I don’t have a great deal of experience with Dungeons & Dragons outside of playing a few one-shots, playing in a short campaign in The Lost Mine of Phandelver, and of course DM-ing the campaign my friends and I are currently going through. But I’d like to focus in on that short campaign in The Lost Mine of Phandelver, and talk about the time one of our players decided to take up the mantle of expert accountant at the cost of his literacy.
We had a particularly greedy dwarf barbarian in our party who was always quick to gather as much loot as he could possibly carry on his mostly naked body. It was a funny bit that worked well with the rest of us because our goals were a bit more altruistic and personal in nature. But not for our enterprising dwarf. No, he was motivated purely by shiny things.
It’s when we came across a chest of gold pieces that Gravy-Train (his name was a play on the Pokemon, Graveler, but I refused to call him that) found and decided that here in this enemy infested cave was the best place to count it all. Worried that we would all be caught off guard while Gravy was counting his pennies, he flippantly posited that his character was a money-whiz, and could count a vast amount of coins in mere seconds. I think our DM was willing to concede that point, but Gravy followed it up by saying that he didn’t know how to read, but could count really well.
Me being the scamp I was demanded that this was canon and he had to commit to it. I experienced no push back from anyone, and from there on, Gravy was illiterate but could count really well.
We ended up in a library packed with books that our now illiterate dwarf could not read. While I had hoped for some sort of Twilight Zone styled Sisyphean curse where he’d lament at the vast amounts of knowledge he could no longer consume, but Gravy-Train was unphased and went ahead and told us how many books were on the shelves as if that was some great piece of intelligence he had just dumped on us.
Later in the campaign, Gravy-Train began to split from the party in an effort to make some deals with the town banker or something. He wanted to buy the entirety of the town if memory serves, and started by buying out the old and run down tavern on the hill. The guy couldn’t read, but had already set his plan of owning an entire city into motion. It was an amazing moment when he finally revealed that to us.
It’s the little bits of character building that I’ve come to appreciate in my time with D&D. This story may seem fairly benign in the grand scheme of things, but it made his character more tangible and real, despite being hilarious. It’s because of this that I think I’ve been so taken with D&D. I want to have more of those moments in the game, both the funny and serious alike. After destroying their world, I was presented with the unique opportunity of putting my players into a setting where they can re-contextualize everything about themselves, and maybe put them in more situations that can bring out these character moments. That’s my hope at least.
But I do wonder if we would’ve ever taught him to read again though. I’m guessing we wouldn’t. It’s funnier if he never could read again.