Forget QI or Trivial Pursuit, the surefire way to get your synapses on some grade A factoids is by embracing your inner geek. Roleplaying games, comics, genre fiction, TV and films have all given me great pleasure throughout my life, but they’ve also been responsible for filling my bonce with all manner of interesting real world information. Such as…
1. Brachiation is a word
Courtesy of good old Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D 1st Ed to be specific), I found “Bracers of Brachiation” listed in the Dungeon Masters Guide. A quick read of the description and a visit to a well-thumbed dictionary (pre-internet era), I discovered that Brachiation was a means of locomotion, by swinging by the arms like a monkey. My vocabulary swelled by one word, and my character gained an obscure magic item to add to his wish list that the tight-fisted GM wouldn’t pay out on.
2. Tarzan of the Ankylosaurs
Never mind Heston Blumenthal mixing ice-cream with gravy and spaghetti hoops, the comic world is responsible for far more warped menu mash-ups. One such daring dish was “Tarzan vs. Predator” in 1997. Schwarzeneger’s invisible, crab-faced killer squared off against he of the loin cloth, primal scream and limited vocab’. It turned out pretty well, but I was stunned when Lord Greystoke headed into the HOLLOW EARTH and started enlisting the aid of Tyrannosaurus bloody Rex! Wait what? A swift look up of the Edgar Rice Burroughs source material, and hey presto, I discovered that the Tarzan stories had more to do with Jules Verne than David Attenborough. This lead me to read the first two Tarzan novels and I’m happy to report they are excellent adventure novels – on a par with Indy’s best adventures. Its only the later novels that go bat-shit crazy with the Land that Sense Forgot.
3. Armour is not fashion
Whether it’s TV, film, comics or art, heavy plate armour and chainmail are often depicted as THE coolest thing to wear in that particular time period. Whether it’s ancient Rome, medieval England or planet LV-426, characters loll around in their hardened shells looking suave, mean and above all comfy as a silk worm in an angora sock. Well, from bitter experience of wearing Colonial Marine armour at a leisure attraction and donning leather, chain and platemail at live action roleplaying events, I can attest that the less you wear that shit the happier you’ll be. It’s heavy, it chafes, it pinches, it forces you to sit in positions that aren’t comfortable. It stops you lying down, it hides your pockets so you can’t buy a drink, and going for a wee or (god forbid) a ‘number two’ is a cruel and unusual torture. The armour is too hot when the sun’s out and too cold when it isn’t, and it’s damp when it’s dry and damper when it’s wet. And as for wearing helmets, forget it, you might as well put on a bronze blindfold. It’s no wonder the Romans favoured togas and the Spartans fought in the buff..
4. ‘Law Abiding’ doesn’t mean ‘nice’
The term ‘Law Abiding Citizen’ is often used in reference to nice old ladies, who pay their taxes, clean up after their cocker spaniels and generally don’t destroy entire planets. But thanks to the Dungeons & Dragons concept of alignment, I know different. For those of you not familiar with D&D, ‘alignment’ is a statement of your character’s moral compass. You’ve created a skilled swordsman, but are they good, evil or neutral? Beyond that are they chaotic or, yes you’ve guessed it, lawful? When I first started playing I understood good and evil, but the chaos/law thing was harder to fathom particularly when linked with good or evil. How could a good man be a force of chaos, or more bizarrely how could the cold-blooded murderer I had created be considered in any way ‘lawful’? Enter D&D’s sister magazine ‘Dragon’ with a handy list of examples for each of the major alignments; Robin Hood was Chaotic Good because he ROBBED and broke the law, but he did it for the noblest of reasons. Lawful Evil referenced Darth Vader as a cruel, merciless, fascist, but one that obeyed (for the most part) and promoted the iron fist of Imperial law. If that Dragon article was written today, David Cameron could feature.
5. Unobtainium is a real thing (sort of)
In James Cameron’s big budget sci-fi-by-numbers exercise Avatar, the evil mining corp (are there any other kind?) are devastating the giant smurfs’ planet to obtain Unobtainium. I laughed out loud when that term flopped out of the character’s mouth. Unobtainium? You may as well have called it “Hard-to-dig-upium”. Sci-fi has a rich history of making up science-stuff (Dilithium, Hyperspace, Midichlorians) which is partly why it puts the ‘fiction’ in ‘science’. But as crazy as some of these concepts are, at least the writers are trying to create some plausible terminology. But Unobtainium? Please.
Well, it’s real. Well, it’s a real engineering term anyway. It’s been around since the fifties (says Wikipedia) and is used to refer to any element or material that the egg-heads want or hypothesise about, but can’t actually get. So it’s a real word about a nonexistent thing. Still doesn’t excuse the Avatar writers for not coming up with something better. They can have “Bolluxanium” for free.
6. Dwarf. It gets complicated with more than one
If you’ve been to the bakers and have bought more than one loaf, you have loaves. When a Mormon starts out he takes a wife, but soon has wives, and when he tries to trade her in for a younger model she’ll be pulling out a knife or knives. And so if you multiply a dwarf by seven, you’d have dwarves, right? Well not necessarily.
Apparently, the correct plural is ‘dwarfs’. ‘Dwarves’ is mostly Tolkien’s fault. He popularised the “V” form in his Middle Earth stories. So now the general guidance is ‘dwarves’ when it’s the fantasy race of bearded drunkards, and ‘dwarfs’ when you’re referring to real-world short things – trees, plants and of course, people.
7. The imagination is the best entertainment
A bit of a cheesy one to end on, but from decades of reading, writing and roleplaying, I can confidently say some of the best adventures you can have in fiction happen not at the Imax or courtesy of of your 4K TV screen, they happen in the mind’s eye. Chatting about roleplaying adventures I had years ago, are still as vivid to me as some of my best life experiences. That doesn’t mean I’m a complete saddo with no life experiences to draw on, it just means there’s infinite room in my ‘thought palace’ for some completely made-up memories. There was that time with a Jawa on the besieged Sandcrawler with the turbocharged R2 droid and the ramp and the line of stormtroopers. There was that time when the drunk gunslinger got eaten by the giant worm just as he lit the dynamite. And who could forget the oh so stealthy investigation into the cellar where we knew a flesh-eating ghoul was hiding subsisting on Happy Meals and murder victims and there was that slippery pickle on the top step and- oh dear! So unless you happen to be a real world adventurer, Special Forces operative or playboy spy, I suggest you get yourself some freaky looking dice, grab some buddies and geek out.
Let me know in the comments if you’ve actually learnt anything while getting your geek on.