Aliens mingled with superheroes and barbarians, trading stories and sipping electric-colored cocktails. At the end of the bar, Neo leaned thoughtfully, examining his character sheet.
"You're so boring," said Captain James Tiberius Kirk, hopping a little to peer over Neo's shoulder. "Why do you always play a paladin?"
"I like paladins."
"At least try playing an evil paladin for once."
"You always say you're going to play an evil character and then you never do," said Neo. "Anytime there's an attractive female non-player character, you want to be her knight in shining armor. 'Hello, little lady, how can I help you?' You know they're not really going to sleep with you, right?"
"I can't fight my nature," said Kirk. "I'm a lover of women." He caught the eye of a blonde Wonder Woman across the bar and winked. She gave a little false smile and turned away to talk to Superman. Kirk shrugged.
"Hey, what's with Leonard always trying to make it with Penny in-game?" said Neo.
"I know," said Kirk. "It's called a role-playing game, not a make-everything-be-like-it-is-in-real-life game. In the game world, I should get the beautiful girl, and Leonard should be stuck making small talk all night with the boring paladin."
Neo opened his mouth, noticed Kaylee and Inara passing by within earshot, closed his mouth, and scowled wordlessly at Kirk.
"Although," Kirk admitted when he had finished watching the ladies of Serenity disappear into the ladies' room, "it was kind of funny when Sheldon made them roll to see how it was, and Leonard got a critical failure."
"It injected the game with much-needed realism," said Neo seriously. "Did you bring your PHB?"
"You don't know how to make a level one paladin by now?"
"I like to try a different feat every time."
"You're a real man of adventure... Oh. Oh. Oh." Kirk grabbed the sleeve of Neo's leather jacket. "Trinity at three o'clock. She's giving you the eye."
Kirk picked up his arm for him and made him wave. Across the crowd, Trinity ducked her head bashfully and waved back.
"Wh... did that just work?"
"Here at Con, we are liken unto gods," said Kirk, his voice full of wonder.
"There you guys are," said the Green Lantern, appearing from amongst the crowd. He was dressed rather halfheartedly for a superhero, with a flannel shirt partially obscuring his logo. "Come on. We got a table in the back."
"All right!" Penny cheered, raising her glass high in the air, as Raj and Howard slid into the booth. "Are we just going to sit around, or are we going to play some Dungeons and freaking Dragons?"
"Penny," said Leonard, kneeling to grip her hand, "I think it's important for you to note that I am so hot for you right now."
"You're not the only one," Howard growled, attempting to stack his reference manuals in a sexy manner.
"Ew," said Penny without real disgust. It was her standard Howard reflex "Ew."
Raj reached into the interior pockets of his leather duster and dropped handful after handful of dice onto the table. Sheldon pulled a rolled-up mat from inside his messenger bag and unfurled it with a flourish.
"Um. You brought the battle mat?" said Leonard, nervously glancing around the bar. His gaze coming to rest on a well-dressed middle-aged woman in a business suit and pearls, delicately sipping a Bloody Mary. "Maybe we should wait until it clears out a little. Or go back to our rooms."
"Leonard. How do you expect us to accurately represent the physical logistics of combat without a visual representation? Not everyone here," Sheldon said, eyeing Howard, "can hold all the variables in mind at once."
Howard made a face at Sheldon. Raj leaned over and cupped a hand over Howard's ear.
"Raj says it's Con," Howard reported, distracted from the slight. "Everyone here is a geek."
The well-dressed woman at the bar held out her hand, and her companion, a businessman, handed her a stack of Munchkin cards.
"All right," said Leonard. "But I'll DM." He took the Dungeon Master's Guide from Sheldon's hands. Sheldon immediately opened the next book on the stack and bent over it studiously.
"You're a boring DM," Penny informed Leonard. "You don't do funny kobold voices."
"Exactly," said Leonard. "We need funny kobold voices like we need a kick in the teeth. We already stand out because of all of Sheldon's tubes."
