18 May Here be Dragons
During this lockdown I, like many others, have had time to reflect on my hobbies that I am truly passionate about. As I sit here in front of shelves filled with boardgames, Dungeons and Dragons books, card games and dice I can say without a doubt that I am missing social interaction across a tabletop, having fun with my friends whilst engrossed in a game. I wanted to take this time to explain what is Dungeons and Dragons, which from here on in will be D&D, how I got into playing it, and why I think that everyone should at least give it a go or maybe at least change your perception of it.
Admittedly it’s portrayal within media, like most “nerd” culture, has been described as a group of guys who are mainly introverted, dressed up as elven wizards and other fantasy classics. Now this is not strictly incorrect, I have been known to dress up on occasion, but I would say that the majority of D&D players are more just your average person, generally you are looking at a 60/40 split for men and women and the more people you speak to, the more people you find out actually play or have played it in the past. There are many misconceptions about it, I have spoken with people who think that it is a video game, or a board game but I would compare it more to interactive story telling.
Imagine you have a person reading from a book, for example one of the Harry Potter books, and you and the others around you are each playing the main characters Harry, Ron and Hermione. In front of you, you have a piece of paper with what your character is good and bad at, how smart and strong they are, for example. There is no board in front of you, the rest is within your own imagination. The Narrator (Dungeon Master, DM) would read the description of where you are what is happening but would pause to let YOU make your own decisions of what you would want to do, the possibilities are limitless. You can attempt to do anything you want, no matter how ridiculous! And ultimately YOU can affect the outcome of the story. You could even make bad decisions and have the trio meet an untimely end and, in that scenario, Evil had triumphed over Good
However, the rules of the game do restrict the possible and it is the DM’s discretion to set those boundaries. The Dungeon Master is your Narrator and Referee, they are your allies, shop keepers, wildlife creatures and monsters etc. It is their job to progress the story, set you your challenges, tell you which dice you are rolling and make sure that everyone is having a good time. A DM needs to be fair, allow the group to explore and do what they want and not be too overbearing. It is a balancing act for them, they hold the cards and your characters lives are in their hands. Therefore when you find a good DM you should never let them go…and also treat them with respect when playing, never argue with a referee.
The first time I experienced D&D I must have been 16. My close friend, who is actually our main DM now, messaged me saying that he was having a couple of friends over to give it a go, I’m pretty sure that he had played it once before but no one else had really and I’m sure we weren’t playing it 100% properly. But the spirit was there! The story was there! The hijinks of a group of adventurers exploring a wicked black spire nestled within a gully, protruding from the ground, jutting impossibly into the sky, it’s walls free from any signs of construction like it grew from the earth itself. It was certainly foreboding, until I attempted to climb down the gully, rolled my dice and rolled low, the lowest possible. The DM describing me losing grip and colliding against several rocks before sliding face first down the remained of the incline had such comical timing that we all just burst out laughing. And things like that happen! Sometimes you roll high and fell unstoppable, defeating a massive creature in no time at all, and other times you blast yourself back with a misfired spell and knock yourself out against a wall. It is those uniquely natural moments that makes each person’s playthrough completely different with actual genuine occurrences that has only ever happened to you and your friends.
Now I compared it to reading a book before and there is another reason behind that, it is not a quick game. You can’t just pick up a book and finish it in 30 minutes. There have been stories that have been going on for months, admittedly it’s also hard to get a group of 5+ all together on one day for several hours but I digress. This means that you get attached to the character that you spend time designing, creating and being in the shoes of for months. We had a campaign that was more of a 1920s detective story with horror elements woven into it, and there was one point that we were trapped within a cave surrounded by hideously pale chattering hairless creatures, I had suffered multiple injuries and the others were trying to get me out. In a split second decision, I grabbed my friends Molotov Cocktail, pushed them away and told them to run. I waited until the creatures were gnawing and tearing into my flesh before smashing the Molotovs, igniting all of them into a ball of fire. I had died, but the others escaped. The game after that was paused, we took a break and sat in silence mourning the death of my character, just shocked that it had to come to that. It was if a friend you had grown to love had passed away.
D&D isn’t playing a game, it’s sharing memorable moments with your friends. As if you were all reading the same book that was being written as you take your actions and make your decisions, where no one knows the outcome. There could he highs of laugher and conquest, and lows of loss and suffering. Your characters could bicker and argue, but ultimately it’s the story that you share and the bonds that you form. The chance to escape into your own world and have fun with your friends. So I hope who ever reads this might take away a new perception of D&D, there is a reason why it has been around for so long and still gains popularity. All you need is to keep an open mind and you too can create your own moments.