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Alcoholism in games

by Ville Lähde

Lately out 12+ year old campaign made a surprising development. Flint, our dwarven fighter from day one (yes, the first adventure ever!) finally succumbed to alcoholism.

He had been drinking heavily all those 14 years of game-time, but it "never was a problem". The last straw was one week in Athenos, when the group was preparing for a diplomatic journey towards Minrothad and Ierendi. Flint hasn't really been around dwarves much during the last years. His own people were slaughtered and enslaved, and he found lasting dwarven company only three years ago when he founded a colony in Gyl Erid. However, he has been too busy there to be drinking too seriously.

Now he had the chance to really "sit down with the guys", and what's more, he was also perceived as a hero by the Rockhome allied force (in X10) that was camped around Athenos. Flint's friends lost track of him for a while, and when they found him he had been drinking berserker-mushroom-induced dwarves spirits for three days straight and engaging in Fight Club -style brawling matches with berserker dwarves.

In game-terms I made him throw wisdom checks (his WIS is sadly 6) every day whether he could stop drinking. He threw 20, a critical miss, three times in a row. The next days after his friends had extracted him from the dwarven camp, he threw another two 20's - alcoholism had finally taken a solid hold on him.

Alcoholism is a sad thing, my own uncle died of it. So I'm not saying it is a light an funny topic. But it has really added spice to the campaign's micro-level, the everyday ambience. This is not just a "disadvantage" bought with points like in GURPS. This is an organic development of the PC's psyche. Actually, our group has been close to tears a couple of times.

Like during the Ierendi state ball, where the others were either engaging in diplomacy or finding female company, Flint was sitting alone at a table, drinking monotonically, and continuing the same story (for the third time) about his adventures in Kol - not even noticing that the audience had either passed out or left. Poor old sod.

Or during the sea voyage, when Yuri (thief) had stolen all his booze to keep him in adventuring shape. Flint managed to but some rum from the sailors and started "closet-drinking". By the way, nowadays the bastard Yuri is actually stealing Flint's booze and selling it back to him. That is until Flint's berserker buddies caught him in the act and beat him to pulp. (Steel cap boots to groin and such. Luckily the PC priest found him in time.)

I always thought that alcoholism and similar problems wouldn't work well in games. They too easily become empty rituals. But if the problem is built up during the PC's career, instead of being stamped on as an attribute, that is a different story.

Finally some anecdotes from Flint:

"Look, guys. I'm 90 years old. I have been drinking for over 70 years, so I know booze much better than you. Don't try to teach your father to f**k."

"What is this? Suddenly one lousy drink becomes larger than life? One lousy drink?"

Yes, poor old sod.