I Played D&D for the First Time in Years and it was Enlightening (in a GOOD way)
It’s been a long time (ticky ticky), shouldn’t have left you (left you)… without a dope beat to step too.
Right, sorry, bad reference to a song nobody remembers from the 90s. What I meant to say is WHY did I stop playing D&D? I mean, apart from the lack of a regular group and the extra lack of a motivation to spend time on something that clearly wasn’t a priority side project (like this is of course, can’t you tell? It’s so well written and always published on time…).
My problem was that I always wanted to play DM, which sure, is maybe a little outside of the norm, but someone has to do it right? Nobody else wanted to so I jumped in head first. Which by the way is the correct way to jump in. Head first. Just FYI.
Legal disclaimer: I can claim no responsibility from any ACTUAL injury sustained from jumping into anything head first. Especially things that are not water or… air? (I’m looking at you, you base jumping, skydiving nutcase)
Something miraculous happened recently though. Someone in a D&D group that I had friends in was ill. Isn’t illness great! Three cheers for illness, I bet they felt terrible! Ok that was a bit harsh. But still!
What it meant though was that I could immediately step in to heroically ruin and destroy the very fibre and essence of the character that they had spent so long lovingly levelling up, growing and shaping, in the space of only a few hours! A challenge I jumped into… well, head first obviously.
I got 99 problems but DM ain’t one
For once I was glad I wasn’t playing DM, but to be clear DM doesn’t come without its unique challenges and prerequisite knowledge of a LOT of things. I’m talking about things BEYOND just knowing the rules here. Like how to successfully engage all players socially, or how to set an early precedent for role playing even when several people may have hangovers.
Our wonderful DM for the session took us through the Vestani encampment and a furiously burning (nothing to do with that fireball that hit a tree) forest within the classic D&D creepfest of the Strahd campaign. All the while we simply bumbled and fumbled our way through each encounter to the next. We were intrepid, excited but very very badly organised.
Now this is where I get to my first quandary with pre-created campaigns in that a large chunk of the encounters can sometimes feel random and pointless, but then again, isn’t REAL life just full of random and pointless encounters anyway… oh LIFE, you prankster you!
Tony & Guy
One such instance had us bump into a shaggy haired fella (whom we affectionately named ‘Tony’), only for werewolves further down the road to attack us ferociously because we didn’t pay his ridiculous ‘anti-werewolf tax.’ I was always taught as a kid not to give any money to strangers no matter how many fantasy horrors or teen goth romance novel characters I was threatened with. Apparently that BASIC and most well known of childhood lessons just doesn’t pan out in D&D. Who knew.
I was especially miffed when Tony himself turned out to actually be the werewolf he was attempting to ‘protect’ us from in the first place! The cheek. I’m chalking that one up to miscommunication on behalf of Tony. Dress up a bit nicer next time Tony and get some professionalism to your social interactions. THEN I might be encouraged to give you a few gold pieces, even if just for being a polite and dapper gent.
He’s Worth It
My character at least was fabulous. The infamous High Elf ‘L’oreal’, with hair like gold wavey… waving stuff, waving about in the wind. Ooo, so wavey, how do you get those waves L’oreal?
It’s just natural babe, I’m worth it.
Genuinely ok if you choose to stop reading there, I deserve it for that low hanging fruit of a joke.
My one fatal character flaw was that I at some point had caused the downfall of my tribe, which although being fairly nondescript, is also a pretty godawful thing to have done as a lawful neutral elf with amazing hair. Most people don’t even come halfway close to causing the downfall of even much smaller things, like for instance, the life and health of their pet dog ‘Biff,’ let alone the whole god freaking damn tribe. Fuck me L’oreal.
Our party was also composed of 3 other interesting characters, including but not limited to a Dwarf who just wanted to sell people his DPA (Dwarven pale ale FYI; which I proceeded to sneak out of his tent during an extended nap in order to drum up some business, but just ended up getting drunk with the locals and starting a tribal dance party through the camp. Standard).
The Imagination Frustration
The Imagination frustration is my name for one of the most common of problems when it comes to D&D campaigns: the encounters can get SAMEY.
Same dungeon, same monsters, same set up, same objects in the room, etc etc.
Fortunately that wasn’t the case for my brief time playing L’oreal.
Now in my opinion one of the areas where D&D always works well is in small and interesting encounters with monsters and bosses that are WAY out of your pay grade. I mean like; we need the Avengers to sort this out because we are just running around like idiots who like to play with magic and then very quickly die, whilst simultaneously the evil boss guy flies away, cackling maniacally having suffered basically zero damage.
And that’s exactly what happened, but it was great! Having tied ourselves to the subject of our boring escort quest, she proceeded to wake us up in the night, ask to go for a pee whilst we followed, only to see this bloody Count Vampire boss guy, idly standing by a tree and drinking her gosh darn blood. From the neck as well. I mean that’s just unhygenic for starters. Although, I imagine he carries some form of ‘vampire cleansing wipes’ around with him for these exact situations. No harm in being clean even if you are an abomination of pure evil. Priorities.
Gaming the System
As with all D&D sessions, there is a fine balance between meta, and just playing normally. This mostly only happens with those people who LOVE to min/max, and who can’t HELP but always ask a hundred questions to try and wriggle around a situation, but it can creep into any session.
Just ask yourself; ‘What would my character do,’ the answer is usually ‘not ask about rolling a perception check for a certain aspect of a rule you just remembered that applied to some form of illustion spell.’ Unless you are playing a character who then also plays D&D within D&D, like some kind of weird D&D-meta-inception. What if the character you play is also a meta gamer.
Doesn’t bear thinking about.
The Situational Intricacies of not Dying
The only thing slightly worrying about playing somebody else’s character though, is an underlying sense of innate responsibility.
This on a surface level is about choosing the right abilities when they level up, using the right skills in battle, etc, but actually translates on a much more realistic level to: DON’T LET THEM DIE.
Initially a struggle due to my immediately getting bitten in the neck by a vampire in the first encounter and loosing 80% of my hit points… and then still a struggle in the second encounter. I got mobbed by werewolves, took almost my whole health in damaged, and then used my athletic prowess to jump up a tree and just sit still for a very prolonged period of time, kind of just bleeding all over the foliage. Picturesque.
Finding Fun in Chaos
And that’s what D&D stands for for me really. Finding fun in all of those ridiculous encounters and situations, and not feeling pressured to know EVERY bit of the rules but to just go with the game, get into character and really just be a bit of an idiot for a few hours.
Oh, and it helps to not kill your character in the process as well.
Kidding, he’s still alive really.
Or is he…