How do I sacrifice my estranged little brother to a potent god? Maybe you don’t ask yourself that question too, but it’s possible that you’re off daydreaming about other universes, tinkering with machines, or concocting potions: whatever your fantasy world is about, you can probably find it in Dungeons and Dragons.
Dungeons and Dragons, or D&D (also stylised DnD) is the first modern role-playing tabletop game, and the most un-board-gamey-game out there. Created in the mid 70s and recently re-popularised with newer editions surfacing, DnD is different from traditional wargaming in that each player creates their own completely unique character, with a huge amount of mix-and-match possibilities and very few limitations.
All players choose a race (such as goblin or elf) and a class (such as druid or rogue) and pick from a long and elaborate list of spells and/or combat tricks. They roll some polyhedral dice (ranging from d4s to d20s) to come up with their in-game statistics, complete with ability scores and modifiers. These scores, which players roll for and allocate themselves, will determine their abilities: how good or bad they are at lying, convincing, dragging, jumping, sneaking around, recalling information, and so on. Left to fend for themselves with only a modicum of guidance, they walk into a spontaneous, or maybe fully-fledged, fantasy world.
Led by the Game Master (GM), also called Dungeon Master (DM), the characters meet each other, or have already met beforehand and must weave their encounter(s) into their respective backstories. They tackle the world they are in with a simple dice roll determining their ability to accomplish a certain task: perceive, investigate, attack… Unexpected enemies or allies can appear at any time, and players might run out of spell slots, or even die.
The purpose of the game is to go on several, often improvised quests, and the beauty of it all, is that it is essentially never-ending: DnD is not just a game, but a story that involves a lot of character-based calculations, consideration for other players, and commitment to meeting up and playing the part. Conversely, many also choose to partake in ‘one shots’ for a riveting DnD session lasting one night and one night only.
That all sounds pretty funky already, but here are a bunch of expert opinions sourced directly from my own completely unbiased party on why you should borrow a set of dice and sign up for your very first game of DnD.
Our quick and cunning thief likes to take bets on her luck and creative mind. Chantal, who plays Earing the Halfling Rogue, will tell you that her favourite thing about playing DnD comes in packs of three:
“The combination of skill, chance, and creativity. Going on a prolonged journey into the imagination of other people whilst they play a character who does not necessarily represent their own [out-of-game] choices and how that collective effort brings life into the in-game world.”
And try as you may, the dice will determine your fate. But if you think creatively and way, way outside of the realm, then your DM might be humoured into lowering the number needed to succeed. So why not take a chance!
Benefits of the halfing rogue combo
• Good with traps
• Able to communicate in thieves’ cant
• A lock’s worst enemy
GAMING, MINUS THE SCREEN
If you’re looking for orphaned royalty, we’ve got that too. Our mysterious and untrusting half-elf ranger was once a noble paladin. Sebastian plays (Tar-)Darion Beluarian, The Strayer, and he likes the idea of gaming without the adverse effects of screen-time:
“There’s no screen, and actually, no writer or director telling you what the fictional world should look like. It just allows everyone in the group to have their own world, and yet play together, in real life. You’re totally free, you can eat and drink at the same time, you can leave quickly to the kitchen and come back, and the freedom extends to you as an actor.”
In DnD, players are free to choose what kind of a person they’d like to play, whereas video-gamers are often limited to a list of pre-made avatars:
“Here, you not only choose your own spells and abilities, but your entire background story, look, and personality.”
And it’s not untrue; there isn’t always a list of narrative A, B, C, D options to choose from, and you could spend years on creating a backstory, or invent it on the spot. If you’d like to swap genders, professions, political parties, or philosophies, go ahead. No one is stopping you.
Benefits of the half-elf ranger combo
• Ability to multi-attack
• Knowledge of various terrains
• Bow expert
LARP THE NIGHT AWAY
Live Action Role Playing, or LARPing, is not just an activity you can participate in to see what it would be like to be a catastrophically elite version of yourself. Vulnerability is key, so don’t shy away from taking on an insecurity or belief you might not have in real life. Becoming someone else and building a common narrative is tricky, but ultimately very rewarding. As a relatively confident person, recent graduate, and atheist, I play Elyssee Elwing, the paranoid half-elf cleric student. It makes no sense, but it’s a lot of fun.
