Before you lies a door. It is completely ordinary in its appearance: Roughly seven feet high, rectangular, built from a dull, worn, colorless wood. A small metal handle is mounted at its halfway point. It is a door. And it is not a door. It is the pure, abstract concept of a door, distilled into a physical object. It is every door, to anywhere. It is what every door represents: Pure potentiality. The possibilities it presents are infinite. It can open on any place, on any time. And it is not alone: All around you are doors. For this is a city made of nothing but entrances and exits. Anything that can be passed through could, at any point, become a portal to somewhere entirely different. But this door is for you. This door is yours to open.
"I bust that shit open with a screamin' Tae Tad," said Sean, a giant of a man sporting a pink Mohawk and a child's size Spiderman T-shirt that spoke more of insanity than of fond nostalgia. "That's how I open every door."
"What's a Tae Ta-" Wayne began, then stopped suddenly, fear flashing through his eyes. But it was too late. Sean was already showing him. Afterward, he sprawled on the floor, making a noise like seals barking, a hot red footprint welling up on his neck.
"I'd like to roll to see if I have the dexterity needed to turn the handle," Dan muttered into a ream of shuffling papers. He was a smallish man with close-cropped hair and eyes that practically begged you to victimize him. "But I don't want to actually turn it yet; I have a circlet that expands my field of vision here somewhere, and I'd like to use that to examine the exact angle at which the bolt engages first."
"Quick! What rhymes with turd!?" Michael, a long and spindly parody of a human being, slapped the stack of papers out from Dan's hands, ignoring the frantic screeching he emitted. "Nerd! And that's what you are: A turd."
I gave Michael an obligatory high five for a very-nearly sweet burn, then removed my glasses and pinched the bridge of my nose wearily, because I saw Jeff Goldblum do that in a movie once, and then everybody paid attention to him.
Some Goldblum roles get more attention than others.
"Nobody is opening the door, god damn it. You haven't even picked characters yet! We've been here for two hours!" It probably wasn't smart of me to volunteer as Dungeon Master. I was trying to piece together what I knew of a responsible human being from poorly sketched stereotypes in action movies. The results were...varied. Jeff Goldblum was proving fairly effective, but Robert Deniro was wildly inconsistent, and Captain Kirk was a disaster; I'd dropkicked the Welcome Snickerdoodles right out of Dan's arms the second he walked through my door. I meant to show dominance, but all I ended up showing was that I was willing to eat Snickerdoodles off the floor.
"I'd like to use a pre-existing character," Dan continued, picking through the scattered papers on the ground. He casually shoved Wayne's twisting body out of his way, "if you'd like me to roll for that, I have several tables I can consult-"
"I don't know about all this, guys," it was Chris who spoke. He was an earnest looking young man with a quick smile and open demeanor; everybody hated him. "I heard this Dungeons and Dragons thing was all about Satanism, and it makes you kill yourself."
He's probably confusing DnD with Dio. To be fair, it is an easy mistake to make.
"That's a lie!" Dan snapped viciously, "a lie propagated by coked-out, paranoid housewives back in the late '80s. Dungeons and Dragons is the very essence of imagination and teambuilding. I call it Teamgination!"
I reached over and dutifully slapped him across the face.
"Well, I suppose that sounds fun, eh?" Chris admitted. "I guess I'll be a Cleric, then: Healing is the highest form of politeness."
"Chris. Jesus Christ. I can't understand a word you're saying through that accent," I said curtly.
"What accent? I'm Canadian. I'm from-"
"Holy shit. Holy. Shit. Your thick, deformed Northern tongue is just - it's just butchering my ears, Chris. Listen, you're gonna beeee..." I grabbed the page Dan had just plucked triumphantly from the floor and hastily scribbled on it, "Enoch, the healer. He's mute. Lost his voice to a...a fucking jelly or something. Some kind of pudding cube. It stabbed you in the throat and now you can never talk again. I expect you to maintain character."
