Weekend of the Nerds

It was my last weekend in Perth before I head off to Germany/Turkey for five weeks, so I decided that extra nerdiness was required, just in case I don’t receive enough pop culture and science fiction while I’m travelling.

On Friday night I played Dungeons & Dragons for the first time. My friend Garreth had been hoping to play for quite a while, feeling that we’d somehow missed out on an integral part of growing up as nerds. When he floated the idea with our friends, he got quite a lot of interest and decided to schedule a game before our upcoming trip.

Half the fun of the session was designing our characters. My character was supposed to be a dwarf Bard by the name of Billiam Shakesword (highly original, I know). But we were taking too long to create our characters, so Dungeon Master Garreth gave us pre-filled character sheets instead. So I became a halfling Rogue by the name of – wait for it – Billiam Shakesword Part 2. I was a little bitter at not being a Bard.

Damon and I play D&D.

But I soon discovered that being a halfling was awesome. Because I was so small, I had a high stealth ability, enabling me to (theoretically) sneak up on my enemies. And I had the additional element of luck, so that if I rolled a natural 1 on the d20 (the twenty-sided die, for those of you who aren’t complete geeks), I was able to roll again.

Our group were a bit hopeless, I won’t lie. We spent a sizeable amount of our game time arguing about the economic verisimilitude of the game world and the minutiae of each of our strategies. We were nothing if not thorough.

During our first battle, ambushed by four goblins, I managed to kill one of our assailants almost instantly, but barely survived the rest of the battle. We captured and tortured one of the goblins, which was great fun. The Geneva Convention certainly doesn’t apply in D&D Land.

Our first battle, where our valiant warriors fought in the shadow of an Emu Export can.

The second battle kicked off when two sleepy goblins were awoken and attacked us because our group had spent ten minutes standing in the mouth of a cave arguing about the most effective formation to stand in. Oh well. My mate Adam – now known as Gorzac, the human Fighter – was hit almost immediately. As a goblin aimed a second arrow at him, I heroically dived in front of him and took the arrow to the head. It pretty much killed me. I spent the rest of the battle unconscious on the ground, rolling the die every few minutes just to make sure I didn’t bleed to death. I’m pretty sure I would’ve died, if the rules hadn’t been tweeked to ensure that players survive through their first couple of games. Fun times. I played the Benny Hill theme through my speakers at this point, because it was the only piece of music that seemed appropriate as my clumsy teammates were almost outclassed by two sleepy goblins.

Things only got worse as we entered the cave and tried to tame/bewitch/shoot/stab some wolves. But then we had to wrap up the game, as some of our number had to leave to attend to more mundane responsibilities (you know, like children and family).

Honestly, I loved playing D&D. It’s something that I’ve always felt that I missed out on as a teenager, a type of nerdy rite of passage. And we had a great group. With the only limit of gameplay being our imaginations, I think we rose to the challenge. For a moment there, as we gobbled down pizza and hurled good-natured abuse across the table at each other, I felt like a kid in a Spielberg film. Good old-fashioned fun. I’m looking forward to doing it again. Credit should definitely go to our Dungeon Master, Garreth, who managed to keep us entertained (and, more importantly, negotiated some fairly unusual requests) for four hours.

On Saturday night, I took my parents to Astrofest at Curtin University. The astronomy festival has been running for several years, but this was the first time I’ve been able to attend. And it was a perfect night – clear skies, with the warmth of summer lingering on the breeze. The stars were arranged like a highlight reel of the Southern Hemisphere. Orion was sinking towards the West, with Aldebaran just brushing the tops of the pine trees. The Southern Cross was riding high in the South, and the diffuse glow of the Milky Way stretched across the zenith. Drawing the attention of most stargazers was the Moon and Jupiter, perfectly poised above the Curtin Stadium.

Dad and I at Astrofest. 28 March 2015.
Dad and I at Astrofest.
28 March 2015.

We had a look inside the stadium, which was filled with a mix of astronomy clubs and photographs, as well as a liberal dose of science-fictional pop culture displays. The highlight – and I won’t even try to disguise my enthusiasm – was the awesome Lego recreation of the Battle of Endor from Return of the Jedi, complete with AT-AT and Ewok village. I thought my weekend couldn’t get any more geeky than D&D, but I was so wrong.

Wondering outside, we spent the next couple of hours looking through various telescopes. Some of them were particularly powerful, and it was a joy to look up at the surface of the Moon and see the illuminated peaks of the Apennines rising out of the darkness along the Lunar terminator. The sight of Jupiter was equally impressive, with all four of the Galilean moons lined up on one side. (Though, I am convinced that my dad’s photo from a few months ago was more picturesque. If only we had a more powerful telescope at home!) The cloud bands on Jupiter were quite noticeable, but unfortunately the Great Red Spot was out of view – a real shame, given that it is shrinking at an accelerating rate and may disappear altogether in the coming decades.

One of the highlights was looking at the Orion Nebula and seeing the glowing dust surrounding four young stars. As always, I’m impressed by the sheer size of these objects. The Orion Nebula is over 1,300 light years from Earth, and is a mind-boggling 24 light years in size.

I wish I could say that the Orion Nebula looked as amazing as this photo, but it was decidedly less colourful.
I wish I could say that the Orion Nebula looked as amazing as this photo, but it was decidedly less colourful.

Image credit: Wikipedia

I’m glad I got to take my dad to the festival – he was the one who ignited by interest in astronomy. When I was young, we used to lie in our front yard in the evenings and count satellites. Our record was thirteen in one night. Even now, I’m still the nerd who interrupts people at parties to let them know that the bright light that’s moving across the sky behind them is the International Space Station. Though, sometimes I’m not even sure we’re related. At one point during the night, I casually turned to my parents and announced that I’d played Dungeons & Dragons the previous evening. My dad’s response? “Is that some sort of app you’ve downloaded on your phone?”

I’m off to Berlin tomorrow, but that doesn’t mean I won’t be posting while I’m away. In the meantime, don’t forget to follow my travels on Road to Gallipoli.

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