"Cybernetic implants," Sheldon corrected.
"He's more machine than man now," said Howard.
Raj whispered in Howard's ear again.
"Raj says 'Twisted and evil,'" said Howard.
"Honey, you need to get drunk," said Penny, pushing her glass towards Raj, and beckoning a waiter with her free hand. "I'm already sick of listening to Howard."
"I happen to have a beautiful speaking voice," Howard said sulkily.
"'I search for hookers. Raj assists,'" Penny imitated Howard. "Just another Friday night, right guys? Hey, Raj, would it help you if I played a guy character?"
"Ah, house rule, we're all playing our own gender in this game," said Leonard hastily.
"Speak for yourself," said Howard. "I happen to be a gorgeous Eladrin redhead with huge bazongas."
"Ew," said Penny, with feeling this time, as Howard proudly displayed his crudely drawn character portrait.
"It's like the banner ads for Evony on crack," said Raj, with a discreet hiccup.
"Yay! He's talking!" said Penny. "Cheers, sweetie!" She and Raj downed their glasses in synchrony.
"What is this?" said Raj.
Howard took a sip from glass and swished it. "Klingon Blood Wine," he announced.
"Tastes like rum and Coke to me," said Penny.
"Moving right along," said Leonard, opening his notebook. "You all meet at a tavern."
Sheldon hunched over. "Xianto surveys the room with a flinty stare, one eyebrow raised inquisitively as he--"
"Like Spock," Penny interrupted.
"Excuse me, Penny, I have the floor!"
"I thought it was a valid comparison," said Leonard. And before Sheldon's frenzied throat-clearing had resolved itself into another objection, he added, "Sheldon, just introduce your character, okay? Uh, what does he look like?"
Distracted, Sheldon rattled off, as is from memory, "Xianto is a middle-aged human male standing two cubits high. He has jet black hair, flinty gray eyes, and a crooked nose crossed by a deep foreboding scar. He bears a staff radiating an unearthly glow."
"Okay. A wizard. Great," said Leonard. "Penny?"
"Hi!" said Penny, waving. "I'm Alyria. I mean, Alyrio."
"Raj is talking now, you don't have to play a male character. Please don't play a male character," said Leonard.
"Yeah, it's enough of a sausage fest around here," said Howard.
"Fine," said Penny. "Hi. My name is Alyria. I have blue, sparkly hair, violet eyes, and I'm wearing like this bright patterned shift dress, kind of vintage-y, kind of 80s, with sort of an off-the-shoulder ruffle, you know?"
"And?" said Leonard.
"And," said Penny grandly, "I have a magic ring."
"She gets a magic item at level one?" Sheldon demanded of Leonard.
"Race? Class?" said Leonard desperately, still looking at Penny.
"Not to mention unless you have invented a new ring I don't know about it's at least level fourteen!"
"Um... half-elf... warload. Warlord," Penny corrected herself, squinting at her character sheet. "Your handwriting is terrible, Leonard."
"New house rule!" Sheldon squealed. "Preferential treatment by the DM of his girlfriend is strictly prohibited!"
"Nope," said Leonard. "It's encouraged. The DM still can't believe he has a girlfriend willing to play this game."
"Oh, please," said Penny. "Dungeons and Dragons is, like, the girliest game ever."
Sheldon sputtered incoherently.
"You guys all sit around playing with dolls," said Penny.
"Figs!" corrected Leonard, Sheldon, Howard, and Raj.
"It's really very sweet," said Penny. "Is there a Dream House? Please tell me there's a Dream House."
"Wolowitz--never mind," said Leonard, turning to, and then away from, Howard. "We all know what you look like. Raj?"
"What do you look like?" said Penny.
"Like," said Raj helpfully, "a Dragonborn paladin."
"Great," said Leonard. "Now we're all acquainted. A shadowy figure approaches your table."
"We never said we were sitting together," Penny interrupted.
"Are there any hot girls in the tavern?" said Howard.
"Dude, you're a hot girl," Raj pointed out.