"That doesn't even make sense! Jellies don't attack with edged weapons, and you need a voice to cast healing magic, plus Enoch has been my character through countless campaigns. Our adventures are not to be discounted!" Dan pleaded.
"He's everything I want to be, but never can: Tall."
"Where are we, Dan?" I asked him simply.
"A sad walk-up above a discount eyeglass shop that I'm pretty sure is a front for the Russian mafia?" He replied.
"In the game, Dan."
"Sigil! The City of Doors, the Great Wheel, it sits atop the Spire-"
"We're in a fucking Dungeon, Dan! And what do Dungeons have?"
"A...Master?" He answered himself, and lapsed into obedient silence.
"What do you wanna be?" I motioned towards Soren who, until now, had been rapidly and lustily texting without pause.
"I don't know, dead? Can we just call me dead, and all of you guys will mourn? Your little fantasy wives will weep for the secret love they've harbored in their hearts that died with me, and I can leave here to go make tender but vigorous love to a disinherited Hungarian countess."
"No, you have to pick a class," I responded unevenly. I had already cycled through Independence Day and was on to Lost World-era Goldblum now; I was quickly running out of quality Goldblum roles.
"Fine. Which one's the best guy?"
"There is no best guy," Dan interjected, "every class has its own unique skills and specialties that make them invaluable to the group."
"Yeah, yeah, I get it. I've seen Care Bears, Dan: We're all special in our own way. But which one's the best guy? If this was a football team, who's the quarterback? Who takes all the girls to the parking lot during fifth period and bangs them in the passenger seat of a Cherry Red Trans Am?"
"Paladin," Dan admitted.
Soren gave a quick thumbs-up and went back to his phone.
If a 1987 Trans Am suddenly took human form, that's what it would look like.
"Which one's the guy that gets the girl Soren's done with?" Michael asked, "the one that swoops in there afterward, really exploits the emotional weakness of her recent rejection, and gets her to do the weird stuff?"
"Rogue," Dan answered again. Each word from him had a little less joy in it.
"I'm a berskerker," Sean added.
"Good choice, what's your character's name?"
"Character?" Sean tilted his head, quizzically.
"I uh...I'll just be my backup character then," Dan continued. "I am Tamriel: Sword-lord of the Dalelands!"
"More like Sword Gay-lord," Michael added, collecting his high five with all the sober professionalism of a toll-booth operator.
"Excellent," I said, "and Wayne's a mage, on account of his Jewishness."
Wayne choked a little on his tongue.
"Don't try to deny your twisted Jewish witchcraft, Wayne! We all know what you are!" I replied to what I assumed he would've said, if he hadn't been slowly dying atop a patina of old pizza boxes and pirated Russian porn DVDs.
Those Jews, right? Always casting their god damn fireballs.
"Guys, is there any way we can hurry up and master this dungeon, or whatever?" Soren looked up from his texting, "I'm missing riding lessons for this. Do you know what it's like to mount a horse? To sit atop and fully control every aspect of a noble, majestic beast? It's like humiliating a miracle. It's sublime, and I'm missing it. For this."
"Wait, didn't you just say you were supposed to be doing naughty push-ups with a countess?" Chris slobbered out some horrible, grunting mockery of language.
"That is also correct," Soren replied, his deft fingers resuming their virtual molestation of the keypad.
"You know what? I can't even believe this - it's taken three weeks of cajoling and rescheduling followed by two solid hours of bickering, but I think we're actually ready to play! My god. I've never been this far into a DnD game before. So, gentlemen, Sean had just kicked open the door," I reclined confidently and steepled my fingers, channeling every ounce of Picard I knew as I narrated.
