Dr. Dungeon Master or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the RPG
This isn't going to be a review, so much as an essay on my journey into the world of Dungeons & Dragons and general Role Playing Games (RPG) starting in my late 20's, so strap on your sword and buckler and get ready for an adventure!
Like a lot of you, I "knew" about D&D through the zeitgeist. Seen it mocked in movies, sitcoms and sketch comedy. Had friends that played in quasi-secret for fear of shaming in high school and college. Even sold the books when I worked in a bookstore without ever opening one. I "knew" what it was, and my opinion was set. And it should be obvious at this point, I didn't have a very positive view of the hobby, a hobby of "nerds, geeks, and the socially inept." Not a fair assessment, but I'm sure one shared by many of you reading this to one degree or another.
That said, something has changed the way the world sees and has presented this hobby in the past decade. Which has, in turn, changed something in the way I see the hobby, and it is this shift in my worldview which I hope to communicate with you. So . . . here is the only thing you need to know about what D&D is and how it's played before I get to my piece.
At its most basic level, Dungeons and Dragons (and any Pen and Paper RPG for that matter) is a shared story. That's it! You and a group of friends/family/strangers, all sharing in the creation of a story. It's imagination, crowdsourced! Everything else is merely a set of rules to guide and constrain the story. That's something that took me way too long to understand, but seeing it played on Critical Role and Harmonquest online it finally clicked and led me to buy the three core books to the 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons. The Players Handbook, The Dungeon Masters Guide, and The Monster Manual. I quickly convinced my friends to try it, and they agreed, with the understanding that I would need to take on the role of the *BUM bum BUM!* Dungeon Master!
I had never before played this game, let alone RUN a game like this! Sure, I'd played a bunch of board games, but here I was, tasked with figuring it all out, crafting a story, and (most daunting) remembering enough of the rules that we could play it coherently as a group. Nervous is an understatement for how I was feeling, but something else was there with my nervousness. Invigoration. My friends were excited to play; they had been watching the same shows, hearing the same things, and really wanted to do something different. I couldn't disappoint them, so I buckled down, and got to reading. The Players Handbook first, where I learned about creating characters to play, the amazing spells, and basics of how a session would actually play out. I won't lie, it was dry at times; it IS rules after all, but I was not deterred. Next was The Dungeon Masters Guide, where I learned how to run the game, craft a world, and make it interesting for those playing beside me. From there I was putting those books to practical use. I crafted characters for all of my friends, wrote backstories, and found a place for them in my world. The world? I had a choice of using any of the official, pre-crafted adventures or creating my own from the ground up. Being supremely (foolishly?) ambitious, and wanting to flex any muscle I could in learning to do this, I created my own world, and in turn my own story. All said and done, I felt ready, so we scheduled our first session and . . . .
IT WENT GREAT! A table of millennials who had never wielded pen and dice as sword and shield getting fully engrossed in my narrative of assassins, giant spiders, and an epic quest! And they went beyond engrossed and committed to their characters. True Role Playing! Solving puzzles, tracking foes, haggling with shopkeepers! I'll spare you the details of our quest and say that everyone left that Saturday night with a great story, and had a fantastic new experience. An experience everyone was eager to try again.
And try again we have. Two and half years now we've been meeting to share in these cooperative stories. We've lost a few members but always gained more. It's become a great bonding time and always leaves us wanting more. Soon one of our group will be taking the reins as DM and will be leading our group for his first time. He's nervous, but we're all super supportive, and excited to see what he brings as our Dungeon Master.
What does all this mean? Well to me, it has meant that I wasted far too long ignoring and, in some cases scorning, something that has brought me more joy in just a couple years than I could have ever imagined. I've flexed creative muscles I never knew I had, I strengthened friendships by allowing myself to be vulnerable and trying something new, and I broke free of those pesky societal norms that kept me anchored for so long. Are Pen and Paper RPG's right for everyone? No. Nothing is. Were they right for me? Yes. Could they be right for you? Try it! You won't know until you do!