Have Dice Will Travel

Have Dice Will Travel
Have Dice, Will Travel: Košice

Keith Baker | 17 Jan 2011 09:00
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I was here as a game master, and we got to that business straight away. Ivan summoned his gaming group - his brother John, and friends Aleph, Joseph, Martin, and Thomas. There wasn't enough room in the tiny apartment for a game, but the family had acquired an extra room on the ground floor of the apartment complex, a space now serving as both gym and game room. Brother John had put posters from fantasy movies up on the walls to set the mood, and even went one step further; to my surprise, he had composed a theme song for the adventure, despite having no idea what the story would involve.

I've been running the same adventure around the world. I've run it over fifty times so far, and I hope to run it fifty more; it's always interesting to see the directions different groups take, and how they approach the same problems. Who knows? Perhaps I'll run it for you one of these days. But for that reason, I don't want to spoil the story. The players were dedicated, and the game ran for nearly six and a half hours straight. While the adventure uses pregenerated characters, the Slovakians were quick to invest in them, latching onto the implied backstory and unique elements of each character. One interesting moment was when John and Ivan's mother Melina brought down refreshments. Staring wistfully at the battle, she said, "It's beautiful... I want to play." I suggested that she join us, but her she was concerned about her limited English. Later she told me that it's wonderful to have sons who have taught her so many new and interesting things - and how life is more "colorful" now than when she was growing up in the Communist era. Far from being concerned about her childrens' hobbies, she had a clear sense of pride.

That night I talked to Ivan about his life and his experience with gaming. He was just a child when Slovakia became an independent republic in 1993. He grew up seeing Star Trek: The Next Generation and Babylon Five on television, and while other children chased each other around the playground, Ivan and his friends would gather in a quiet classroom and tell stories in which they were starship captains, with Ivan creating dilemmas and plots, challenges that the others would have to solve. There were no dice and no character sheets, but looking back now, Ivan realizes that just as the children playing Cops and Robbers in the schoolyard were playing a LARP, this was his first experience as a gamemaster.

Games continued to be an important part of Ivan's life. He learned English by playing computer games - who knew that Leisure Suit Larry could find himself as a teacher? And then, in fifth grade, he encountered his first true pen and paper roleplaying game - Dračí doupě.

Literally translated to "Dragon's Lair", Dračí doupě was created in 1990. A gamemaster leads a party of wizards and warriors through fantasy adventures. Often abbreviated as DrDo, Dračí doupě has much in common with Dungeons & Dragons, but was written in the Czech language by local writers, and circulated long before D&D became available there. Enjoying a virtual monopoly, DrDo became quite popular; Ivan and his friends guessed that there were thousands of DrDo players in Košice, as compared to a mere hundred or fewer D&D players. DrDo's popularity was such that when the Dungeons & Dragons movie was released in the region, it was renamed "Dračí doupě". Unfortunately, the people producing the posters didn't bother to take out the ampersand, thus the Slovaks got to enjoy Marlon Wayans and Jeremy Irons in the cinematic masterpiece Dragon's and Lair.

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