Behind Dungeons and Dragons

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Dungeons & Dragons. What on earth is it? If you’re friends with me, or someone else with similar interests, then you’ve probably heard it discussed in hushed whispers. (Or, more accurately, you’ve heard it being spoken about loudly and enthusiastically.) There’s a good to fair chance that you’ve just written it off as a typical nerdy pastime; assumed it was just like other board games or computer games. However, I’m here to try and convince you to give it another look.

Image courtesy of Isaac Rolfe.

I could go into deep, geeky detail about how it’s a table-top roleplaying game with an emphasis on character customisation and all that jazz – but the truth is, it’s much simpler than that. D&D, in spite of what people think, is just a hobby. Not some kind of power trip for basement-dwelling weirdos or anything like that. It’s a fun pastime, just like any other. In the exact same way that watching a sport with friends while wearing a t-shirt with someone else’s name on, is a fun pastime.

Alright, that’s an extreme example. However, I genuinely believe the only thing that separates D&D from any other social gathering is the stigma that surrounds it. ‘Oh, it’s just a board game, it’s just rolling dice and writing things down, who would want to do that?’ Therein lies the problem. That’s exactly what D&D looks like from the outside, and that’s what puts people off. Unfortunately, it’s not something you can just watch and expect to understand. It needs proper engagement to really enjoy the experience. In the words of a fellow, much more experienced player, D&D is collaborative storytelling. You create a character, think of a backstory for them and work with your friends and the DM (kind of like the ‘host’ of the game who creates the world and the story for the players) to create the adventure that your characters travel through.

Now, the way I’ve put it there makes it sound like a bit of a chore, so here’s a better way of looking at it: you are placed in a world in which you can literally do anything you like. In fact, I would encourage players to do absolutely anything they want. It’s more fun for you and more challenging for your DM. Tell me that doesn’t sound like an absolute riot waiting to happen. No matter how well you know your fellow players or the game itself, I can guarantee that by the end of one session you’ll have completely derailed the intended story and created your own that’s as mental as it is entertaining. However, to do so, you need to give the game a chance.

Image courtesy of Isaac Rolfe.

If you do want to try D&D, but you’re worried about being thrown in at the deep end, honestly, don’t be. I’m hosting a game in my spare time with some of my friends who have never played before, and they’re loving it so far. Yes, there are some numbers to get your head around, but it’s never been overwhelming in my experience, even when I first started. My best advice is honestly just to throw yourself into it and have a laugh. Some of the best stories can come out of playing D&D as well. In my third ever session my character basically turned himself into a human meteorite, incinerating a cultist and about half of her castle after a 100-foot drop – and that’s a pretty tame example!

It can be a real confidence booster as well. I know it sounds strange, but spending a couple of hours as a character who can do impossible things is a great feeling. It’s kind of like how you feel playing computer games, except you’re more invested, having created your character entirely from the ground up. Seeing them grow stronger and develop a deeper personality alongside your fellow players is a wonderful experience. It can also seriously help your own self confidence. Surviving a tough battle in game through a mix of skill, storytelling and luck gives you a sense of euphoria that lasts a long time after you’ve stopped playing.

I think another reason people are hesitant to try D&D is because they think it’s massively time-consuming. That’s true, but only if you want it to be. Yeah, you can easily sink an entire day into playing if the DM has enough material prepared, but that’s not the only way to play. Remember the ‘human meteorite’ story from earlier? We played that campaign once a week for an hour, ninety minutes tops. We still got a fantastic story out of it. D&D doesn’t have to be a massive time sink that ends up feeling like a chore; it should never feel like a chore. Like I said at the start, this is a hobby just like any other – this one’s just a bit more niche.

At its core, Dungeons & Dragons is an exercise in creativity. The DM and the players work together to create their own unique story. And I’m not exaggerating when I say those stories can be unforgettable. In the words of my current DM:

‘the players all have a character that is like their interface to the game world, and that character has a backstory, personality and motivations that drive them through a story. When you mix all of those characters with the aforementioned scenario, you just let loose, and let your creativity tell stories about the world and the characters.’
– Anon.

Think of it like one of those interactive novels where you have to turn to a certain page to choose story options. Only it’s much more liberating than that; you can do it with friends and you’re basically writing the novel yourself as you go along.

I know how this game can look from the outside. I know that it can seem boring or needlessly complicated. Still, I implore you to give it a chance if you get the opportunity. I promise it’s neither of those things, but the best way to realise that is to find out for yourself.

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