I saw this truck today on my way to work. I couldn’t get a good look at the driver but I think it was Vampire Hunter D.
Tag Archives: short story
Skills Pay Bills
I had been playing Dungeons and Dragons all weekend, and I was stoked about gaining a level with my dwarven rogue, Slanter Slickblade. However, lack of sleep had caused me to be about fifteen minutes late to work at Payless Shoe Source. It was my responsibility to open the store on Monday morning, and they required us to show up thirty minutes before the store opened even though it only took about five minutes to get the store ready. I popped in and got everything ready to go: turned on the lights, got the computer online and ready, put the money in the register, and put the D&D Player Handbook behind the counter for easy access. The manager was scheduled to come in thirty minutes after the store opened, but she was always late and carried with her a unique stench. The scent was a strange amalgamation of boxed wine, cigarettes, fried calamari, coconut oil and some expensive perfume to try to mask it all. Is whore a smell? I ended up marrying her daughter a few years later, and I should probably have listened to life lessons of apples falling from trees or something.
Anyway, I spent a few minutes looking over my character sheet. Slanter was a dwarf, a race that was more suited for heavily-armored warriors and divine-inspired priests than a sneaky little rogue. He had reached level four, which meant that I was able to raise one of my base stat points. As a rogue, it was basically a given that I would +1 my Dexterity. This would help me with my hiding and sneak attacks. However, I was weighing my options. A lot of my skills were calling for me to up my Strength which would allow me to climb better and carry more loot, always a plus when playing a greedy little dwarf. I was trying to convince myself that skills were not nearly as important as damage or sneak attacks. Then it came time to unlock the door. Monday mornings were usually pretty dead; people generally had better things to do at the beginning of the week than buy cheap shoes. As 9 o’clock hit, I slid over to open the door and hoped that no dreaded customers would interrupt my time with Slanter.
I unlocked the door with a quick turn of the latch and was surprised to see a young man immediately come from the side of the building. Roll a Sense Motive check… you fail. I remember feeling powerful in some small way; I was able to keep someone from coming into my realm. It was an odd feeling of command to know that someone else’s actions hinged on your own actions. It was merely a fleeting thought which was quickly replaced by my desire to be rid of the man as quickly as possible. Generally, men grab what they need and leave. “Good morning! Can I help you find anything?” I was expecting one of the usual answers: “Just looking”, “I’m good”, “No thank you”, or even a dismissive shake of the head. I was not prepared when the man produced a large hand gun and shoved it in my face. I don’t know if I could have ever have readied myself for such an encounter.
I don’t remember what he said exactly. Was it “this is a stick-up” or “gimme the money” or “are you prepared for Jehovah’s return”? It really didn’t matter to me what he said, the pistol touching my nose made his intentions perfectly clear. He rolls an Intimidation check, roll to see if he does in fact intimidate you…ok he wins, you are scared of him. I hesitated as the reality of my plight settled on me like a heavy fog. Everything slowed down and seemed distorted or out of place. Was I about to pass out? Perhaps I would have been better served by fainting, but I was made of slightly stouter stuff apparently. I snapped back into focus and wondered if I could somehow get away without being injured or killed. I imagined shoving him to the side and running through the back door with bullets blasting holes in the size 12 pumps as they narrowly miss my speeding form. It played out like a movie in my mind, slow motion and all. That would require an Escape Artist check at an extremely high difficulty challenge and a failure would give the thief an attack of opportunity…I won’t even try it then. This wasn’t a damn movie.
I felt like my feet were not even on the ground as I floated behind the counter. I was compelled to try to put some semblance of a barrier between me and this criminal. There was no doubt in my mind about what he wanted, and I subconsciously ended up at the cash register. “Open the register!” he screamed. I do remember that because he must have said it six times as quickly as possible. I looked at the numbers on the cash register and I simply could not think of how to open it. There was no way that I knew to open the drawer without ringing someone up. Roll a Concentration check…congratulations you pass. I grabbed a pair of $1 socks and scanned them. $1.07 with tax, paid with cash, and the register sprung open. The receipt printed, and I handed the small white paper with purple ink to the young man out of sheer habit. Oddly enough, he took it. Even in the midst of the chaotic framing of our dealings, neither of us could turn off the instincts of such a common interaction.