"So? Chandra's into girl-on-girl action. How about it, Penny?" Howard waggled his eyebrows.
"I'm a boy," said Penny, making a quick adjustment to her character sheet, and holding it up like a shield.
"A boy named Alyria?" said Leonard doubtfully.
"The ending phoneme 'a' for female names and 'o' for male names common to Latinate languages is arbitrary and there is no reason it should have any bearing on the naming conventions of either the human or elf communities of Shadowthyrria," said Sheldon.
"What he said," said Penny. "Alyria says, 'Huh, huh, dudes, dudes, it's so fun to talk about boobs.' Then he scratches his crotch."
"Sweet," said Howard. "Surrounded by hot guys."
"Xianto has a crooked nose crossed by a deep foreboding scar," Sheldon reminded him. "I don't know that that's considered conventionally hot."
"It's not not hot," said Penny thoughtfully; and responding to Leonard's look, "What?"
"Ooh," said Raj, flipping through the book. "When do I get my paladin mount?"
"Your paladin can mount me right now."
"Howard!" said Leonard.
"What?" said Howard. "I'm role-playing. I'm a woman, he's a big, strapping specimen of manhood. You do the math."
"Yeah, that's how women act," said Penny, adding, with a glance at Sheldon, "Sarcasm."
"In a perfect world," said Howard.
"Although crossbreeding is technically possible, it's unlikely that an Eladrin would prefer a Dragonborn to the males of her own race," Sheldon lectured.
"Tell that to my cousin Amy," said Howard.
"If it helps, I am a very attractive Dragonborn," said Raj. "I have charisma of 18."
"Come to mama," said Howard.
"Ew," said Penny.
"Moving rapidly along," said Leonard. "You-are-approached-by-a-shadowy-figure-offering-you-wealth-beyond-your-wildest-imagination-if-you-purge-the-local-mine-of-its-devilish-scourge."
"It's too bad you're a paladin of good," said Howard, biting his lip theatrically at Raj, "because I've been a bad, bad girl."
"Since we haven't technically started playing, at least nothing worthwhile, is it too late for me to change my feats?" said Sheldon. "I'm really having second thoughts about Leather Armor Proficiency. I don't mind cloth robes. Cloth robes is classic wizard wear."
"Take Create Water," said Leonard. "We need to spray some people."
"Considering that Create Water is a level zero druid spell in third edition, and has never been a feat in any edition of Dungeons and Dragons or Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, which you well know, I'm going to assume that was a joke," said Sheldon, bending over his character sheet.
"Is anyone else doing anything?" Leonard asked desperately. "Anyone? Penny? Raj? Penny? Penny?"
"I go to the barkeep and ask for a room," Raj volunteered. "Double bed."
"Make it a queen size," said Howard.
"Raj! You're going along with this?" said Leonard, dismayed.
Raj shrugged. "Braxus has needs."
"I slowly run adjust my breastplate," said Howard, making an accompanying mime.
"I'm going to attack Howard," said Penny.
"Just what we need," said Leonard. "Interparty fighting already."
"No, I mean in real life."
"What did I do in real life?" said Howard. "Go on, attack me in game. You want to take me on, little girl? What's your AC, like, twelve? You're wearing a frilly party dress."
"You're wearing pasties!"
"Plus-one scale-mail pasties!"
"You get a surprise round," Leonard told Penny, handing her the dice. "Seventeen. Great, you hit."
"Yay! What do I do now?"
"Roll your damage. The D6. The six-sided one. The Monopoly dice." Penny rolled, and then looked at Leonard. Sheldon sighed and looked at his watch. Leonard leaned over to examine Penny's character sheet. "You take five," he reported to Howard.
"So there," said Penny triumphantly.
"Do you need me to lay on hands?" said Raj.
"Oh, yeah. I need you to lay hands all over me," said Howard.
Leonard and Penny groaned.
Sheldon shook his head. "You really should have seen that one coming."
