Daryl rolled the pair of twenty-sided dice and looked up over the top of the cardboard screen.
‘It misses you.’
Leanne cheered and checked her character sheet before she picked up her pencil and pointed it at him.
‘I cast a fireball at the troll.’
She rolled, frowned.
‘I roll 60. Is that a hit?’
Daryl looked at the rows of tables he’d drawn onto the screen, reference tables of outcomes and percentages written in his neat, crabbed hand with a ballpoint pen and grinned at her.
‘Absolutely, your fireball crashes into the troll’s chest for – ‘ he checked the table again and gestured to her.’ roll for damage.’
Leanne checked her selection and grimaced. Beth plucked a handful of different sided dice from the pile she had set out and passed them in her upturned palm to Leanne who plucked out the two that she needed and rolled them. Her grin of triumph made Daryl’s cheeks burn and he asked her, in a tight voice, what the dice had shown.
’18 points of damage for the fireball.’
Daryl grinned and sat back in his chair, eager for the chance to be dramatic and bringing his hands level with his head.
‘Your fireball shoots from the end of your wand -‘
Pete snickers and that cracks the room up, which Daryl is annoyed by, but because Leanne is there, he pretends that it’s hilarious and lets them laugh before they lapse into a mutual silence.
‘And it explodes against the troll’s chest, sending it flying backwards with a roar of agony.’
He has a childhood of Tolkien and Rowling to fall back on, not much of one, but enough that he wrote down ideas and phrases into a ragged notebook and used them. All his anxiety around their worth dissolved as he looked into Leanne’s bright, blue eyes.
‘So, he’s dead, right?’Pete said from the corner of his mouth. Daryl loved Pete most of the time, but down here, Daryl is in charge and he found it difficult not to say anything but Pete loved the game, with his half-elf thief who had a cloak of invisibility and an innuendo for every situation, so he kept the volume down on his loud personality so that Daryl was free to help them tell this ongoing story of treasure and danger.
A world that offered a chance of victory and glory.
Daryl was about to answer, statistically Leanne’s fireball wouldn’t kill the troll, but he’s disregarding the tables for the hope that Leanne’s triumph would make him look attractive to her, when the alarm goes off, a harsh braying sound that shakes the bones in your skull. They all look around and dash to the corner of the basement where their survival suits are kept.
They were slick to the touch, necessary for the amount of filtration they gave off, and it took them all, despite the constant repetition, a few minutes to get them on over their clothes and to check that they are all sealed up and squared away. They shouldered rifles and walked up the stairs in perfect formation.
Daryl registered a touch on his shoulder, and through the lenses, saw Leanne giving him a thumbs up. He opened the hatch and they head up to the surface.
The sky was purple, raging with clouds that seethed and boil whilst a flock of the black, bone carrion birds circled overhead. They had a short, dangerous walk back to the bunker, but they never felt quite so alive as they did in the basement and the feeling stayed with them. Daryl straightened his shoulders and began to walk.
Every day was a fight for survival, scouting expeditions for materials and food and it was one of them that Daryl found the crate of role playing game manuals. He had suggested it to the others after the fuel rationing meant that they couldn’t hook up the VR system anymore. They were told, that with their training and the resources that were in place, they would survive the damage done to the world. Daryl, as he passed the manuals around, grinned at them and said that games like these were reasons to live.
They head home, but their hearts and minds are already anticipating when they will return to finish off the troll.