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Carpools & Coworkers

Kurt Pankau is a software engineer in St. Louis. He loves board games, dad-jokes, and stories about time travel. His work has also appeared in Nature: Futures, Escape Pod, and Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show. He tweets at @kurtpankau and blogs at kurtpankau.com.

I clear my throat. "It's 7:43 on a Monday. You're due at the office by 8. Clive is driving, Jordan is riding shotgun, Janet and Nigel are in the back. You have twelve miles to go. You've been making good time, but suddenly a blue minivan starts to merge into your lane right next to you." I point to the diagram to show everyone else at the table the potential threat of a collision. "What do you do?"
"Oh!" says Clive, a level 1 SysAdmin, picking up a D20. "I know. I extend my hand, which is gloved in all black, black like my human soul, and cast fireball--"
"No, no," I say. "You can't cast anything. There's no magic in this game."
"What?" asks Clive, in reality Androheen, 4th Wizard of the Dusk Citadel. "Why wouldn't there be magic?"
"Because there isn't in this game," I say.
"And why are you wearing gloves?" asks Grimlet, a dwarf from Mt. Mendelheim, here playing Jordan, a level 3 accounts executive.
"My character dresses in black from head to toe," says Androheen.
"Not to an office," says Grimlet.
Androheen stares at me incredulously.
"It's a little out of fashion," I say politely.
"But he's a SysAdmin. I specifically chose him because all SysAdmins are goths."
"There's really a lot of IT literature out there," I say. "SysAdmins come in all shapes and sizes--"
"In every single ale-house song I've ever heard, they're always wearing pale make-up and black--"
"It's fine," I say. "It's fine. He can be goth and wear gloves to work. It's okay."
"Not very realistic," mumbles Grimlet. "How do you even type while wearing gloves?"
"Fingerless gloves, then," I say. "This doesn't have to be super realistic. It's a game about a made-up world. And it's Androheen's first time at the table. The important thing is that we all have fun." I sigh. I should never have agreed to this. I already run three other C&C games, and training up newbies is so exhausting. "But you still can't cast fireball," I say.
"Then what can we do?" asks Androheen, throwing his arms up in the air. "She's just going to murder us with her semi-van."
"Minivan," said Grimlet.
"What makes you so sure it's a she?" asks Janet, a level 3 Team Coach, in reality a gremlin of the Sand-Shire whose true name is known only to herself.
"You just need to let the driver know you're there," I offer.
Androheen considers this. "Very well," he says, getting back into character as Clive. "I attempt to sound the horn."
"Honk," mutters Grimlet. "You honk the horn."
Clive rolls the die. It comes up a natural 1.
"Fire and death!" shouts Androheen. "Who jinxed my roll?"
"Just because you rolled a 1 doesn't mean it's jinxed," says Grimlet.
I glance at Janet. She's avoiding my eye contact. "Okay," I say. "For a natural 1... you attempt to honk the horn, but the airbag deploys instead. Roll a dexterity check."
Clive rolls an 8.
"You start to skid. What do you do?"
"Now can I cast fireball?"
"No!" shouts Grimlet.
Nigel, a level 4 Logistics Coordinator, clears his throat. In reality he's a bog-wight named Nigh-Death's Knell. "I would like to use my Feng Shui powers to clear the path ahead of cars so we don't run into anyone."
"He gets to use magic?" asks Androheen.
"Technically it's New Age, which is not considered magic," says Nigel.
"Except in 3rd edition," mutters Grimlet.
"Roll a spirituality check."
Nigel rolls a 12 and frowns. It's too low and he knows it. "Can I use my wheat-grass buff?" he asks.
"Sure," I say. "That puts you over. Nigel activates his Qi and the cars ahead of you get out of the way."
"I grab the wheel and turn us into the skid," said Grimlet, finally getting into character as Jordan. "Using dexterity," he adds.
"Account managers have dexterity?" asks Androheen.
"My handshake is like the finest silk," said Jordan/Grimlet with a friendly sneer. He rolls a 5, but he's got the buffs to make it work.
"The car straightens out. The blue minivan next to you pulls back into her... excuse me, his... lane." I look over at Janet. She gives me a wink and a grin.
Androheen exhales. "We did it," he says. "That really is oddly exhilarating." The smile on his face right now... this is why I agreed to run another game. Training up newbies is exhausting, but then I get to share the joy of the game with new people. And they always make that exact face.
"Just wait until we get to the parking garage," says Grimlet. "You ain't seen nothing yet."
"Good job everyone," I say. "You pulled together and solved it as a team, just like a real set of carpoolers would have to." I glance down at my scenario notes. "Okay... eleven miles to go."
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, August 28th, 2019
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