A3Writer: Dread Words
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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Dread Words

     I remember the first time rather vividly. There we were, the group of us, about six if I remember correctly, gathered together to play some D&D. We were facing off against something nasty (okay, so this part isn't vivid, but the important part is), and one of us makes an off-handed remark about something pretty much unrelated. That's when it happened. Chris, Chris of Infinite Crits, of the Blue Die, the very mover and shaker of the gods themselves, the DM, looks off into space, gets this cock-eyed smile on his face, then rubs his chin---sans goatee at the moment---and says simply those dreaded words.
     All of us as players experienced the same feeling after he spoke, and I have gone on to DM myself, and had the same experience. Some player will make an off-handed comment, probably not even related to what's going on, and I just feel myself drift rather dreamily and the words come to my lips unbidden. As far as I know it's not any kind of rite or passage where a DM bestows the secret of the words along with the secret handshake and the knowledge of offering a couple of bucks to the pizza place for pizzas that were never picked up. No, this is something primal, something fundamental to the human condition, and in just a few everyday words put together.
     Five words, to be exact, and these words cause such fear and dread in people that it must be witnessed to be believed. There are no words more fearsome that a DM can say. "Your character is dead" is nothing compared to these words. These words evoke fear and paranoia that haunt people in their sleep. Every shadow, every noise is feared as predators---real or imagined---loom ever closer.
     Along with fear is the reaction to find out the cause. I remember as a player I frantically tried to puzzle out what I said that would cause my good friend to say the words to me. And when I say it to my friends, they, too, seek to discover just what caused me to say them. However, it's often moot. Efforts to learn what caused it are an attempt to discover the meaning I have inferred from them and to prevent future utterances of this dread incantation.
     I have since learned that these words transcend the game. They apply to writing as well. A conversation with a friend, a random snippet from someone on the train, a song on the radio, a TV show, or any of a hundred other things can all cause me to utter the words. So it was last night in talking with a friend that something was said, and I was overcome by the power of the words. I knew I had that far-off look and smile on my face, and then the words came to me,
     "That gives me an idea."
     And so it did, and my mind whirls with the potential of this idea, and I will nurture it as a seedling until it is ready to bear fruit. It is clever, devious even, and will be something I truly enjoy. All that remains is for me to write it down and give it time to grow.
     Perhaps I will one day do a kind of "behind the scenes" and reveal which idea is which, and what the random source of information was, and you will see just how bizarre the mind of a writer and DM can be . . .
     That gives me an idea.

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