“Put the money in a bag,” he finally lowered the gun. As I shoved bills into a plastic Payless bag, I finally started to get a good look at the perpetrator. Your Gather Information roll passes…you notice a lot about the man’s face, hair and eyes as well height and general weight. This information will be useful at the end of this encounter when the city guards will ask you to describe the criminal. I think he noticed my prying eyes. The man snapped the gun back into my face. Damn. “Open the safe! Open the safe, NOW!” he exclaimed as he snatched the bag from my hands. I noticed that he pushed the pair of dollar socks and receipt into his loot bag as well. They were little girl’s socks, size 9-3.
“I can’t open the safe,” I lied. Roll a Bluff check…you fail.
“I know you can open the safe,” he almost chuckled.
“You’re right, I can.” I dropped down behind the counter and started putting in the combination. I was not going to argue with the man carrying a weapon. Roll an Open Lock check, low difficulty…you pass easily. We, as employees of Payless, opened the safe all the time throughout the course of the day; anyone who had been paying attention would have known this. There was no substance to my lie and we both knew it, so we did not spend too much time on it. When I first started working at the shoe store, I remember feeling odd about dropping down in front of the customer and opening the safe to break large bills. Somehow, I always knew that it would come back to haunt me. I looked up at the man holding a gun pointed down at me and felt my former fears validated.
I had seen both the Saturday night and Sunday deposits in the safe when I was getting the store ready to open, but my heart dropped seeing both of them at that moment. I thought, for just a flash, of giving him only one of the bags. However, he had made his way around the counter and was next to me. “Gimme that roll of quarters too.” So much for trying to salvage one of the deposits; this guy wanted it all. I handed him the bank bags full of cash, albeit reluctantly.
“Man, are you sure you want to do this?” I asked. Ok, make a Diplomacy roll…you fail miserably. He is now angrier with you than he was before. The man crammed the two bank bags into the plastic Payless bag and basically shoved me out of the way to see if anything of value remained in the safe. He left the three rolls of pennies. That is $1.50. The thief left me with one dollar and fifty cents in the safe. I wish he would have just taken it all. There is something much more sinister about someone rifling through your belongings and making an assessment on what is valuable and what is not.
I felt like it was over, but it was not. “Lay down on the ground!” he barked. I was already basically sitting down after being pushed over, so I just went ahead and put my ass on the carpet and pulled my knees into my chest. He had the money but he wasn’t leaving; my fear rekindled its dying embers. “I said lay down”, he said in a more composed tone, which made it even more intimidating. I remember the Payless bag, full of money, socks and a receipt, dangling from the same hand wielding the weapon. I reluctantly reclined. “No, lay down on your stomach.” My fear reached its apex at this point. All I could think about was Pat Garrett shooting Billy the Kid in the back. I rolled over onto my belly, and something different than fear reared its ugly head. I was humiliated.
My humility quickly turned to anger, and by quickly I mean within one or two seconds. I mustered up some defiance as he shouted, “Where is the phone?” Only silence was given. Perhaps it was because I could no longer see the man, or the gun, or anything other than the returned pair of worn sneakers in my face, but I did not answer him. He must have screamed those four words half a dozen more times before he finally snapped. The man, tired of asking, stomped on my ankle. I felt it roll under the force of his attack, bending at an odd angle due to the fact that I was lying on my stomach.
I sat up with a jerk, pointed, and screamed. “It’s right fucking there! See the huge fucking numbers? Right fucking there!” The fear was gone, replaced by rage. The young man, perhaps sensing the change in me, popped the phone receiver from the base and dashed out of the store. It was over. He was gone.
Immediately, I sprinted to the backroom and dialed 9-1-1. I explained my encounter with them and the first police officers arrived fairly quickly. I had to call the manager; although she was scheduled to be at work in about fifteen minutes, I think I woke her up. She arrived shortly after the cops, but her makeup-lacking face did little to settle my nerves. I must have told my story to at least 3 different officers. I guess my plight was the most interesting thing going on that day; more and more cops showed up. I counted eleven at one point. Finally, a detective came in and I recounted my experience once again. Detective Lummox got the ball rolling and put one or two of the officers to work, dismissing the others. They dusted for fingerprints on surfaces that the criminal had touched. Each of the guards rolls a Search check…they all fail, every one of them.
