You hear the jokes, you laugh, but it’s more of a community laugh because everyone else knows why it’s funny but you’re just giggling because someone else’s general failure in gaming is funny.
That’s basically been my life for over 20 years as I’ve heard my pals talk Dungeons & Dragons.
Penny Arcade has had a series of recurring strips about it. Stanger Things built its foundational first episode around it. And hell, the arguably best episode of Community was an epic examination of the communal aspects of the game. It provided me a cursory understanding of it, enough so I could listen to fellow nerds’ stories. Surface-level stuff.
And now I’ve finally gotten two games under my belt at the “Why did you start so late?”-age of 35. My verdict? There are few things better for creative, nerdily enthusiastic friends.
My group of 8 started with only three members having prior experience. The rest of us were eager to learn but unfamiliar with the territory. In this respect I was extremely grateful to have a Dungeon Master (the person who runs the story) and fellow party members help me out, help me craft a character from the ground up (although I bought a starter set with pre-made characters I wanted to start learning character-building RIGHT MEOW). If you’re like me and spent WAY too much time establishing my characters in Dragon Age, Skyrim, and Mass Effect, this is where you will shine like a fucking diamond.
You delegate class, race, skills, roll for points to allocate and base skills that make up the genuine essence of your character. You can begin crafting a backstory, really letting your imagine flow into rounding out a three-dimensional character. If you really put time into backstory, the ideas your crafted turn into seeds for future DnD campaigns.
And then there’s the actual playing of the game.
The different sets of dice provide realistic chances of achieving your actions, utilizing your skills, or comically shitting the bed: although rolling a low number can result in a botched mission and damage to the party, it also presents a fantastic opportunity to laugh as hard as your body can handle. Think about it: a crucial turning point hinges on an archer hitting his shot and taking the ogre’s attention away from your scout. Archer rolls a one. CRITICAL FAIL. Any humiliating action can occur. When something like that happened in my group I, as a wizard with high intelligence, wanted to hurl a devastating insult – BOOM – rolled an 18 with modifiers and felt great.
Probably the thing I love most about this game is crafting a joint narrative, making the story as compelling as possible with people who are on the same page. Having people really be into the action, plotting the battle plans or helping with lore, can create a narrative as good as any novel or comic or podcast.
I know I’m new to DnD, but even this early I feel how special it can be. There’s too much opportunity to world build, to fall in love with the story, to walk away now. I love the collaborative process, seeing the things other people can conjure up, taking advice on how to develop my own powers for the benefit of the club. Eventually, I’d like to take a shot at DMing a campaign of my own, but in the meantime I’m soaking up as much as I can, researching spells, crafting a pantheon of new gods, and even start new campaigns with different friends.
In short, Dungeons and Dragons is something I truly believe everyone should try at least once. The potential to unlock people’s creativity, to become closer as a group of friends, to experience fiction as an organic entity, it’s too damn great not to take a stab at it.