Leonard rested his head on the table. "What did I do to deserve this, Lord? I really want to know. Is it because I made everyone go east in the last adventure, when I knew full well that Howard had only planned maps for the west?"
"I believe you'll find this is payback for attempting to play Penny's cosmic soulmate in every one-shot in which she has ever attempted to participate, however ineffectively," said Sheldon.
"At least we're really dating!" said Leonard. "These guys are just trying to ruin my life! ...I hope."
"I run a dainty hand through Braxus's long, luxurious paladin hair..."
"Scales," Raj corrected.
"Ewwwwwwww," said Penny.
"Roll initiative," said Leonard earnestly. "You are all attacked by a Godforged Colossus."
Sheldon snorted. "At level one? Now that's just plain silly."
"Are we still in the tavern?" yawned Penny, gazing at her fingernails.
"Excellent point, Penny. A colossus is a Large size creature. Do you really think it would fit through the tavern door?" said Sheldon. "Rhetorical question."
"Is that an eleven foot pole in your bag of holding, or are you just happy to see me?" said Howard.
"My lance of faith shudders with a radiant pulse," said Raj.
"That statement doesn't begin to make gameplay sense," Sheldon tsked.
"Ooh. I might have to roll damage," said Howard. "I've never been with a creature so... rock hard."
"Like Edward Cullen," put in Penny.
"Good game, everyone!" said Leonard, snapping his notebook shut, and scooting out of the booth. "Let's try this again after Howard gets laid."
"Guess we're never playing again," said Penny cheerfully.
"And Raj," said Leonard, shooting him a dirty look. "You know you two are only obsessed with sex because you never have any."
"Look at Mr. High and Mighty Girlfriend Haver," said Howard.
"Nice zing," said Raj.
"I could be scoring for all you know. How do you know you're the only one getting laid every night?"
"I wish," Penny muttered into her Klingon Blood Wine. "Ow. Who kicked me?"
"The reason I know you're not getting any," said Leonard, "is because you haven't talked my ear off bragging about it. You're not exactly hard to read."
"He has a point," said Raj.
"We didn't even have a combat," Sheldon complained, carefully disengaging his tubes from the back of the chair.
"Hey, I tried," said Penny. "Everyone else was too busy changing clothes and pretending to be in love. What did I say? Girly."
"Creepy," said Leonard. "Just... just massively creepy. I need brain bleach now."
"You can dish it out, but you can't take it!" Howard called after them as they left.
"We win at role-playing," said Raj.
"Hell yeah," said Howard, holding out his hand for a high-five, and then a low-five.
"Hey," said Howard, propping himself up on one elbow in the darkness. "Do you think they have condoms in Shadowthyrria?"
"I'm pretending to be asleep to avoid this conversation," reported muffled voiced from under the blankets of the other bed.
"Oh," said Howard.
There was a pause; then the comforter shifted, and Raj's voice spoke clearly. "Maybe I had an amulet of protection."
"You wouldn't wear an amulet to bed."
"I would if I knew it was an amulet of protection," said Raj. "Especially if I was going to bed with your character. What's your name? Chlamydia?"
"Chandra is a nice respectable girl. She's a cleric."
"An evil cleric. She wouldn't be above giving me dire crabs."
"Next time we should have them recruit some NPCs for an orgy. And Penny, if possible," said Howard. "That would really annoy Leonard."
"We should borrow some of those novels Penny reads for inspiration," said Raj. "Those pink ones, where the cover is an oil painting of a pirate with no shirt or something."
"Yeah, yeah, those really make Leonard uncomfortable. I could toss my shining locks defiantly and heave my mighty bosoms."
"Okay, buxom. I'll definitely rip a bodice, anyway."
"Yeah," said Raj. "Uh... Something about my throbbing member."
"Oh, that's good. Wait. Let me get this down," said Howard, leaning out of bed to rescue his laptop from the floor. "Throb-bing... mem...ber. Okay. What else?"
"I'll cup your firm elven buttocks."
"Ha. Okay. I'll slide my dainty hand down your dragonscale side and caress the mighty sinews of..."
