I was never into Dungeons & Dragons as a kid. I grew up in a hick town that I later thought kind of just never got the memo about D&D. We were more of a chewing tobacco and cow-tipping people. In recent years, I have run back across childhood friends who, it turned out, at some point or another, did get exposed to D&D. Whether that happened in our podunk town or later I’m not sure. After my sophomore year of high school, I attended Governor’s School, and I recall that there was a D&D contingent there, but I managed not to get folded into that group. I was more sporty than nerdy at the time, I think. When I was a kid, there was a D&D cartoon that I liked a lot, and in fact I did a pretty spot-on impression of this little unicorn companion in the show, and for a while I had a recurring dream in which a one-off character in one of the episodes and I became friends. Anyhoo. I think probably that when I was a kid, my mom would’ve discouraged me from playing had the opportunity presented itself, on the basis that it was probably just veiled devil worship. A couple of years ago at a company gathering, there was an opportunity to play D&D, and I thought about trying it out, but I chickened out because I figured I’d be too self-conscious to do the role-playing bits. That’s pretty much the sum total of my exposure to D&D until recently.
Fast forward a whole lot of years to my now-11-year-old son’s exposure to Ready Player One (first in book form, as is our way) and to Stranger Things, in both of which D&D makes appearances.
For his birthday this year, my son asked for the D&D starter kit, and I blindly bought it for him, not really having thought about the fact that it would require that he have people to play it with him, and furthermore that it’s a complex game with lots to learn. In other words, it was likely to require a bit of an investment on my part. His birthday was in March, and he’s been patiently waiting ever since for some way to play this game. I found the whole thing daunting. Would it require that I go into public and do role-playing things with people I didn’t know? Perhaps worse, would it require that I do with people I do know? Was the horror of extra-familial human contact a sacrifice I’d be willing to make so that my son could play this game he was desperate to play?
I’ve spent a few weeks ramping up. First I read a bunch of the rules. Then I found a local Facebook group about D&D, where I learned that I could indeed sign up to meet strangers in public to play, a prospect I really did not relish. Then I found some campaigns to watch on YouTube. Then I read the rules some more. Then I bought a campaign that I had read could be played with just a DM and a single other player, so that my son and I could ease in. And we started playing it. And my son is wild over it, and I don’t hate it either.
I mean, yes, it is kind of weird. It’s a mix of sort of fun collaborative story-building and annoying arithmetic and game mechanics whose vagaries I have a lot of trouble navigating confidently (“which die do I roll for this? do I need to do a saving throw? does Thrognar have a bonus action? is a gray ooze fire resistant?”). But it’s also sort of fun. I’m a terrible dungeon master when it comes to the game mechanics, and I think probably I’m too dependent upon the specific narrative the campaign lays out (mostly out of a fear that if I mess up one encounter, it’ll cascade to later encounters that then won’t make sense), but I think I may have enough of a flair for bits of the story-telling that I’m at least able to keep my son engaged for a few hours at a time with it. We played a couple of sessions over the weekend and logged nearly three hours last night that went by in a blink.
Once we get through this campaign, we’ll see about finding a couple of his buddies who are interested in playing, and I’ll try my hand at DMing for them, and we’ll see how that goes. Meanwhile, I’ve by now watched hours of videos about how to DM by Matt Colville (these are really great, and he has cool stuff to say about gaming and fun and social interaction and even bits here and there about like ethics and philosophy) and have started watching Critical Role to see a really magnificent DM in action. I watched the end of their first session last night and was cackling one moment and riveted the next, and I mean this is just a bunch of people sitting at a table talking to one another (I’ve watched campaigns by other groups that are real snoozes). I think that once I get some of the basic mechanics a bit more by rote and have a few more best practices for DMing down (I’m playing right now with Trello for managing the game), this could be fairly fun and I could be not horrible at it, at least as far as the standards of 11-year-olds go.
I’ve got more dice on the way, and I’m trying to decide whether to keep this Tiefling Rogue character I started with or whether to go with something less flashy, and the next time you see me, I don’t know, maybe I’ll have grown my beard long and braided it and be in full dwarf regalia and speaking in the Scottish accent we tend to assign to dwarves and suggesting that you roll for Charisma if you’d like to chat with me.