Today, I am going to talk about how I got involved in DnD, or if you prefer, D&D. Whatever your abbreviation of choice is, we all mean the same thing.
Dungeons and Dragons
I actually intended for today to be a story about the funniest and hopefully the WORST session of D&D I’ll ever play, but as I got into it, I guess I just wanted it to be about how I found the game and the initial experience I had with it. I’d rather my first time talking about it be a positive thing just so I can assure you that any future rants I have come from a good place.
Now, I do hope to share that story with you somewhere down the road, as I think its a tale worth regaling BUT for now, I’m just going to recant my time as the guy on the outside, looking in.
Also, with Wrestlemania around the corner, I’d really like put on a verbal parade my love for wrestling! So I’m hoping to make that a meatier piece. With these germs though, who knows.
I’m still under the weather, so I don’t have it in me for my 5000-word diatribes at the moment. Seriously, it took nearly 2 hours to type 500 words. I am not doing ok here. Not in the slightest.
Let’s get to it.
Let’s dive in!
The Year is 1995
I am 7 years old
And I just bought a gamebook…
I really wish I could remember what it was called or even about. I think it’s safe to assume a wizard got up to bad shit in a dungeon somewhere, and it was up to me, the reader, to thwart him! If you never had a gamebook, I’d say check one out. Should be cheap enough and it’s a cool way to look at storytelling and possibly even (talking out me arse here) level design. Gamebooks generally start you in a dungeon and you’ve just escaped your cell. You now approach a hallway, do you…
A : Turn left
B: Turn right
C: Check your cell
Whatever option you choose, it will now tell you to turn to page X which will pick up from your previous decision and this will carry on in such a fashion until you die. Because nearly every decision leads to death. This really caught me off guard at 7 years old. You don’t read a book and expect to die only five pages into a book at 7. I’m not sure I expected to die at all when I was that age but had enough sense to know that I should at least be alive until I got to the end.
It fascinated me.
the artwork on select pages,
So I wanted more. But I didn’t really know how to get it… And bar the odd gamebook, that want for more would go unfulfilled for quite some time.
Me and D&D
Man oh man, me and this game.
I love this game.
I eventually heard of D&D having grown up playing the PC games and reading the odd fantasy novel set in that universe. I was familiar enough with the setting but had never played or seen the “proper” game. I don’t remember when I even learn that ideally, it is supposed to be played at a table, with the other players present, and ye all use paper, pencils and just a truckload of imagination to fill in the gaps and create an adventure. But at some point, probably over a game like Baldur’s Gate, I learn that it is a thing that exists.
And I want in.
I was very curious about the storytelling aspect of it. From reading idealised stories that players on the internet had shared, I had this romantic notion of organic, shared storytelling and improv amongst my friends. I was captivated by the stories I heard of these long, 2 year plus campaigns and the rousing finales. The emotions these people felt and experienced together, although they acknowledged were part of a game, still managed to feel so real at the time.
It’s fair to say that I was enamoured by both it and what it could be.
Whenever my birthday came around in my late teens and young adult years, I would generally get a new game that I was curious about and play it with my friends. It started a passionate, albeit brief love affair with Magic the Gathering (had to stop after becoming a parent. That game is a money pit!) and a very generous pursuit into attending Street Fighter IV tournaments.
I had mentioned D&D to a few friends before I turned 20 and the results were…
Can you imagine just sitting around a table doing that?
If things ever get to a point where yer doing silly voices, we can’t be friends.
I’m a nerd, but I’m not a loser.
So I sat on it.
It simmered down in me for a few years. If I found myself in a new social circle that was into board gaming, I’d mention it but the results would barely differ. Looking at it now, I’m not sure what I had planned if someone was up to it. I had no idea about the ruleset and never even looked up the books required for actual play. I can get very caught up in an idea, but it’s very rare I stick the landing.
If you’ve trawled through my posts, you’re already more than aware of that. Please stick around.
Interlude: Wtf is D&D?
Yeah, I probably should do a brief intro to the game.
Dungeons and Dragons is a player game with any number of people, but traditionally we’d say 5 players. One is in the role of Dungeon Master (I prefer Games Master as I think it sets up a less adversarial image) and the other players are the Player Characters (popularised as PCs). The DM is like the showrunner for the adventure. They know what the plot is about, be it giants kidnapping villagers or an evil baron is ruling the town and also who the support characters (Non-player characters aka NPCs) are and what their roles are in the story. The PCs are the heroes, the sort of ensemble cast in the TV show who get together to slay the giants or maybe stop the baron.
