Why do you like playing D&D so much?
This was White Bear’s question after a game session that everyone seemed to enjoy but that was, admittedly, not much like D&D. Despite the name, actual Dragons have always been a rarity of course, and the prevalence of Dungeons requires a shift in meaning from “miserable prison cell” to “sprawling underground labyrinth populated by treasure-guarding monsters.”
But there was none of any of that. Instead there was Khanbaliq (my thoroughly fictional, somewhat fantastical version of Beijing under the Mongols), a visiting Khan from the edge of the empire, a feast, a story-telling contest, a townhouse, and a marriage negotiation.
Beatriss (or maybe White Bear) commented that she really doesn’t like Khanbaliq. It’s seedy and weird, and there are lots of people who don’t seem to like her; the series of gates inside of gates, locked wards, and walled compounds ad to the sense that it’s really dangerous. Plus Madam Guto has directly threatened her children. (Yeah, children. Babies actually. Lycanthropes, albeit, but still babies. It happens sometimes, even in D&D).
The visiting Khan is lifted from a TSR product, the module OA6, Ronin Challenge. But transformed from a big guy from “India” on an elephant to a big guy from “one of the stans” with lots of horses and camels. He’s come to stay in Khanbaliq for about a year—on business.
Buyuk, the visiting Khan has made his camp a few hours from the city, where he has space to stretch out and hunt and graze his herds and race his horses and just be a big man with a bunch of followers.
To his feast, he invited a couple of the Khans who stay in and around Khanbaliq, including Samsar Anca, (Tetsukichi’s adopted father). Buyuk served his guests a lot of meat and gave nice gifts.
He also proposed a story-telling contest. Buyuk himself told the story of The Lady and Her Five Suitors. Beatriss told the story of her origins in Cynadiceand the reasons for her being expelled from the city and, very obliquely, how she made her way from there to Khanbaliq. The other guests talked about hunting. (And then Buyuk brought out some dice and some pencils and paper and asked his guests whether they have ever wanted to be elves . . . )
Beatriss very much enjoyed the feast and told the Khan so. But back in Khanbaliq, she at last gave in to the nagging of her retainers Golfo and Nardon and agreed to go with them one night to the House of Jourdain. It was a short visit. She was wary to begin with, and when she heard the voice of Madam Guto calling on Nardon to “bring your friend inside and relax” she kind of freaked out. The guard standing in front of the barred gate did not put her at ease, so she used her magic ring to jump over the wall and run back to town. A sullen Golfo and a sheepish Nardon returned the next day. Nardon, finding it difficult to explain why thought he should bring his boss to a brothel, made the sudden realization that Madam Guto wasn’t so nice after all. (This paragraph, obviously, is the only one that really sounds like we’re playing D&D)
About a week later, Beatriss received, via Anca, a proposal of marriage from Khan Buyuk. Anca and Beatriss traveled together to the townhouse in the Imperial City where Buyuk was now staying so that they might discuss the particulars.
temporary marriage that would last for his one year while he stayed in Khanbaliq. As he explained it, a permanent marriage would require her to leave Khanbaliq with him, something she might not be ready to commit to. Buyuk and Anca agreed on a dowry and then Buyuk sent for a priest. But instead of a priest, a bureaucrat showed up to explain that people couldn’t just get married in the Imperial City whenever they wanted, that an application was necessary and an approval process.
So Beatriss went away with her guardian Anca, promising to return once the arrangements had been made and leaving Buyuk with a painted scroll of the fox-babies.
“What is the purpose of life?” A valid question—that can only be answered in living. So it is with D&D.