What is “friendship” anyway?

I’ve had a couple of interesting experiences on Facebook recently. More than anything else, the definition of “friend” is what has come to be controversial.

I tend to perceive my Facebook friends in one of four ways, and I’ll argue that most people will agree with me.

(1) Colleagues, old schoolmates, and business acquaintances that you feel obligated in some way to keep in touch with, who sometimes are overly familiar, but who can often provide useful connections or introductions around the country and in different industries and workplaces.
(2) Family that you SHOULD keep in touch with for the purposes of weddings, family reunions, and other personal obligations.
(3) Real friends—these are the people you actually talk to, invite to birthday parties, and care about their lives and relationships. If you separate out your friends into groups, then this is the one you actually read status updates from.
(4) Acquaintances, celebrities,
local news sources, and people who are of use in some fashion. These are often the people who inform you of local events, gallery openings, concerts, big parties, artisans, and interesting news.

People in most social networks tend to have to utilize heuristics to deal with the constant flow of information. As for me, I am fine receiving 85-90% of relevant local news and events in order to not have to pay total attention to my Facebook/Twitter newsfeeds. Frankly, most of my friends are on Facebook, not on Twitter. As a result, I don’t tend to have conversations so much as I get soundbytes of information.

I only really track 50-60 of my friends, even though I have close to 300 people that I am connected to on social networks.

This conversation came up because sometimes there is asynchronicity in friend pairings. For instance, a Facebook friend of mine made it a habit to invite me to her dance club’s events each week. When she asked her substantial Facebook friend list why she
never received any responses or RSVPs, I was the only person, I think, who was interested in the question and as a result gave her a genuine and well-thought-out response.

I told her that since she had 1000 Facebook friends, and I could see that she used her friends list as a sort of marketing tool, that I felt no real obligation to respond to invitations I perceived to be little more than a requirement of her job, and not part of her relationship with me. I think she was genuinely hurt by the fact that people had failed to respond to her invitations, but I believe that no one really thinks that someone who has invited 700 people to an event really cares whether or not one person shows up. No matter how much my friend protested that she personally selected the people she sent invitations to, I don’t really believe her, and I don’t think anyone else does either. It is impossible to maintain meaningful personal relationships with more than perhaps 100 people—and it’s stretching rather a lot for me
to even try to do so with 30 or 40 people.

The truth is that the Internet is nothing more than a communication tool. Humans have never been capable of maintaining rational, close relationships with more than a clan-sized group of people; it’s how we evolved. It doesn’t matter if you’re webcamming or IMing or calling or coffee-klatsching—people make connections with only a limited amount of people. That connection list changes over time, but its existence, relevance to today’s social media, and importance, does not.

Dungeon Delve with Wil Wheaton at ECCC, Pt. 3 (final)

Stench rises from the ooze swirling through the Freeport sewers. The revolting sludge clings to our boots, infests our noses, darkens our spirits. As the faint phosporescence illumines the passages ahead, we see a junction in these ancient underground passages. Rats squeak in the darkness ahead, and a low moan of foul wind tells us that something is coming…

So I roll to check the junction in the sewers. The rest of the party is clustered ahead, because I’m a wussy elf with very little in the physical defense department. I’ve scooted to the side of the tunnel, as there are two raised shelves on each side with a low channel between for the sewage to pass through. As the tank moves out in front, there’s a scrape up to the left. Ye olde initiative time! Bandits filled the tunnel on both sides of the X-junction we’re moving towards. We scattered to give ourselves room to fight, and I moved to the right-hand side of the tunnel.

The bandits closed, and we laid into them. Our tank bashed, our dwarf cleaved, my brother lit the place up, our rogue slashed away, and I made like Legolas in a skirt. On the left side of the junction, Stanislaw started burning bandits. On the right side, I got trapped in between two of the bandits, and decided to flip over them to get behind them. I asked Wil how high the tunnel ceiling was, and he told me it was about 12′ high in the center, and at the sides, closer to 10′. I’d have to do a tuck roll in midair…no vaulting over their shoulders. I had a monster Acrobatics score, so I gave it a roll. Unfortunately, the roll didn’t hit the DC, so I snagged my foot on the ceiling, and proceeded to drop into the muck at the bottom of the sewer.


I was then treated to a lovingly-described scene, as
Wil let me know that I had crap in my boots, hair, teeth, and quiver. UGH.

[Commentary: Wil admittedly didn’t have a lot of experience DMing this, but here is where he really shone. He used his skill as an actor to make up for the parts where his DM skills were somewhat less than spectacular. Voices, gestures; all were lovingly created. He’s far better than most of his roles allow him to show.]

Elfy was PISSED. I started laying about with arrows while the party started tossing assorted and sundry spells, darts, daggers, and sword blows about. We didn’t even notice the black ooze crawling our way. Remember the floater I’d seen when we were first entering the tunnels? It was sucked under the surface of the ooze by an oily current. I totally asked Wil if I should be envisioning Skin Of Evil at this point (I think he has a voice control unit in his
brain that permits him to totally ignore people who have just Stepped Over The Geek Line), but he was already describing the vile Black Pudding coming toward us! Needless to say, most of our weapons didn’t work; a Black Pudding isn’t immune to nonmagical weapons, but as a sewer scavenger, it simply absorbed missile weapons. Stanislaw ended up burning it up with a spell, and we took a deep breath while Wil pointed us towards a junction ahead in the tunnel.

We’d seen a bandit run towards a dark pipe off to the south. Being intelligent PCs, we decided that we’d traipse off in the dark towards a filthy tunnel instead of heading back up to the perfectly respectable Adventure Hook Tavern above for a nice warm mead.

