I often pass my neighborhood gaming place at night, blown away at just how many people flock there to play role-playing games, like Dungeons & Dragons.
In case you’re not familiar (I wasn’t really), Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) is a fantasy tabletop role-playing game. Each player uses a character they’ve designed to embark upon imaginary adventures. Instead of referees, a Dungeon Master oversees the game, and acts as the storyteller. Characters form a party. Together, they problem-solve, engage in battles, gather treasure and knowledge. They also drink a lot of ale (in the fantasy land. In real life, players drink Big Gulps Mountain Dew). Basically, it’s like Game of Thrones, except instead of George R.R. Martin writing the story, it’s a group of random dudes from your company’s IT department (and a few gals, too).
D&D is classic, stereotypical nerd stuff. I was intrigued.
From my perspective, which is zero exposure to D&D aside from the movie Role Models, it seems D&D devotees are fanatic about this stuff. It’s more than a hobby, it’s a lifestyle– not unlike folks obsessed with hot yoga, endurance sports and fantasy football. For people to love it that much, it has to be a little awesome, right?
To be honest, this short video perfectly showcases my expectations:
Spoiler alert: it was a lot like that, except more fun with way less complaining!
I headed to Source Comics & Games in Roseville (thanks for the suggestion, Nora!). It’s a huuuuge store next to a Guitar Center, with tons of parking, a million different games, figurines, puzzles, comics, plus loads of candy bars and soda. It’s 13-year-old boy’s dream. Or a 35-year-old who’s obsessed with Spiderman comic books. Whatever, the people who love this place, LOVE this place. They also have about a dozen tables in the back for weekly gaming events.
Wednesdays from 6 – 8-ish pm is D&D night.
I’m all for trying new things, but I felt bringing a knowledgable D&D-er along would help a lot. I was pretty nervous about other players lacking the patience to deal with a newbie. Thus, I invited my D&D-loving, 15-year-old cousin Joe, who immediately asked if I’d already built my character.
Ummm… was I supposed to?
Apparently, there’s an elaborate process that goes into selecting and creating your character. You can be a warlock, druid, fighter, barbarian, wizard, cleric, dwarf… and probably a bunch of other things. Building a character requires knowing some ground rules and rolling a crap ton of tetrahedron dice to figure out your character’s attributes, like strength, wisdom and intuition. Joe’s character is a dwarf fighter (I think?). Luckily, Source offered pre-built characters for newbies like me. I chose a benevolent wizard, who I named Wally Longflame.
We were seated at a table with six other players and our Dungeon Master DM, Paul, who seemed like a nice guy who’d maybe work at a tech company. The rest of our tablemates were all dudes, three guys in their twenties, another techie dad type, and one older guy with long gray hair and a blue t-shirt boasting a wolf, sorcerer and a flurry of lightning bolts. Nobody seemed phased or charmed that a girl was joining them. It was just like whatever, let’s do this.
Since we were joining an in-progress game, everyone had to wrap up last week’s adventure (which apparently involved killing some sort of ogre in a cave filled with loot), then head back to town to meet up with us. The DM told Joe and I that our characters were “waiting for the group in a seedy tavern.” We then placed Lego figurines inside a box marked ‘Dive Bar’ on the hand-drawn map splayed across the table. The rest of the team proceeded to place their Lego figures at the dive bar, where we enjoyed many proverbial ales.
We literally talked about drinking ales in bar for 10 minutes, then slept at an inn, then enjoyed fresh baked goods in the morning before heading out on our next adventure.
This session included two battles– the first against four robbers enjoying a pig roast in the woods.
My fellow players told me to “hang back” because I was too new and could easily be killed. So I looked on from the “brush” as they fought the robbers, one at a time, rolling a 20-sided die to determine how hard their hatchets, swords and punches landed on the bad guys. At some point in this battle, I was gifted a magic missile wand, which becomes VERY important later in the story. Eventually, we successfully killed the bad guys, released a bear they’d held captive, and took their cart, which we sold for some gold back in town.
We then drank many ales and decided to hit the sack early. (Just a reminder: though the DM is guiding the story, the rest of us are all just making everything up.)
Our next adventure took us to a house in the woods, where we’d chased a goblin. We decided to enter the house– empty except for a table with some rusty metal tools. All of a sudden, the DM made a [Lego] ghost appear. He blocked a locked door inside the house, threatening that we’d be sorry if we didn’t leave immediately. Our table conferred and decided to destroy the ghost. One at a time, we tried to either exterminate the ghost or open the locked door. Everyone failed. I went last, asking if I could use my magic missile wand. The DM said, sure. So I did and boom!
The DM picked up the ghost and placed him behind his cardboard backdrop.
You guys…. I KILLED THE GHOST! (Can you kill a ghost?)
We kicked down the door and entered a new chamber, which housed a vault. One of our barbarians opened the thing, and a skeleton in rusty chainmail began fighting us. Again, one by one, our posse started fighting him. They all failed to kill the thing. I went last, using my magic missile. Boom! Down goes Frasier!
I KILLED the skeleton, too! (Can you kill a skeleton?)
We scavenged the room for treasure. which means we simply asked the DM lots of questions about what the room looks like and if there are any secret compartments. We found a locket and some coins. But really, who cares what we found, because I CONTRIBUTED by using my MAGIC MISSILE WAND!
The story ended there, to be picked up next week from the same place. Yep, you have to wait a WHOLE WEEK before finding out what happens next. No binge-watching here, guys.
As we packed up our stuff, I found myself thinking, hmmm… I will probably never come back here again. Though everyone was very inclusive, and I had fun, it just wasn’t my people. But maybe things would be different if I had more chemistry with the group.
That said, I totally get why people love D&D.
It’s not a game you win or lose. It’s an opportunity to get together with people you like and create a shared experience. It’s not sitting back and playing video games or passively watching back-to-back-to-back episodes of a TV show. It’s active. D&D is an opportunity to improvise a story. That’s fun.
Weirdly enough, a few days later, I found myself wondering what would happen in the following week’s D&D adventure. Would they be able to survive without Wally Longflame’s magic missile wand? I suppose so. Regardless, I all of a sudden did want to go back. Just a little bit, to see what happens next.