In my mind, I was expecting some CSI type shit to take place. In thirty minutes, I wanted to know the man’s whole life story. Sadly, this wasn’t a damn TV show. Instead, I got real gems such as:
“Hey, this door handle has a lot of fingerprints on it.”
“This countertop is kinda slick; I don’t think I can get any prints here.”
“He didn’t happen to tell you his name, eh?”
One of the officers went looking for clues in the Walmart parking lot. He came back with a crinkled up one dollar bill. As he unfurled it in front of Detective Lummox, I saw sand and dirt falling off. “I think he must have gone that way; I found this.” This old-ass dollar, which was probably dropped by a three year old several months earlier, became the best lead the Gulfport Police Department had. I wanted to scream at them, and make them acutely aware of their own incompetence; even at that age, I knew there was no point. I gave Lummox the description of the young man, but it seemed like “black” was all he heard.
The manager, in full makeup, finally came out of the bathroom. There were lots of new men around, after all; I noticed she had added a bit more perfume to her normal aroma. After flirting with Detective Lummox, she sauntered over to me. “How much do you think he got?” It was a fair question. Roll an Appraise check…you passed. You value the contents of the register and the safe to equal approximately $6,400. The loss of the socks is cancelled out by the rolled pennies which remain in the safe. She is not happy with losing so much, no one ever is. “Damn, more people will rob us now.” Nobody cared how this affected me. They did not want me to call my mom because they were scared that she would be worried. I had to finish off my shift, but I refused to run the register for the rest of the day. It was literally the least they could do.
A week later, I found out that Shoe City in Hardy Court had been robbed. “Is everyone ok? Did they catch the guy? How much did they lose?” I asked in rapid succession.
“The lady at the register would not give him any money. She told him that he was going to have to shoot her, and if he shot her then he still wouldn’t get any money.” I felt like my manager was upset with me for not handling the situation in the same fashion. “He left her alone and ran out with nothing.”
I realized that the lady from Shoe City had some skills. The thief had a nice set of skills. Skills were important. Girls only want boyfriends who have great skills. Even though I knew this was a damn game, Slanter added his newly acquired stat point to Wisdom. He needed it.
I grew up in Gulfport, the second largest city in Mississippi. However, it was not so hard to find rural pockets in our day to day. Our neighborhood was surrounded by nature, woods in which we would built forts and hide from one another, ditches to discover pollywogs and crawfish, and a canal to master our swimming. These patches of trees and bramble were pockets of solace, tiny little havens where we could escape the monotony of our everyday. Here we could let our imaginations run rampant; we could hide from the world around us. My friends and I would play for hours in those woods, and then clean ourselves in the canal that ran alongside our neighborhood.
We were boys becoming young men, and it was not long before we felt the need to challenge ourselves. The canal was approximately one hundred yards in width, and we had never tried to swim across it. My parents had warned me of deadly undercurrents, and we had seen the alligators with our own eyes. However, there was some primal instinct that made us all believe that something would change if we could swim across that canal. There were five of us that decided to take the plunge that day.
I was the second of the group to stumble onto the sands of the opposite shore of the seaway. I was still on my hands and knees, trying to catch my breath, when I heard the cries for help. One of my friends was in the middle of the canal, and he was panicking. He was grabbing and pulling the two boys swimming next to him. I immediately dove back into the water. I got close enough to talk to him and calm him down. Together we bobbed back to our little haven. For nearly an hour, we were all too tired to even speak. The five of us sat on the sand in abject silence. Something had certainly changed for us that day; our pride had been eroded by the water of that canal, and we understood the fragility of our existence.
Fireball or Ice Blast?
Entangling Vines or Tendrils of Darkness?
Healing Touch or Death Grip?
The way in which our characters use magic is more interesting than the magic itself. Fantasy has become so intertwined with magical influences that there is really no way to separate the two without stealing some of the wonder.
A hero is expected to have a magical weapon, and wear armor that makes him nigh invincible. How else could he destroy the evil *insert villain here*.
I have no problem with any of these things, and in fact Delphia is full of such items. Penn, my favorite gnome, would not have made it through the attempted massacre in Shadowmire without the aid of an enchanted axe. Does this make him less interesting? Perhaps if him wielding that axe were the only manner in which I used him. If I handcuffed him to his weapon, then I could see the problem.
What do you think about magic in a fantasy setting?