The secret we should never let the gamemasters know is that they don’t need any rules.
I’m working on a post right now about some of the various issues facing the gaming industry, naturally the first one is going to be talking about lootboxes. The conclusion I come to I don’t think will surprise anyone nor do I think most gamers would really disagree with it but it’s always nice to get your thoughts down somewhere to make room for stuff like a gif I saw yesterday of a phallus shaped paper rocket. I know most people are probably sick of hearing about it but unfortunately it’s going to keep coming up until we find a reasonable solution where the customers get their way.
At any rate what I wanted to talk about today was a phone call that I got today from my brother in law who a couple weeks back asked me if I played D&D. I laughed before I even thought about it, not because the question was dumb or even unreasonable but because it continually fascinates me when it gets asked because it’s so so different from when I was a kid. That was a question you really only asked good friends or people you literally witnessed playing the game because you knew for sure what the answer was. If you asked the wrong people it usually led to endless ridicule especially if you weren’t leaving that school for a year or more so you could have some different classmates. We didn’t advertise our love for computers, video games and, things like roleplaying back then. It and we were not what you would call classically popular. Of course as we grew up it became easier because we cared less what people thought and we had some friends and friends of friends who we knew it was safe to discuss our nerdy pursuits with. We played Magic: The Gathering after school in the lunch room and even if we were bothered we just shrugged it off and went back to having fun. Occasionally people who weren’t part of our group would sit and watch, sometimes they’d play if we asked them to join but that was as close as we ever really got to “acceptance”.
I’ve played D&D on and off since middle school along with a few other weird systems we picked up along the way. I did fall out of it for a while around the time 3.5 was in full swing and spent some time playing the Star Wars RPG. I only got back into D&D around the time 4th edition came out because I was working at a bookstore so when I started putting those out for sale I couldn’t help but flip through the pages admiring the art which then lead to reading. That of course turned into me reading them on break and then buying them shortly after; this was the first time that I had any inclination that the world had changed a little. After i’d bought them I sat back in our break room reading through the Dungeon Masters Guide when a fellow co-worker walked by and then peeked back in to stare at what I was doing. He was roughly ten years older than I was and by all accounts a good guy but never in a million years would I have pegged him for someone who spent his free time scouring dungeons and killing goblins. He asked if I played and I confessed I hadn’t for quite a while but this new edition had kind of sparked my interest again. He sat down and we started talking about the new game and then quickly transitioned into swapping stories about old and now forgotten campaign escapades then he hit me with the real surprise of my day. He still played. He and his friends still had a weekly or semi-weekly game that they had been playing in for over five years. I couldn’t believe it since we had worked together for almost two years at that point and somehow it had never come up but after that interaction we soon found out we shared a lot of similar geeky pursuits including a passion for video games. The first 3DS I ever played was one he picked up on release with a copy of Pilotwings and Street Fighter, if I remember right. Nearly every day from then on we talked D&D and it seemed to just cascade throughout the store as we found out several more of our co-workers including an ex-Marine also played. A few of them hadn’t played in a decade or more but had always wanted to get back into it if they could find a regular group. Suffice it to say before long we had people together that we could play with although no one had ever been a Dungeon Master before besides me. I had wanted to play a character but as a lot of DMs out there know sometimes if you want to play you have to be the one to run the game. It’s extremely rewarding to run a campaign with a good group so it’s not a complaint just more of a reality we as a community struggle with. I wrote up a fairly basic adventure to get us started and we got together as often as we could re-learning as we went and it was exactly like being home again, the rules may have been different but the feeling was the same. As is bound to happen with D&D as adults eventually our schedule conflicts got to the point that playing regularly became nearly impossible and eventually we stopped. From that seed though grew several other temporary groups including an ill-advised attempt to run a game of 7-9 people most of whom were new, I should have known better but it was just so amazing at the time to have that much interest in a hobby I’d only recently rediscovered. That massive game lasted through half a year and eventually it was so hard to get everyone together at once we gave it up, while it was disappointing to stop it was fantastic that we’d even gotten that far in the first place.
