat rising to his face. “If you have a bad DM playing a character, then that character will have knowledge that he shouldn’t know.”
“That makes sense. Still, it seems so sad. We four are having fun, yet the one who brought us all together is stuck outside of the story.”
“DMing is fun, just in a different way. Beyond that, there’s sort of a stereotype of DMs who have their own characters.”
“That they’re bad DMs. The stereotype goes that the character the DM plays is always too good at everything. He overshadows the rest of the group, taking away their fun.”
“Are you a bad DM?”
The question cut close. He didn’t think so. He hoped he wasn’t. Bekah continued “I’m sure you can do it. I believe you can be a great DM even if you do control a character, Cam.” Her pure smile was dazzlingly bright.
“W-well, I’ll think about it,” he stammered. “Maybe you’re right. I can give it a try.”
“Great!” She finished off the last bite of her mac n cheese. Cam wasn’t finished with his pizza yet, so Bekah sat with him. It was hard to eat, though, with someone watching so intently. Why had he picked the “everything” pizza? He was getting it all over his face.
He finally did finish his food. Bekah’s dorm was on the opposite side of campus as his, so the two parted ways at the entrance to the cafeteria. As they walked apart, Bekah turned and called out “see you next week!” before the two moved out of earshot.
Later that night, Cam lay in bed working on his laptop. In theory, he should be finishing his homework. However, school seemed uninteresting compared to the events earlier in the day. So instead, he worked feverishly on notes for the next session of D&M with the four girls. It was past midnight. He had already finished drawing a map of the goblin-infested cave network, complete with traps, monsters, and treasure. Now, he was fleshing out some worldbuilding ideas he had.
“List of city council members for Nakamin?” Jordan said from over Cam’s shoulder, reading the notes on his computer.
Cam jumped. “Don’t scare me like that.”
“What is this list of the ‘city council members for Nakamin?’” Jordan repeated.
Cam was thrilled to explain his world. “It’s all part of the D&M world I’m creating. Nakamin is the capital city of Oinnogh, a major magical power on the east. Oinnogh is about to declare war against the Qin Dynasty over trade disputations. I made this list in order to better visualize how many people are actually making the decisions—”
Jordan held up his hand to stop him. “All right, Tolkien, that’s enough. I don’t need to hear about your fantasy world.” Peering over Cam’s shoulder again, he looked at the long list of worldbuilding notes and documents Cam had created. As he scrolled past a list of import and export rates between the different countries, he asked “is this really going to matter during the campaign?”
“Uh,” Cam said. The answer was definitely no. “Maybe?”
“Sure, sure. I’m sure your harem will be unfathomably interested in the inflation rate of silver in your fictional country.”
“You never know what—wait, what did you say?”
“I said, unfathomably interested in exchange rate. Why, all this work make you go deaf?”
“No, before that. My what?”
Jordan chuckled. “Your harem, obviously. What did you think I said?”
“I didn’t—it’s not—what??” Cam sputtered. “Where would you get that idea?”
Jordan laid back, arms behind his head. “I’m jealous, honestly. You’ve got four separate girls you met on a dating app who all come to your room every week. They pay close attention to your every word for hours. What would you call it?”
Cam rolled his eyes. “Oh, very funny. Yes, extremely witty. Highly amusing. Extraordinarily humorous. You should win the ‘stupid joke of the year’ award. And also the ‘stupid of the year’ award.”Laughing, Jordan stood up. “I’m gonna go to bed. Enjoy getting ready for the next session of Dungeons & Harems.” He left before Cam could think of a comeback. Cam decided that he should sleep as well.