The room was filled with a coterie of game aficionados. They all had the same look about them—arrogant and unconcerned about mainstream subjects of fancy. Their blithe demeanour seemingly imbued the air with an ever-so-slightly-unwashed pong. Within the sea of black t-shirts, backpacks and beards, there were a few females attached here and there to some of the men who came out to the opening of the new shop called Games Afoot. Somewhere I could hear the spumescent sounds of a cappuccino maker. I made my way through the crowd to get a cup of coffee and to find Doug.
Doug had sent me a text earlier in the day that simply read: It’s the store opening tonight. She won’t be there. She’s gone. Please come. We had been friends for over twenty years so I cancelled my squash game, dug out my d20 t-shirt and headed out into town without question. It had been ages since I saw him.
I met Doug one summer in 1990 when a friend of a friend invited me to play D&D. Doug was someone’s cousin and was not originally invited to play but there had been a drop out and he was keen to learn something new having just moved to town. Within five minutes of rolling out our characters, I knew this guy would one day be best-man at my wedding—or at least talking about it. Over the years we would have a share of dips and peaks. Failures and successes in our everyday lives would never hold as much weight as to in-game minutes that siphoned off our realities. Everything we ever did revolved around table top games, dice, miniatures and complicated systems until the day we were forced to find ways to fund our paper and plastic addiction. We needed jobs. Doug got one in a pub and I decided to go to the University of Edinburgh.
Doug killed off my 10th level paladin in the summer of ’96 ceremoniously when my character, Khodin, fell to a level 20 dragon the night before I left for Uni. That dragon came up widdershins on our party and smoked me like a kipper. I remember being so angry with him that night. I had plans of going out on an epic storyline that would take me through my days at Edinburgh University. Instead, I sat there eating pizza and drinking ale as I watched as the other PCs rolled and devised and played through one of the best campaigns ever run.
Doug met Linda when I was at Uni. He would send me emails waxing lyrical about how she was the one and how he could not wait until I met her. I remember thinking she looked like some kind of a grimalkin curled up in his arms in the pictures he would email. I thought she was beautiful and cursed his luck. Over the months and years, he looked more and more like she did. He began wearing his hair like some kind of boy-band escapee and he looked more and more serious in his photographs. When I came home and finally met her, she surveyed me and it was obvious that I was not what she expected. I opened up my first ever conversation to her with memoirs of happy goats I encountered on my gap year in China. Her eyes scintillated with each new random topic I brought up and I thought things went well. But I never did get an invitation back to their place again. I would see Doug when she allowed it. I also inherited a lot of his old games and miniatures when they moved into their new place.
My friendship with Doug became more of an online, social network and Xbox one. He had become a businessman. He was even into politics. He had been in the local paper more than once and always with her by his side. As an academic, I could only read about him since I was not the kind that would travel in his circle. The greatest news he ever sent me was his announcement that he was opening a games store. He asked if I would be at the grand opening and I had given him my congratulations and regrets. I said that I had prior commitments but that I would send him a bottle of champagne and a box of ale. When I got his text message, I was all at once nonplussed and elated.
I walked up to him and he beamed at me.
“Mate!” he shouted.
“Hey! Are you ok?”
“I am now, matey,” he said. “Look at all this! This is great!”
“Ah, yes. I meant about Linda. When did she leave? I mean, when I got your message—well, I thought you were upset but you seem ok.”
“Linda. Yes. I’m afraid my relationship reached that level of effloresce that we all hoped would never come. But what did I expect, really. She was not into all this. I am surprised that she stayed with me as long as she did,” he said and raised his cappuccino in the air. “This was her idea. She wanted a barista. I wanted a games parlour. She wanted a business. I wanted a community.”
“She did not like this, I take it?”
“Meeting her was simply an obliquity. I think she was that level 20 dragon I sent to kill you off because I was so upset that you were going away,” said Doug.
“You asshole. Still have not forgiven you for that.”
“I know. But I could not forgive her for not liking your goats,” said Doug. He took out his phone showed me his wallpaper. He had taken my photo and put text on it that read THE BRO GOAT. I shook my head.
“I’m sorry, man,” said Doug. “I should have stood my ground. I knew you before I met her. I have no idea what I was thinking. I’m really sorry.”
“We got a Magic tourney going on later. Shall we play?”
“I brought a deck.”