What’s interesting is that while the DM knows the adventure ends once the giants or baron have been stopped, they don’t necessarily know how it ends. Is the villain likely to be dead, sure.
In most cases, absolutely.
But maybe the baron is under a spell, maybe he lost someone important and it twisted his heart. Maybe, just maybe, a PC will come up with an inventive solution that once spoken aloud, is so much better than what the DM originally had in mind. With that little seed planted, the outcome changes.
Without getting into the rules of things, your success and failures as PCs are determined by rolling dice. Want to sneak past guards? Roll some dice, if you roll a 15 or higher, ya good. Want to distract the shopkeep while your friend tries to pickpocket? This might involve the 2 PCs making a roll, depending on the quality of the distraction and just what the other player is looking to steal.
So being very brief, the DM tells you what’s in a room or what the situation is, you ask can you do X, and then you roll a dice to go for it. By most game standards, it is a terrible amount of freedom to place on someone, which can cause folks to freeze up with indecision. But that’s ok, we generally all start off that way with it.
Ok, back to you, err, me.
Around the age of 24, it all finally clicks into place. Maybe it’s due to Game of Thrones and the Marvel movies or something else in the ever-shifting landscape of pop culture, but the things that made you a “nerd” were suddenly for everyone. Skip to 2019 and I don’t think we even have nerds now, as what was nerdy is now fully embraced. Call me cynical, but I think maybe the former “nerds” saw this and so they sought something out that would give them back their title. All they needed was something geeky but yet to be truly embraced by pop culture. Not to gatekeep, at least I hope not, but just so they could reclaim a title that they had perhaps been guilty of making their identity.
This game came into my life due to a friend from school. He moved off so we didn’t see each other all that much from the ages of 18-mid 20s. One day he mentioned he bought a beginner set to a game called Pathfinder, which is a very popular off-shoot to dungeons and dragons. He had picked it up in Dublin, would be back in town in a month, and very much so wished to play.
A mutual friend and I started talking. Suddenly, friends who I asked roughly 5 years prior to the game, had a vested interest. After all these years, it was about to happen, the fire had been lit!
But man, it was still a month away.
That’s practically forever! In a month, why I could be dead or have a new fad.
A friend and I make some moves. He’ll pick up the beginner set, learn the rules and I’ll…
For those not in the know, this was not a fair distribution of the workload, but I’ll redeem myself in the future!
Within a week, the game is in our grasp. Three of us get together to play the game and oh, what a game it is.
We solve puzzles.
We bully a goblin.
And even manage to scare off a dragon!
This was nothing if not a revelation.
The mate from Dublin is still 3 weeks or so shy from getting home. If you read this, sorry Daniel!
We made some mistakes I think would be common when coming at it as lifelong gamers. I remember in the first encounter, we were fighting some goblins and after I hit it with my sword, I asked the Dungeon Master how much health it had remaining. He just smirked and said I wouldn’t know that and I said something about it having a health bar. That after hitting it in a game, a health indicator would pop up. He just said,
“There are no health bars”.
And my eyes lit up!
I don’t think I’ll be able to properly convey to you what this did to me. I live in a city, albeit a small one with not many options for entertainment. If your not into sports and can’t drive, there is very little it or the accompanying areas have to offer you.
But this game,
This felt like it was mine.
And I don’t recall ever having had that before.
The not knowing in D&D is what makes things so fun. Some people like to play it more like a miniatures style battle game, but for me, before I got comfortable with the roleplay side of things (I hope to talk about that next time I bring up DnD), its appeal to me was the puzzle box aspect.
Because, at its heart, no matter your stylings, it is a game routinely made of questions.
Whether a player
Is the door locked?
Can I inspect the food before tasting it?
Does anyone in the tavern look scared to see me?
Or a Dungeon Master
Who is keeping watch tonight?
Is anyone going to drink the Hag’s soup?
How would you like to do this?
It is a game of questions and answers.
And if your very lucky, you’ll remember the questions and those answers for years to come…
Regardless of if your a new player or a long time one, please feel free to share your story of how ya found the game.