The door gives way with no violence. Upon the first, slightest contact with the Berserker's skin, it simply swings open, and stays that way. What lies beyond is lost in a mist rippling with dim shapes and hints of watching figures, hidden in the periphery. Tamriel, Sword Gaylord of the Dale-
"Just Sword-lord!" Dan shrieked, shaking the paper in front of me. "If you want to rename a character you have to roll-"
-Lands steps forward first, but is instantly repelled by an unseen force! The indistinct dark spots in the mist coalesce into something resembling a face. A cacophonous collection of sound begins to emit from somewhere far away. It starts low, but slowly grows in volume and clarity, as though approaching. There is the hard slam of a door, forming a sound not unlike the letter 'b.' The quick metallic clack of a lock engaging makes a 't,' the long, groaning creak of the hinge serves as an 'r.' Eventually, a voice comes clear. It is repeating a single short phrase: "Trrrribute...firrrst."
"Okay, so the way Planescape works is this," I started to explain, opening up my dice-carrying case and handing out the razor blades, "it's a city of a million doors, and every time you go through one you have to slit one of your wrists and say the name 'Agorgrel.' If you're successful you'll-"
"That's not how you play DnD!" Dan recoiled in disgust, flinging his razor aside.
"Dungeon Master," I responded, my voice as soft and soothing as a cup of replicated Earl Grey.
"I'm not slashing my wrists just to open a pretend door," Chris clucked and snapped something in his bizarre non-language, then stood to leave.
"You have to listen to me! Everybody has to listen to me!" My Picard was gone; strolled away into the ethereal vineyard from whence he came.
Dan stood with Chris and gathered his papers in furious silence. He had the clipped demeanor and flushed complexion of a man denied sex at the last possible moment. The pair made their way toward the door, Chris chattering happily and Dan petulantly nursing his case of Fantasy Blue Balls.
"I gotta go too," Sean stood, gathering Wayne in his arms like a baby, "better get him to the hospital. One more involuntary man-slaughter and I'll probably get community service."
"All right, that's my cue," Soren finished with his phone, stood, and threw the device on the table in front of me. "Here, take that. Sell it and buy some..." he hesitated, motioning disdainfully at the detritus of my apartment, "basic human dignity."
He was the last to slip through the shower curtain that served as my front door. I glanced down at the screen of his phone, expecting to see Hungarian, but it was just a still image; apparently 'handjob' is the same in every language.
It's this and math.
I looked around for Michael, but he was gone as well. Actually, now that I thought about it, he'd been gone for some time, along with my DVDs and, strangely enough, most of the pizza boxes.
"Did they go for it?" A voice comprised entirely of tortured screams stabbed the inside of my head. The ceiling of my living room disappeared into a swirling tunnel of flame.
"I'm sorry, Agogrel, somehow they saw through your plan!"
"Shit, dude. Again?" The voice sighed wearily, yet somehow it was still pained screeching.
"Not to question your judgment, Duke of Venom, Prince of the Nothing-Place, He with a Thousand Eyes, but isn't there a better way to do this than via board game? I could just, y'know, go out and kill them. A lot. Especially Chris."
"No, no I'm pretty sure this dice thing is the damnation of mankind. My brother, Chad - Chad the Visceral Terror? - he always makes fun of me, but man, I just know this is going to pay off big-time one day. I've got this new campaign I'm working on: It takes place in the world of Amreth, a lush jungle-dimension ruled by the great tree spirit Autu. I'm pretty sure that's gonna be the thing that collapses the wall between Hell and Earth. Hey, do you wanna try it?"
Later that night, I used my Boots of Stealth and caught two bog-slaves by surprise; I had to roll a 20-sided die, then kidnap and rape a local priest for initiative, but I found this really sweet enchanted belt on one of them. I mean, it's no Planescape, but it's a pretty great campaign.
You can buy Robert's book, Everything is Going to Kill Everybody: The Terrifyingly Real Ways the World Wants You Dead, or follow him on Twitter and Facebook or you could just keep on rollin' the Devil's Die, boy. Playin' those sinful board games with your very soul.