My relationship with board games growing up as a kid was largely limited. My family was never the kind of people to gather around a table on a Sunday afternoon to play Monopoly, Clue, or any other classic board game you can think of from your childhood. Playtime at my house meant being alone in your room with your imagination and your Barbie dolls to act out whatever story was in your head. This suited me just fine as a child who often felt shy and uncomfortable in a crowd and preferred the quiet solitude of her room. Lacking the experience and memories other friends had of playing board games with their siblings or entire family meant I had to learn how to play these well-known board games later in life during a group hangout at someone’s place. When the opportunity to try out a very old but equally known game called Dungeons and Dragons (D&D for short) presented itself to me, I decided I wanted to dive right in.
D&D is one of those games I knew had a huge following among the nerd community and RPG enthusiasts. I knew friends and casual acquaintances who played the game and overtime became familiar with terms that became synonymous with D&D like D20, rolling a critical hit, or DM (dungeon master). I also knew D&D is considered a pen and paper role playing game where characters are created with their own unique set of stats and a campaign will kind of write itself based on how your group plays and reacts to the situations your DM describes as you progress in the game.
I admit I never really had much interest in playing D&D largely because of the time and length a campaign can take. My cousin who has played before once told me how a game that started at nine in the evening sometimes didn’t end until one or two in the morning. That sort of steered me away from wanting to play D&D until one of my best friends started actively playing it with his other friends and I kept hearing more people talk about their experiences with the game. The developments in their campaign and the creative aspect of D&D eventually piqued my interest more and more until I found myself secretly wishing one of my closer circle of friends would start a campaign of their own I could join. My wish recently came true.
The aforementioned best friend threw out a call on Facebook about a month or two ago to find people who may be interested in a test campaign he would run. He played enough D&D to want to start his own campaign and test his mettle as a first time DM. When I saw his status, I immediately jumped at the chance to join. After my friend gathered a reasonably sized group of five for his test campaign, we set a date to come over to his place and play.
We started with a D&D starter set, The Lost Mines of Phandelver, which has pre-generated characters, classes, races, and stats already set up for you. Our group had varying degrees of experience with D&D or, as is the case with me and another person in our group, came into the game as complete newcomers. Because D&D is an RPG game, I wasn’t entirely lost on the basics. Playing and being a massive fan of Bioware’s Dragon Age series, I already felt at home with the type of classes and races that’s pretty standard and typical in a fantasy RPG. I ended up playing as a human noble fighter in our starter set game and I couldn’t help but feel a sense of deja vu when I remembered my first time with Dragon Age: Origins. When it came time to pick out the class and race I wanted my Grey Warden to be, I chose the human noble origin story to play through. The only difference was my Warden was a rogue in Origins, while my D&D character was a default fighter or warrior in general. I took the coincidence as a good sign for my first time playing D&D. After the general mechanics of D&D was explained to us, we began the game.
At the moment, our campaign is still ongoing with only two sessions completed. It’s my best friend’s hope that we will be done with the starter set in about three or four more sessions. I honestly didn’t really know what to expect going in. Coming out of each session, I find myself learning something new from each meetup we have. D&D has a basic structure to work off of, but allows players the freedom to mold and shape their campaign into a unique experience that will be different for each person who may have played the same game as you. Teamwork and having a wild imagination are important to D&D. Our first session had us figuring out which decision was best to complete certain tasks and having almost everyone in the group be on the same page as you. Our first time fighting as a group went off smoothly with only a few of us taking critical hits or finishing the first part of the campaign completely unscathed. The second session became more about getting used to the creative process of the game and role playing the character you have. This is where I stumbled a bit.
I have to say it’s weird for me to confess I struggled with the creative and role play part of D&D when I spend a good amount of time writing my own stories outside of the blog. I think what I find most difficult about this part of playing D&D is you kind of have to be quick on your feet to come up with interesting ways to enrich your character and contribute to the story in meaningful ways. I spend a lot of time thinking about a scene or how my character would act when I’m writing and it often involves me hitting the delete button when something doesn’t feel right. With D&D, everything is acted out in front of other people and there’s no pressing delete if there’s a creative action or character trait you realize you don’t like. I almost see D&D as similar to improv and it’s a challenge I’m learning to get used to as I go along. Another thing I also have to get used to is the free form nature of D&D.
The game isn’t like a video game where there’s a pre-programmed list of options and actions to pick from to complete a task. D&D just gives you a task and maybe some options related to what you need to do, but you have to be creative about how your character would complete the task yourself. When we reached a town in the next part of our game, one of the people in my group jokingly said she wanted to explore the area by going to a brothel. Our DM worked with what she wanted to do and it developed in such a way that the DM informed her that the brothel was in a sketchy part of town and it may not be wise to venture there. He then asked her if she wish to continue visiting the brothel or skip it all together. Her decision? Forget the brothel entirely.
It’s these little aspects of the game that makes D&D unexpected but fun. It’s collaborative gameplay and we’re all taking part in writing the story of our campaign together. A friend, who is a seasoned pro at D&D, summed up the experience of D&D best in a text conversation I had with him, “There is no wrong or right way to play.” I understood exactly what he meant in the two sessions I’ve played so far and the only thing I have to remember is to have fun with it and go with what feels right for my character. That’s what creativity is about––our imagination is full of infinite possibilities and the only limitation we have is what we place on ourselves. I look forward to finishing my current campaign with my friends and I can’t wait to get started on the next one my best friend has lined up. I guess you can say this D&D newbie has now become an enthusiastic fan.