Monday, May 24, 2010

Sex, Lies and Embedded Video Clips

The other night, my wife and I sat down and watched every episode of I Hit It With My Axe.

For those of you who haven't seen it, I Hit It is a weekly series of short videos detailing Zak Smith's D&D campaigns with his circle of friends. Because Smith is also the porn star Zak Sabbath, and his friends tend to be coworkers, I Hit It is pitched as "D&D with Pornstars."

Which is also the name of Zak's blog, let's be fair. But here's the thing - I'd watch this group of people play regardless of profession and am almost annoyed by the Escapist's "HEY GUYZ BOOBZ" promotion. I consider Smith a genius - I did so before I ever knew he was in porn and played RPGs. As (hilariously) few people seem to know, Smith has an MFA from Yale*, is possibly one of the most important (in my opinion certainly one of the best) contemporary painters and has work in the Whitney and the Museum of Modern Art's public collection. And has published three books. And he's not the only one - Sasha Gray, Justine Jolie, Mandy Morbid... everyone at the table is intelligent, accomplished and interesting for more reasons than what is likely the primary reason the Escapist approached them about the series in the first place.

I'm not saying the porn star thing isn't a fun hook. It's just that the biggest reason I watch this group (hell, let's take the fact they are all attractive** out of the equation: I'd LISTEN to this group) play is the sheer amount of fun taking place. You cannot miss it. Fun has become a tangible substance in that crowded LA apartment, like ectoplasm. I don't understand why I cannot see it coalescing, dripping off them in stringy gobs like in those old photos of shyster clairvoyants from the late 1800s. Maybe you need a special kind of camera.

It's a different kind of fun than some other RPG sessions. It's the fun of just going at the game, coming up with things like "I throw a blanket over her" or "I close the door with his pieces." These women do not strike me as detail-oriented strategists, chewing over every word of Smith's sparse descriptions like a starving man chewing a leather shoelace, seeking all possible nutrients within. They are not envisioning all possible outcomes of every possible reaction, and behaving accordingly. Some people enjoy doing that - and more power to them - but it isn't everyone's cup of proverbial tea.*** It's not my idea of a good time, as it's too much like a very complex game of chess or Risk, two games I'm not terribly good at.****

Teaching people who have seen or imagined something closer to that later style of play that it is not the only style of play is vital. They flip through the Player's Manual (or, if another RPG, whatever core book they are allowed to look in without spoiling things) and see numbers. And charts. A whole fucking lot of them. It is imposing. You try to explain. "No, see, it's simple. You roll 3d6 for each of these, right? And depending on how high they are, you get bonuses to other things, like Dexterity affects your Armor Class, that's how hard you are to buzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz...."

Thank Technology (the one true god, amen) for the internet. Because of the internet, you don't have to and SHOULD NEVER try to explain the rules of an RPG. It won't work. Find video or even just a podcast of a session, have them watch that, and they'll get it. They'll still have questions, but a hell of a lot fewer. Most importantly, they won't constantly worry that they're "doing it wrong," a concern born primarily from having no idea what "right" is. They'll know they can't do anything that causes the GM to shout "NO! FUCK! YOU BROKE THE GODDAMN GAME!"

And that's why I wanted Kitty to watch I Hit It, and why (after hearing me talk about it some more/nag her) she wanted to, too. And I was right. We watched episodes 6 to the current one straight through, then went back to 1 and watched up to 5. She asked good questions I wouldn't have thought to explain ("So, what are they keeping track of on their character sheets?"), got excited at the idea of constructing sets for our miniatures using things in our yard, and overall I think she's much more into the idea of learning to play that she was in the moments before we started watching.

And it's not because they're porn stars. It's because they were having fun.

Then again...

"So," she says. "If I learn to play D&D, is there any chance we might one day play with them?"

The implication is clear. She asks because I work as a designer and web manager for a few porn sites, including one that one of the women on the show recently worked for. But I do so from the opposite coast, and even then I work for the San Francisco industry mostly, and they are in Hollywood. Not to mention degrees of separation do not acquaintances make. The answer to her real question is probably "No."

"Sure," I tell her anyway. "Yeah. D&D might get you laid."

* From a comment on his blog: "I love your ink work. Did you go to art school, or are you self-taught?"

** I find it really amusing that both I and my wife find the one person in the group whose profession does not involve getting naked to be the hottest. I refer, obviously, to the giant stuffed skelanimal in the background.

*** Proverbial Tea: Best when served by elderly Asian men who speak English with a rumbling accent, mostly drank by young people at a crossroads in need of wise but obtuse counsel. Available at Whole Foods. See upcoming post regarding embarrassingly-titled Oriental Adventures.

**** "Checkmate."
"What's my savings throw?"
"There are no savings throws in chess."
"Then there is no place for chess in my heart."


  1. that was actually a good read, and as a relatively new d&d player i must agree that, had someone shown me a video before i started playing, it would have made me much less nervous. (as it turned out my first game was just me, my friend who i dragged along for her first time too and Squidman) and what she and i HAD been doing is reading Zak's blog, so we were pretty excited anyway. Yay, so good luck to both of you!

  2. This post is just...heartwarming.

    Which I know sounds weird.

    But it is.

  3. Nah, not much sounds weird to me anymore.

    This post actually garnered a few hundred hits because Mandy Morbid herself tweeted the link. The next day traffic dropped back down to 10 or so hits a day, and has stayed that way, but still. When I thanked her, Ms. Morbid (the coolest formal address I've ever given) responded "It's really great for us to read stuff like that--I wanted to share. Thank you!"

    Which made me feel really good. Hugs all around, eh?