More groups came and went and eventually I started to hear that people who were only tangentially related with those games had started playing or running their own outside of it which in itself was great to hear. I was back in and consuming every bit of D&D news I could find when eventually rumors of a new edition started making the rounds and soon we found out that D&D Next was on it’s way to being tested and released. In the interim though I had begun to find out that while I had been away D&D had started coming back with a real vengeance including a new thing I hadn’t seen before, D&D Podcasts. In 2008 WoTC partnered with Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik from Penny Arcade to make a series of podcasts that started in 4e and the show still continues even today. It even spun off a franchise show called The “C” Team. While it was difficult for me to put together a steady 4e group these podcasts and others did the job of scratching my itch to play. During this time my girlfriend and I put together a weekly board game group with a few close friends and that has been a fairly regular thing for going on at least five years however I have a sneaking suspicion that I’m low-balling that by a bit. At some point during all this I finally managed to convince my girlfriend that she might like being a Dungeon Master so she set out to write up a one shot for our weekly group. It actually ended up lasting several sessions because we like to take our time but it was incredibly fun and she did a masterful job designing our characters. We were given our character sheets and a folded letter we were to read before starting to play which described a few relevant details about our relationship to the other party members including a secret or two. I was given the pleasure of revealing at the end of the one-shot that one of our fellow party members who had taken a shine to my character was actually my daughter. Suffice it to say we all had great laugh over that when it was finally brought into the open.
I won’t bore you with the entire interlude of what we did before finally putting together a regular group that could meet bi-weekly but I can promise you that D&D was never not on my mind in some fashion or another. One of my best friends who is a regular in my current campaign also wanted to try his hand running a game of his own with us as his guinea pigs and we were happy to oblige, me especially when he told me he wanted to run a game of Dark Heresy. I was immediately into it while the rest of the unwitting victims at our weekly board-game night had no idea what they had just agreed to but it was Sci-fi and that was enough to pique their interest. Once we explained what it was it was decided that we were going to have to get them all up to speed on this universe and it’s lore. A couple weeks later we both compiled a stack of notes and with the liberal application of some alcohol we taught a class on the universe of Warhammer 40,000 to prep them for a future where there was only war. They were good sports and asked a bunch of insightful and relevant questions during the couple hours we were there and at the end everyone was excited to give it a shot. That campaign lasted for a fantastic half a year until it got interrupted by life and responsibility. We’ve meant to get back to it ever since and yesterday I think we finally managed to talk our GM into picking it back up or he convinced us, either way in the end it was mutual.
In the midst of all of this several of our friends have taken to running one shots of their own for family and friends or participated in our occasional games. Once 5e came out I began looking around again for a regular group to run with and for the past year or more we’ve had a weekly/bi-weekly game of D&D which I have enjoyed immensely. Not the least bit as a result of the fact that one of my players is my father who I think has read more fantasy fiction than anyone I’ve ever met in my entire life. When I finally had the thought to ask him I felt like such an idiot for not having considered it before that moment which brings me back to where I started with all of this. He didn’t need any convincing and said yes immediately to giving it a try. Thus far through all of the myriad tries to get regular games going he’s been one of the few where absolutely no cajoling was required. Currently he plays a Dwarven Alchemist Entrepreneur who is in the process of setting up his own shop in a town that the group played an important part in saving early on in their campaign. He also found a Rust Colored Bag of Tricks which he’s used to great effect so far in spite of the fact that the two goats he has a chance of pulling are either of the fainting or screaming variety. He also inquired as to whether or not they remember what happens to them each time they are pulled from the bag, I hadn’t considered it myself but you can safely assume it’s come up since then.
Anyways, not to get too far off on a tangent lets wrap this up. In all my years of being involved in D&D simultaneously the most and least surprising thing was my fathers willingness to play this silly game with my friends and I. At this point I don’t think theres a single one of my siblings that hasn’t played or doesn’t currently play and I’ve gotten questions about the game from friends of theirs who want to learn but need some direction on where to start. That call from my brother in law got me thinking again about the sort of surreal feeling that I get when I look around at the tabletop roleplaying community and realize what a truly special phenomenon it really is. The game itself is nearly without barriers that appeals to seemingly anyone with some spare time and a willingness to escape into a co-operative fantasy for a few hours. What’s more is that we as a community have somehow kept that eagerness to share it with anyone who even shows the slightest hint of interest and I hope that’s something we never lose.
In the end if you’re thinking about playing or asking people if they’d be interested in playing then i’d encourage you to take that leap because you never know just who might be waiting for an invitation or who may not even know they want one. Barring that check out the event schedule for your local game store and see if they host an Adventurers League, those are a fantastic way to dip your toes in and see what the fuss is all about. And if the only thing thats keeping you from playing is not having a DM then I’d also encourage you to give it a shot. I wont lie and say that it’s easy or that you’re guaranteed to love it but if you do end up enjoying it I can promise that you and your players will create some of your best memories around that table.
If you stuck around to the end, good job! That’ll be 100xp and whatever is in the chest over there. Roll a percentile die and I’ll get back to you with what you find. Until then I hope you had a fantastic weekend and I’ll be back soon.