Over the past five years or so, my parents have built up a fairly respectable little theater company at their church, the Shoestring Theater Company. They’ve put on a number of productions, including Oliver Twist, Annie, and Godspell, in addition to smaller productions that are usually part of a church service or some such thing. This year, their production was The Wizard of Oz, which I think my father has been wanting to be a part of for years. Jennifer and her parents and I drove the 120 miles or so down to Los Gatos on Saturday to see the play, and we all had a grand time. My sister was fun to watch as the Scarecrow, my aunt was perfectly cast as the Wicked Witch of the West (no offense to my aunt, of course — so please don’t turn me into a toad!), and my dad, in my opinion, pretty much stole the show with his portrayal of the Cowardly Lion. On the whole, though, I really do think I enjoyed watching my little sister portray the Scarecrow the most. I am inordinantly proud of her; she’s recently graduated high school and has started attending a local junior college to take classes in art. I don’t think she knows what she wants do Do With Her Life yet, but that’s quite all right; at 18, you don’t have to know. I, personally, think that she ought to pursue the arts; she’s quite a talented artist, in my opinion, and I hope that she does something with that in the future. Whatever she does, though, I’m sure that she’ll do it well.
Jennifer’s mother was really impressed with the show, as she was with the Shoestring Theater Company’s production of Godspell last year. What really impressed her was the way the production company had included everyone who wanted to be included. "Everyone has a place at God’s table," she said. And it’s true that my parents have made a special effort to get as many people involved in their productions as possible. For the munchkins, of course, my parents cast dozens of the church’s children; and who, really, would be better for the part? The children very obviously had a great time in the show, even the one young boy who was either sick or too shy to take part in most of the dancing and sat on the step in front of Dorothy’s house, next to the withered feet of the Wicked Witch of the East.
Segue here. But I promise that I’ll bring some of these upcoming disparate elements together somewhere in here, somehow. Keep the faith.
My friend Evilpheemy and I are in the middle of designing a role-playing game system; we’ve only been gaming together for a few years, not even five years, so I don’t have quite the gaming history with him that other people do; but our minds work enough alike that we can work together on a large creative project without ripping each others’ throats out yet still have enough differences of opinions so that things can still get interesting. Evilpheemy’s concentrating on the development of the actual mechanics of the system, with some input from me, while I’ve been busily developing the overall milieu of the game setting, with some input from him. All in all, though, The Outer Darkness is primarily his baby.
The two of us represent two different styles of gaming. We’re not really opposite ends of the spectrum; Evilpheemy enjoys rules and systems and gaming engines much more than I do; whereas I think I’m a bit more prone to worrying about whether my storylines are clichéd or truly original, and making sure that my games are some sort of High Art, and I rarely know all of the rules as thoroughly as I should (in fact, when I spent three years of my life running a Vampire oriented Live Action Role-Playing Game, I had a number of assistant Storytellers whose role was to focus on the mechanics of the rules and rule interpretations while I built up the huge plots that really excited me). Naturally, neither style of play is better than the other. It’s kind of like the difference between the UI of Macintosh or Windows 9x; both are essentially the same, but both have fanatical adherents.
In gaming, though, there is a phenomenon which is often referred to as "Munchkin Gaming". The term "munchkin" is applied to those players who insist on a certain sort of high-powered gaming. These are the players in a Dungeons and Dragons game who really want characters that are half-dragon 28th level mages that can polymorph at will into an Elven fighter mage, or something like that. In Vampire: The Masquerade, they want to be the 6th Generation Brujah with Disciplines to rival any Antediluvian, plus several Master-level out-of-clan Disciplines besides.
If you’ve ever played Dungeons and Dragons or Vampire: The Masquerade, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you don’t, then you probably know the type anyway; Munchkins come in all forms and sizes and live everywhere. Outside of gaming, Munchkins are the ones who insist that they know more than the teacher, who refuse to believe it when the teacher is right; they’re the ones who always know more than you, who always want more than you, and who believe with all of their soul that they deserve it. And what’s more, they whine about it when they don’t get it.
I’ve been running role-playing games in one form or another for close to twenty years, and it’s quite a fair estimate when I say that I’ve probably run close to a thousand game sessions. In all that time, I’ve never met a player who didn’t exhibit some sort of munchkinism at one point or another. I’ve done it myself, even; when I play a character in someone else’s game, I frequently want to be the Really Powerful Mage or the Mega Fighter. I try to keep my whining down when my stats don’t quite make it to all eighteens, at least.
I can think of many ways that you can be a munchkin outside of gaming. The most obvious that springs to mind is to insist that you deserve a special set of privileges from life, and to whine about it when you don’t get it. Do you believe that you’re entitled to a particular job, a particular lifestyle, a particular income level, a particular set of circumstances in life? Well, okay, that’s fine. But how are you going to choose to respond to the fact that you probably don’t haven’t got that job, that income, that set of circumstances — are you going to whine about it, take your dice and your character sheet and go home, so to speak? Or are you going to stick in it for the long haul and see where you can take your low-level character over the next few months of the campaign? Personally, I think that the second is the more desireable option; if for no other reason than because you’ll probably have a lot more fun along the way.
The Munchkins in The Wizard of Oz are a fairly innocuous folk, happy and beaming and organizing themselves into groups with auspicious names like "The Lullabye League" and "The Lollipop Guild". I’m not sure how the term Munchkin came to be associated with the obnoxious practices in gaming that I’ve outlined above. Who knows, except that the term "munchkin" came to be associated with contemptuous behavior in general.
How do I continue to "munchkinate" in my own life? Well, there is certainly a part of me which would like to believe that I can have a career which I enjoy, in which I’m successful, and in which I can earn the respect of my colleagues for my skill and talent in that career; heck, I have this dream of being invited to lend my expertise in places all over the world. I don’t know if I’m ever going to achieve that, and at the age of 33 it seems unlikely that I’ll ever find such a career… and I’m not entirely sure that being another code jock in another cubicle will lead me there. I can respond to that situation by either whining about it, or taking the relatively low stats that I’ve rolled for myself, setting out at the beginning, and seeing where I can go.
The old adage says that a man’s reach should never exceed his grasp. However, there is a line from William Blake of which I’m very fond, which goes something like this: "A man’s reach MUST exceed his grasp; otherwise, what is heaven for?" And even Data, the "artificial life form" from Star Trek: The Next Generation had wisdom regarding this sort of thing; he knew that his quest to become truly human would never succeed, but he understood that sometimes reaching for such a goal is in and of itself important, because the journey itself provides its own rewards.
Meanwhile, here I sit, typing away on my computer, close to midnight. I promised Evilpheemy that I would have a completed campaign setting for The Outer Darkness finished up by the end of the month, which will be upon us on Saturday, and I’m not finished with it yet. So I guess I’d better get working.
Meanwhile, here is a picture of some of the cast from my parents’ production of The Wizard of Oz. You can see my sister dressed up as the Scarecrow, and my dad dressed up as the Cowardly Lion. It was a great play, and if you happen to be in the neighborhood of the Presbyterian Church of Los Gatos in the next week, I strongly recommend that you check it out.
In other news: after over two weeks of messing around and struggling, I’ve finally gotten my Linux box working again. The solution involved re-installing the proper kernel from the installation CD-ROM and updating my network configuration. There are still a few minor kinks to work out, but now I can boot my Linux box again and even get on-line without booting the other computers in our network off-line. I am so proud of myself that I could just spit.