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play is the way joy unfolds

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After the almost-breakup, Rosa makes a commitment to learn more about Jocelyn’s hobbies. She picks Dungeons & Dragons because it has the potential to be a long-term way to spend time together, and for Rosa to, begrudgingly, get to know Jocelyn’s friends.

She decides to run a short game for the Nine-Nine, which she figures is the best crash course she’ll get without asking Jocelyn for help. She does need some help, though, so she picks her best target and bides her time until the right moment for an ambush appears.

When the nosiest Nine-Nine-ers are either out sick (Amy, who Jake almost had to tie down to get her to take a day off) or spelunking for lunch in far-off boroughs (Charles, who heard about an underground sauerkraut butchery in midtown and left at nine a.m. to ‘beat the lunch rush’), Rosa deems the approach as safe as possible.

She corners Jake in the break room, forcing her arms to stay by her sides so she looks as unthreatening as possible. “Peralta. You were a nerd in school. Did you play—” her voice lowers— “role-playing games?”

Jake gasps comically at her, eyes lighting up at the hint of personal information about Rosa. “Did you just ask me about role-playing games? Do you secretly want to be a wizard? Or wait, no, a barbarian!”

Rosa glares, dropping the forced casualness and crossing her arms over her chest. “Yes or no: did you do it or not?”

Jake grins, shaking his head. “Sorry to disappoint, but you actually want my super-nerd wife.” He leans in conspiratorially. “She still has special storage boxes full of the books that she thinks I don’t know about.”

He turns back to his lunch, picking up his sandwich.

“When she gets out of mucus jail, you should ask her about it. If you tried right now, she’d probably sneeze on you in excitement.”

Rosa wrinkles her nose. “Noted. Thanks.” She gets almost to the door before Jake realizes that he never got an answer.

“Wait!” he shouts, standing up and gesturing with his sandwich. “You didn’t tell me why! Come back and tell me or I’ll tell Gina that you’re a secret nerd!”

Rosa whirls around, glaring, and starts back toward Jake menacingly. He hasn’t noticed that he’s holding his sandwich dangerously near the trash can, but Rosa has. She pictures dunking it in the bin to the satisfying soundtrack of Jake’s wails.

Before she gets a chance, Terry appears in the doorway behind her. “Did I hear someone say roleplaying? Terry played D&D in college!”

Rosa considers taking drastic action.




 

Unsurprisingly, despite her best efforts, Amy hears about the game and has to chip in her two (read: fifty) cents. The first day that she’s back at the precinct, still snuffling and shedding tissues like disgusting flower petals, she drops a stack of books on Rosa’s desk.

“Here,” she says, looking expectantly at Rosa.

Rosa finishes scrolling through her page of Very Important Material before she looks at the books.

“I didn’t ask for these,” she says dismissively.

Amy seems to actually perk up at that, starting to bounce on her toes. “I know, but I heard you were running a campaign and I wanted to volunteer my expertise!”

Rosa looks back at her monitor, an obvious signal that Amy ignores.

“I DMed for six years in high school and college, and I wrote an entirely new setting for my last campaign. It’s originally for Three-Five, but that’s easily adapted to Fifth with a few days’ work. It’s called Briwelwood and it’s in this binder, if you want to use it.” She touches the largest binder reverently, as if it’s a treasured lapdog and not a brick masquerading as office supplies, thick enough to bludgeon someone to death.

“No thanks,” says Rosa, watching as Amy’s face crumples in her periphery. “I have a setting, and I’m going to do this myself.” She can only take so much of Amy on the verge of tears— she’s not a monster— so she grudgingly adds, as if this weren’t the plan already, “You can play, if you want. It could be a Nine-Nine game.”

Amy lights up again. “Yes, please!” she says, bending down to rummage through another box of binders. She straightens, several plastic-sheathed character sheets clutched in her hands.

“What do you think, the High Elf Wizard for the Int boost, or the Hill Dwarf Cleric for the Wisdom bump? Or do you think someone else will want the Cleric? Maybe Charles…”





Somehow, they get to character creation without Amy throwing a hostile takeover.

Rosa invites the Nine-Nine to a flashy townhouse just over the line into Long Island City, slipping them each the address separately, as if being sneaky about it will reduce the questions.

Instead, as soon as he sees the paper, Charles lights up.

“Are the bacon s’mores at Peacock Enigma as good as Underground Eatz blog says they are? I never trust a food critic without seeing their face, and the author just goes by “Joe” and has a default profile picture! I need to know if I can trust him, Rosa!”

Rosa stares at him, unimpressed. “It’s not my apartment,” she says. She’s already walking away by the time he’s stopped cursing himself for believing Rosa would give them her real address.

“Does that mean I should get a bacon s’more for you, too?” he calls after her.




 

As expected, Amy is half an hour early, toting a heavy box of reference books and dragging Jake behind her. From his resigned expression, she’s conscripted him into lugging a box full of yet more books and binders.

When Rosa opens the door, Amy blows past her to set the box on the long wooden table that takes up the majority of the space. As she starts to unpack, Jake gratefully thunks his box down next to hers where it rattles suspiciously.

In the time it’s taken Rosa to re-lock the door, Amy has built a forest of paper. She’s surrounded by neat stacks of books, including what appears to be multiple copies of the Fifth Edition Monster Manual (in case there are disputes? Rosa rolls her eyes,) and several binders open to reveal ornately-decorated, pre-made character sheets.