All of it comes with a no-strings-attached policy, because it’s only a character. At the same time, if you dedicate yourself to it enough, it’ll become you. Players in-game usually only refer to each other by their character names, team-members will adopt strange accents and quirks, and, when you die, you die. Back to the drawing board for your new character.
Benefits of the half elf cleric combo
• Necessary healer
• Always useful
• Banish the dead
• Befriend the dead?
And just when you might begin to think that DnD sounds unmanageably free and off-the-usual-track, you’ll be pleased to know that the game also offers a wealth of information on how to play. Gimble the Gnome Wizard, played by Espen, dreams of worlds built on travel narratives.
“It gives the gameplay a coherent structure and shifts between an emphasis on ontological and subjective approaches to documentation of places and people encountered.”
You’ll find many maps and treasure troves of information on DnD, which include The Player’s Handbook and Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide. Our well-travelled gnome is thankfully our living map guide, but there are many digital resources, such as Roll 20, DND 5th Edition, and D&D Beyond’s 5th Edition Maps, if you’re not too sure about investing in costly tabletop books quite yet.
Benefits of the gnome wizard combo
• Unparalleled knowledge of the Arcane
• Naturally gifted illusionist
• Able to communicate with animals
• Chaotic good fun
• So many spells
BY THE BOOK, OR NOT
With all its books and platforms, any rule in DnD can be interpreted as a long list of suggestions at the discretion of your group’s Dungeon Master. Frank, the team’s hilarious bear-who-was-revealed-to-actually-not-be-a-real-bear (it was shocking), or Varen the Firbolg Monk, is all about the in-game freedom:
“Whilst it’s true that the game involves many rules, they don’t operate by restricting creativity, but rather by guiding it, helping to make the game fun for you and your group. When playing DnD, each player has the freedom to invent their own game, which results in an unbelievably rich and unexpected adventure.”
As a bear who walks and talks in the country’s capital without care, Varen embodies freedom of game, exemplified by his quirky tangential mini-adventures, such as the quest for a decent yet rustic pipe to smoke.
Benefits of the firbolg monk combo
• Naturally detect magic
• Naturally disguise yourself
• Ability to stun and delay
Our inscrutable barbarian agrees. Though he initially had many existential questions on the game’s lack of necessary structure and coherence, Nil, or Tork the Orc, now finds the idea of a freer world built on a semblance of reality to be comforting:
“The people I come across, the places I visit. Do they exist before I encounter them? […] The future could be predetermined, yet I have no means of knowing. Where does free will lie under such an argument? Although these questions occupy my mind often, I have learned to not think about them. It is likely that the DM improvises as he goes, and I have found peace in not questioning his ability to [lead us].”
Coming to terms with the at times strange nature of the game has led to a number of absurd occurrences, such as when Tork killed a wizard in one blow for purely narrative reasons. He didn’t seem to mind, though. Tork smash!
Benefits of the barbarian orc combo
• Naturally intimidating
• Deal 40 points of damage in one swing
BE THE GAME
There’s one last actor, hidden behind a dividing screen. Arvid, our smiling Dungeon Master, also loves the narrative and geographical world-building that DnD has to offer; after all, the game we play is in many ways the seed of his creative mind intermingled with our own individual and joint choices. In other ways, the game is out of his control almost entirely:
“The reason why I play and act as the Dungeon Master in DnD is mostly as a creative outlet. Whether I play or act as the DM, I see it as a performance of story-telling and as immersion for the players and for myself. I like to improvise and I love to write short little stories in my mind that I can act out in front of the players. I am always curious as to what the players will do and where they will end up. This gives me, as a Dungeon Master, the opportunity to express my imagination both in terms of world-building, and in terms of being an improvisational actor.”
According to our DM, an opinion I am sure our players would back up vehemently, the rich fantasy world of DnD us unlike any other game out there:
“I know of no other game that allows for such freedom of expression and after not having played for a while, I always feel drawn back into this fantasy world to see what ideas may present themselves.”
Benefits of DMing
• Narrative storytelling
• Character creation
• Practice accents
• Surprise your players
• DM and NPC – double the fun!
Think you’ve got what it takes to DM? Check out professional voice actor and DM artist extraordinaire Matt Mercer and his top tips on leading a campaign of players.
So, are you ready to play?