Thank God, Bahamut, Lolth, Tempus or whatever god you pray to for social media! I have been trying for years to learn how to play D&D but never had the right people or time to do so. Let me tell you a bit about my exposure and discuss my play through from this past weekend.
Early 80’s and beyond
Ok, let’s put it right out there, being an only child in a black neighborhood in east Baltimore already meant that getting into D&D was nigh an impossibility. It was seen as nerdy and white. So, when you don’t have others to play with, there is almost no reason to play. For most of us that still wanted to get into it, the earliest exposure we may have had was due to the D&D cartoon (which was surprisingly diverse for the 80’s) that came on CBS’ Saturday morning cartoon line up.
If we were lucky enough to have one (and I was) you could play the D&D games on the Atari 2600 or Intellivision. But nothing beats playing with people and I would discover this much later.
Playing the early video games was cool in its own way but when I started middle school, I was really exposed to the real D&D by my classmates. I would hear these discussions during lunch or bus rides home and I tried to decipher the language of hit points, dual wielding, and so on. Problem was, even in asking what was going on or trying to get a clue for what the game was about, I was treated to sidelong glances, a few weird looks, and at one point just being told that if you weren’t in it, you weren’t going to learn it. In it’s own way the game was secretive and elitist. Also of course it didn’t help that during the 80’s 20/20 and a few other news agencies came along and declared that D&D was responsible for the delinquency of minors (same as the comics and video games I collected) and it promoted witchcraft and devil worship. There was even a New York Times report recently that looked at this:
So even trying to ask my parents to get me the games were out of the question. The funniest thing that I remember is that the closest I ever got before I left D&D alone for a long time was reading the Endless Quests (Dungeon of Dread and Mountain of Mirrors were my favorites and I still may have them) books because they were at that point the best ways to spark my imagination for a world I long wanted to try.
30-some-odd years later…
Just because I couldn’t get into playing the tabletop games didn’t mean that I was done with getting a glimpse into the world of D&D. In the late 90’s I started picking up the books that R.A. Salvatore wrote, and was really fascinated with the world-building that he had done. While I am not all that enamored with the recent Neverwinter series, I enjoyed his earliest works the most. Of course, Magic: The Gathering was on the fast track of becoming big at the time and a few people even thought that it would overshadow D&D but for the few times I dabbled with that as well as a few other CCGs, I knew it wouldn’t.
Also during this time, because I was a huge gamer, I lost hours playing both Baldur’s Gate and eventually Neverwinter Nights 2. Both games are great in their own right and if you have a tablet device, you would almost be foolish to not have BG1, or Icewind Dale on them. Even with playing the games, there was still something missing and that was the interaction with people.
Finding my stride…LFG
Within the last 10 to 15 years after exhausting games like Skyrim, Dragon Age, Final Fantasy and other countless RPGs, after doing some real life adulting such as changing cities and jobs and getting married (which thankfully my wife and I love letting our geek flag fly high), once life settled itself down, I decided to finally try my hand at finding a group to try and learn D&D. The very first experience I had wasn’t a great one. While the shop I went to was very inviting, there were at least 2 other sessions going on nearby and when you are at the ‘newbie table’, it’s easy to get distracted. Also, the DM at times felt like she was a bit frustrated because you could almost tell she wanted to be with a much more experienced group and not with a group of lapsed players and noobs who wanted to get their feet wet. I went back again once or twice, but it wasn’t conducive – especially since these sessions were on Wednesday nights.
I tried a few other shops in the area (with varying degrees of success) to try to scratch my D&D itch, but it was to no avail. One place had weird hours to play during the course of the week, another place was too far, and at one other spot I had issues getting people to actually commit to a set schedule. One of my friends had even suggested finding groups to do Skype sessions. While the idea seemed like a sensible one, I didn’t really want to get in with a group until I actually had played with people in person first; I am just weird that way I suppose. Even tried the board games like Wrath of Ashardalon, but of course it just didn’t have the same feeling.
Finally getting a game in!
So after years of trying, just simply by using social media, I found out how many of my friends were in the same boat! Some had never played but wanted to learn, others were looking for groups to play with and even others were looking to find new members to play with. I even established a FB group for D&D fans to come chat and of course plan out sessions of went to meet and play.
My group had our first session yesterday and it was everything that I was looking for! Our hosts, Joel and Jess, were experienced players and they went all in to make the experience an enjoyable one. They had a tablet attached to a sound system which generated ambiance of being in this world complete with sound and music. Of course, we took up the first hour or so creating our characters. Thankfully, other players such as Alex and Dan have had experience playing and the time setting up wasn’t as long as my first foray. Before I knew it, my half elf ranger was off in his first adventure meeting other strange new characters in a pub, where we found out that there were caravans going missing and we were tasked to find them. What I enjoyed most about this session and what really made this start worth playing is how much improv (it’s not called a ROLE PLAYING GAME for nuthin’!) is required to play. At one point I got wrapped up in Alex and Jess’s characters who had just met for the first time and being that they were Dragonborn, it almost ended in disaster. Alex’s character had just left a monastery was was naive to the world and customs and upon trying to hug Reece, Jess’s character nearly gotten him killed. It took some intervention on my character’s behalf to prevent a nasty fight before we got on the path of our quest. The rest of the time was very enjoyable as it was like being part of an interactive play being carried out.
We bantered with each other, of course got into a fight with bandits which almost ended in disaster except that a bear broke free and mauled one of our opponents, which saved us. Joel kept the game going briskly, deftly switching from one character to another and also explaining what to do as we played and I felt like I was at home. Before we knew it, four hours were gone and we had just started cracking the quest open; but because adulting came first, we all knew that it was time to step away.
This was what I had been looking for and finally found. I am just starting to scratch the surface of why this game is so popular. It’s a great social game that nearly anyone can play. It’s similar to cosplay in that whatever you may be in regular life may change according to the role you take in the game. Even though I am comfortable with my character, I still feel like I still need to find his proper voice. I want him to be different but not too far removed from me. Even when I got home last night, I still had thoughts about getting my hands on some of the books and doing further reading to enhance my character. I still felt that with all the gaming I have done in my lifetime, nothing quite prepared me for this and I am eager to do this again as soon as we can!
Before I leave this topic a few things I would like to point out:
- If you are new, the simplest way to get in is use the power of social media. You will be surprised at how many people play or have played.
- If you are a retailer, and you want new gamers, bring aboard people who have the time and patience to teach. Also I would encourage setting hours that are conducive to all to actually do this. Because sessions can run for hours, having it on a work night for most, is not a good idea.
- If you can, get the handbooks and peruse them. It’s still surprising how much lore there is out there.
- Parents, especially if you are geeks, this is something fun that kids can get into. If you want them to actively engage their imagination, socialize with other people, and pull them away from video games, this is one of the ways to do it. There are few games that can say this accomplishes that was well as teach problem solving and number-crunching in a fun manner.
- Lastly, have fun and (don’t) be yourself!
Big ups again to Joel and Jessica for hosting us, Dan and Alex for playing and special thanks for my wife Gina, even though she says she won’t play for being our ‘voice of reason’ throughout the game!