Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Dungeons, Dragons and Ballpits

When I was a geeky teenager with bad hair, I and some similarly afflicted chums found solace from our socially disadvantaged state by retreating into the imaginary world of Dungeons and Dragons, where all fights could be sorted out by rolling several 20-sided dice and doing an immense amount of looking stuff up in tables, and all women were well-muscled, clad in skintight leather and entirely imaginary.

One of my pals in this undertaking - in fact the one who had introduced the rest of us to the pastime - was a particularly sadistic plump boy named Lucas. Lucas had a vicious streak and often acted as Dungeonmaster - nothing to do with naughty goings on in leather underwear (fortunately, as you'd agree if you'd seen him) - but rather the person who designed the virtual dungeon which the rest of us would explore in our alter-egos as Halfkutt the Barbarian Warrior, Thruthelthrolth the Wizard and Gimni the Dwarf or some such.

"There is a door on the right. What do you want to do?" Lucas would ask neutrally.
"We'll open it!"
[Consult tables, look at graph-paper, roll dice]
"A huge spiked steel ball on a chain has swung down out of the darkness."
[We throw dice against our dexterity scores]
"Your head has been smashed to pulp, splattering your brains 20 feet down the passageway and qualifying you for a job teaching classics at Wellington!" he would announce with an evil grin.

I often wonder what happened to him. Last Friday I found out - he's designing softplay areas for small kids. It was pouring with rain, so the usual Friday session at the park that Guthlac and I enjoy was off. A quick internet search revealed an appealing-looking softplay venue not too far away, so off we went.

For those without small kids, let me briefly outline what a softplay area is - it's basically a large industrial building (usually a converted warehouse) containing a few tables, a snackbar and a massive construction made of scaffolding covered in brightly coloured vinyl padding and containing a labyrinth of walkways, slides, rope ladders, tunnels and ball-pits. The basic idea is that parents take their kids along, post them into the labyrinth and then sit down for a cup of tea until the kids escape.

Except that Guthlac - a kindly and generous boy - wanted his hapless father to share the fun experience, having failed to register that all the tunnels, passageways etc were designed to small kid scale rather than overweight middle-aged man scale.

Worming my way uncomfortably after him, I suddenly heard in my mind's ear the sepulchral voice of Lucas saying "You have attempted to squeeze between two rollers and have become trapped halfway into the Death Ballpit of Nagoth-Rha. A bevy of evil goblins disguised as small children will now pelt your bald head with brightly-coloured plastic balls while you squeal like a pig, enhancing their enjoyment considerably."

I hope he goes bankrupt.