Amy sets her box down on the floor and dives into Jake’s, unloading multiple boxes of pre-sharpened pencils, a pencil sharpener, extra erasers, and several tupperwares of dice separated by color and shape. From the bottom, she removes a neatly-creased game mat, as if she thinks that Rosa’s too much of an amateur to have acquired one.

Rosa shakes her head and lets Jake occupy Amy until the others arrive.

Terry appears five minutes late with a spit-up stain on his shirt. “I’m looking forward to grown-ups’ time,” he says, eyes slightly wild.

Charles arrives soon after and Rosa opens the door to a pastry box full of bacon s’mores, followed by Charles. He thrusts them at her as if she actually wants them and goes to join the others. She sets them on the bare kitchen island, hoping (but not believing) that he’ll forget about them.

Rosa’s gives her terse introduction to the game, “This is a standard setting. Make your characters.”

Amy immediately asks, “Is it more of a medieval setting, or is it high fantasy? What’s the median household income? What’s the overwhelming sentiment toward magic-users; are they adulated—”

Suddenly, the doorbell rings. Rosa takes the opportunity to dodge Amy’s incessant stream of questions, staring accusingly around the table.

“Who did you tell,” she demands. No one answers, as expected.

She hits the intercom to say “Not interested,” but before she can a staticky voice says, “Gina’s here, bitches! Let’s get this party started!”

Rosa buzzes her up, choosing not to question how Gina knew about the game or the apartment. She always ends up with a headache when she tries to follow Gina’s logic or ferret out her sources.

When she gets upstairs, Gina throws open the door and swans in, wearing sunglasses and carrying a perfume bottle. She immediately spritzes the entire table, books and inhabitants alike, with something vile.

Rosa wrinkles her nose at the chemically fake rose scent, suppresses a cough and demands, “Why.”

“Getting rid of eau de loser,” Gina replies, sitting down with a flourish and whipping out a completed character sheet.

Amy snatches it from her hand and starts to read it over, eyes flicking rapidly across the page as she mutters stats to herself. “Tiefling Warlock named Kallista, 11 strength, 12 dex, 15 con, 14 int, 15 wis, 17 cha, Patron is Fionnghuala, Chaotic…wait, Gina, this just says ‘Chaotic.’ Chaotic what?"

“Chaotic Gina, bitch!” Gina answers, grinning with an alarming number of teeth.

As Amy starts to lecture Gina, Rosa turns back to the others. “Right, let’s get the rest of you started. Use the books to figure out what you want to play. Do you have any immediate ideas?”

“I definitely want to be a fighter,” Jake pipes up. “My name is Bojangles MacDuff and I tragically lost my parents at an early age when their ship sunk in the middle of the ocean. I think it was sabotage, and I’ve been training to find their killers and avenge them since I could pick up a sword!”

Rosa grunts, unsurprised. “So you need to figure out your Race, then. Chapter Two,” she says, passing him a copy of the Player’s Handbook.

Charles looks up from another copy of the Player’s Handbook. “I know I’ll be a bard, but I still need to pick my instrument.” He flips to the Tools section. “I’m leaning toward a drum so that my breath remains free to sing, but it would help to know more about the world to flesh out his backstory. Is there a conservatory in this world, or would he have had to learn by finding a wandering bard in a grimy tavern? Is music a career that’s open to all walks of life, or does he have to come from money?”

Rosa turns to Terry, hoping— but not expecting— that he’s decided to be less difficult than the others. “What about you?” she asks.

Terry’s brow is creased, but his expression clears as he thinks out loud. “I never got to play a gnome in college because everyone made fun of me for my titties. Now, I can crush anyone who tries with my 2d8 pecs!”

Gina looks up from her argument with Amy to whoop, “You go, Terr-Bear! Flex ‘em, show those losers who’s boss!”

Rosa calmly grinds her teeth, but Terry actually looks relieved by Gina’s cat-calling. “Yeah, I will play a gnome! I’ma be a rock gnome paladin, and even if I have to pick a standard weapon for the game, y’all’ll know my weapon is actually these,” he says, brandishing his fists. He’s almost bouncing in his seat, gaze darting around as if daring someone to get in his way.

When no one takes him up on it, he deflates a bit, grabbing a blank character sheet to get to work.





In the end, character creation only takes four hours, but they come out of it with a relatively well-balanced party.

As they go around the table to do introductions, Rosa feels what might be nerves in the pit of her stomach. She didn’t actually think she’d get this far and, though she’d never admit it to Amy, she’s suddenly in over her head. It might be time to just admit everything to Jocelyn and...ask for her help. Rosa hears that’s a thing people in relationships do.

She tunes back in time to hear Jake say, “And when I find their killer, I’ll say, ‘My name is Bojangles MacDuff. You killed my parents; prepare to die!’” He mimes thrusting his sword at an invisible foe.

Charles immediately proposes that his bard can be Bojangles’s best friend who follows him around and sings of his heroic deeds, while Amy objects to the blatant plagiarism of Jake’s character concept. Terry and Gina seem to have tuned out the argument; Terry has found a yoghurt somewhere— where? The fridge was empty— and is blissfully tucking into it, and Gina is writing snarky tweets about everyone.

Rosa settles back in her chair to wait for the inevitable cease-fire in the Who-Loves-Jake-Best debate. So far, everyone is acting predictably, but she still might ask Jocelyn to join the campaign. It’s past time she gets to know Rosa’s friends.