Howard trailed off.
"Are we..." said Raj.
"No," said Howard.
"Are you sure?" said Raj. "Because it seemed like we were having cybersex."
"I feel like a snack," said Howard brightly. "Do you want a snack?"
"A snack sounds good," Raj nodded.
Howard got up, snapped on the light and opened up the mini-fridge. "Ten-dollar Goldfish. Perfect." He poured out a handful and threw Raj the rest of the pack. Raj missed. Howard sat down on the bed to help him corral the spilled Goldfish into a centralized pile.
"Have you ever... you know..." Raj began, chiefly addressing the pile of Goldfish.
"Cybered? With another guy?"
Howard thought about this. "Probably," he said. "I mean, I've been on the Internet."
"I once had lesbian cybersex in World of Warcraft," said Raj.
"Well, there you go," said Howard. "The other girl was probably a man, too."
"No, I heard her on voice chat later. A real girl," said Raj. "A lesbian."
"Sure," said Howard. "Wait, your blood elf is male."
"I was leveling an alt."
They both nodded and ate their Goldfish.
"So, um," said Raj after a moment. "What were you going to say before?"
"Before we realized we were having cybersex."
"Oh," said Howard. "Just that I slide my, uh, dainty hand down, um..."
Raj popped a Goldfish in his mouth like popcorn at the movies. "Down?" he prompted.
"This is dumb," said Howard. "I can't have cybersex with you sitting right there."
"I'm the one you're having cybersex with," Raj pointed out.
"That makes it worse!"
Raj frowned, leaned over the bed, and returned with a laptop.
"What are you doing?" said Howard. "Googling the problem?"
Howard grabbed his laptop and returned to his spot on Raj's bed. He snapped his fingers. "Let's meet up in WoW."
"We could set up the DM screen. Then we don't even have to look at each other!"
"But I'll still know you're there," said Howard.
"Yes," Raj sighed. "That is a problem."
They looked at their respective login screens. Howard shoved his computer aside. "The thing is," he said. "Cybersex isn't really all it's cracked up to be."
"What are you saying?" said Raj.
"I mean, compared to the real thing," said Howard. "People only have cybersex when they can't have real life sex, because they're too single or too funny-looking or even though they technically have their own room with a big sign saying 'Keep Out Mom' they can't get any god damn privacy."
"Or they're killing orcs in another window," said Raj.
"Right," said Howard. "Only you can totally kill orcs while having real life sex."
"That was a good LAN party," said Raj.
"Shall we?" Howard shrugged out of his Federation-issue pajama top.
"Wait, let me log in," said Raj. "I need to make some gold."
"In reality, a spider's spinnerets are on the underside of its abdomen. So really, Spiderman should be web-slinging from his rear," Sheldon lectured, with an illustrative interpretive dance. Penny rescued the brimming bowl of cereal from his hands and placed it down next to Howard's on the table.
"Sheldon?" said Penny. "Remember our talk about before-breakfast talk and after-breakfast talk?"
"Oh, yayyy, you guys are already setting up another game," said Leonard unenthusiastically, watching Howard remove miniatures from his dice bag and arrange the order on a piece of graph paper.
"We're ready to explore that mine now," said Howard. "Thrust our shining sun rods into the deepest darkest caverns."
"Euuuuuugh," Leonard whined. "I thought we had an agreement."
"Yeah, well, can you believe it?" said Howard. "We both got lucky last night."
"Really," said Penny, narrowing her eyes at Howard, who offered a winning yet sleazy smile, and then at Raj, who was diligently making notes on his character sheet, and then back at Howard, who was offering a different winning, sleazy smile.
"Good," said Sheldon. "This will give me a chance to try out my new plus-six Robe of Bloodwalking. Since we're lifting things willy-nilly out of the Adventurer's Vault."
Penny squinted at Raj. "What's that in your hair, a Goldfish cracker?"
"I search the tavern for whores," said Howard, reaching for the nearest D20.