Gamers, man. Just…gamers.

Passing through the dark pipe, we ended up in a small room that contained a woman and Davien,
who pointed us towards tiles on the ground that would take us to the amulet’s location.

We arrived on transfer portals in a large hall that was filled with torches. We were also not able to see too far into the room; giant vaulted ceilings disappeared upwards into greyish clouds. We guessed that this was some sort of extraplanar location or interdimensional fold; a few of us had done some planar travel, so the runes on the walls and floors were more understandable and even translatable. There was a great deal of blackness in front of us; as we moved forward, we heard scritching sounds at the sides of the room, and undead bandit ravenous critters started to close.

I fell back, since I am still a wussy elven archer. I can thread a needle with an arrow at 100 paces, but I’ll fall over in a stiff breeze. Tank (Matt’s character, whose name I do not remember, but with a 6 INT, it’s not like Ye Olde Thug
Number Four is going to remember what I said long enough to be offended) jumped ahead to start smashing, and our dwarven cleric moved to the side to start doing some holy muttering. The slavering undead beasties shambled into melee combat with our vanguard, teeth bared, and we could tell that only one thought was rolling through their rotten minds…NOM.

Our rogue started tossing daggers, but he was less than effective until he got surprise and a flanking attack on one of the undead critters when it came for me. I kept circling around to the side to see where the caster was. It’s usually pretty obvious when there’s undead about that someone’s a necromancer or caster. If the undead have been summoned through a spell, killing the caster will sometimes cause them to drop or dematerialize if the spell is what is keeping them there. If they’ve been raised, though, it may take a turn undead spell to make them head back to the soiled graves out of which they’ve crawled.

Turns out I was
right. Ahead in the distance was a scattering of stone posts. Flaming torches obscured our view ahead. I slid to the side to try to get a better view. I had some seriously awesome Passive Perception, so I started scanning the room…Passively, of course. I rolled it, and caught two things: first, there was indeed a caster in front of us; second, that there was a flame elemental starting to grow in the middle of the pillars separating us from the caster! This elemental was fricken HUGE…like 30 feet tall. Our rogue tried to sneak past it to get between the pillars and over to the caster, but there was some kind of gelatinous wall between each of the pillars. I couldn’t tell if it only prevented organics from crossing, so I figured it wouldn’t hurt to try to shoot an arrow through it. I fired, and hit our caster. The room shook, and everyone started really getting set for Ye Olde Epic Battle. The cleric limbered up that mace and got her praying muscles ready, Stanislaw got set for casting some of
his own mojo, the tank grunted, the rogue slunk about suspiciously, and I sighted down a clothyard shaft towards the caster that had brought us all here. Here’s a pic of this very moment!!

Ok, it’s been a while since I saw that episode of Criminal Minds where Wil plays this vile icky scary way gross rapist dude. I remember being quite startled by the depth of my disgust, and my admiration for his increasing skills. As a DM who can make you really SEE what’s going on in the battle, I’m going to tell you right now, find a damned actor to DM for you. When Kala bitchslapped his caster with like six called shots to the head and hands to prevent casting, and then finally shot him through the heart (thus unsummoning the fire demon and deanimating the dead bandit critters), I and everyone else at the table were treated to a full three minute description of the end of the battle and the delve. Wil can capture you
with a story like any actor can capture you with their performance, and he’d obviously not only put a lot of thought and work into his storyline, but was so familiar with all the potential story arcs that he could improvise on the NPC character actions while STILL ensnaring us into his tale. Nice work, man!

Final judgment: If you have a chance to go to a Dungeon Delve with Wil, jump at the chance. It was a blast. I would, however, advise Child’s Play to manage their charitable events better. Wil collected the $100 from each of us…except for me. I chose to write a check to Child’s Play, because I needed a charitable donation receipt, and it was quite a saga to actually find the right person at CP who could contact Wil and let him know that I’d donated. Honestly, there really should have either been a rep there from CP or Wil should have had a way for us to get receipts. I don’t know about you guys,
but $100 is a bit more than I want to just lose track of; this went to charity, so I’m entitled to a tax receipt. (Which, come to think of it, I STILL haven’t received) I’m also guessing that Wil will absolutely be able to increase the amount he asks for at each con, so next year at ECCC if he’s charging $300, that’s kind of a lot of dough to just fork over with no receipt.

On one personal note, I will say this: I’m not exactly a toothless hag. I think Wil may have been somewhat startled by the fact that I’m an extremely experienced gamer, and not some starstruck chick looking to hang with an actor. I’m going to say this not just to Wil Wheaton (who, to be fair, DID start treating me like everyone else at the table after I’d proved that I knew what I was doing), but to every other GM of the masculine persuasion: when an attractive femme sporting a full con badge is first in line for your game at GenCon or DragonCon or any other game con, do NOT ask her if she’s “ever played a role playing
game before. Because this is really for people who know how to play Dungeons And Dragons. You know, where you roll dice and pretend to be a character in a story.” I was furious for, like, ten minutes until my fiance calmed me down and noted that I’d just been given quite the backhanded compliment. Plus, he gave me coffee, which at 8:30AM is a WAI better way to appease me. There’s a reason I’m marrying the man.

Dear Whhhhil Whhhhheaton: You are awesome in many ways, I never wanted to alt.kill.wesley.crusher, I sympathize that you probably have many cute stalker chicks after you at cons, and I feel that I got my own back when I fully pwned your uber-Big Bad at the end. Hugs and kisses, Tarah. PS: Dude, I would totally love to get you in one of MY games. Come to GenCon and play in one of my two events!