Observations of a D&D noob

One of the things I’ve always wanted to do is play through a Dungeons and Dragons campaign. There used to be this stigma with people that play D&D, how useless the hobby was, calling it playing make believe way past the acceptable age, passing comments in Sunday School or Christian media when I was young about the spiritual dangers of Dungeons and Dragons(ah yes, the famous black leaf), or see it get poked fun of on TV.

Brief spiel on what Dungeons and Dragons is if you don’t know: Dungeons and Dragons(D&D) is a role-playing system where players create and control a character to interact within the game world usually run by another player known as the Dungeon Master (DM). There are rules that you follow which governs how players can progress, attack, or generally interact with the world itself. There have been many different systems, editions, variations, and rule sets created since the original conception in 1974 by Gary Gygax, but at its heart the goal has stayed the same: keep the system free enough so the players can to do whatever the hell they want to but still have some limitations to keep it fun. You can play an evil wizard seeking revenge, but you can’t play as an invincible dragon archer that shoots swords out of its eyes (well at least not when you’re only level 1! I mean, unless that’s the kind of game you’re playing.).

Fast forward to when I started watching Rollplay. Rollplay was created by twitch/youtube content creator itmejp and the rest of the cast are mostly personalities from the professional USA Starcraft 2 scene. I don’t think any of them had played tabletop D&D proper before, except for their DM who has played for years, so it was really fun and interesting learning how the game works alongside the cast. I also got the opportunity to moderate itmejp’s twitch channel which is cool but also a big chore; sometimes I just want to watch the show and not ban a douchebag in chat every 7 minutes. So, what started in February 2013 has continued over a year to today with Rollplay consisting of four different campaigns/shows, hundreds of exciting plot twists, and thousands of people tuning in each week to see what happens with their favorite characters. If you think Game of Thrones is exciting and keeps you on your toes, try watching Rollplay D&D/Solum. When you have a good DM (a mix of fairness, creativity, and a bit of a desire to kill you) the world and story never seems dull. When you have interesting characters interacting with each other adds more to the story and plot. It can feel like a well written book at times if the harmony is there, except for one thing: the main characters aren’t safe. The Dungeon Master doesn’t want to kill you (at least not outright), but there needs to be drama, otherwise it’s no fun. If there isn’t any danger, well a world without danger is boring. If a player character dies, and the party is out of resurrection scrolls, that’s it. That character is done, and sometimes you don’t get to find out anything more about them. If all the player characters die, the game’s over. And it is this aspect that makes D&D exciting for me. The characters are supposed to save the town by killing the evil dragon on the mountain. If this was The Hobbit, we’re fairly safe in assuming that is what will eventually somehow happen, but in D&D all the dwarves could die, Bilbo gets turned into a toad, and no one ever hears from him again.  “But what happens to The Ring that Bilbo found!?” We don’t find out, not until The Slightly Different Fellowship Of The Ring D&D campaign begins and then the dangers start all over again.

So, after watching 150+ hours of the Rollplay gang do their thing, I decided it was time to take the plunge myself and tried finding a group to play with online. Would the other people in my party be super awkward and weird? Would they all get frustrated with me learning how to play? Would we get along? Would I even enjoy playing? This was all new territory for me, so I was unsure about a lot of things. Luckily everything went super smooth, I found someone asking around r/itmejp, a community mostly for Rollplay fans/content, if anyone was interested in jumping into a campaign for first time players. Cool! Everyone else in the group was brand new or relatively new to D&D and it was the DM’s first time running a campaign. It was very helpful, and a bit of a relief, to know I wasn’t going to be the only noob asking questions. We play online using the webapp roll20.net which allows us to roll virtual die (with a really good random number generator for dice rolls) and facilitates the DM to create maps, environments, and keep track of player data. A few play sessions into our campaign we started streaming our own sessions via twitch.tv and have even started gathering our own small audience! If you haven’t popped over to the An Adventure For Beginners Page, that is what it’s all about. It’s been a journey in itself playing with my group and we have just passed our 30th play session.

Some thoughts:

  • People who play D&D aren’t weird
    • Well not all of us, but you get that with any activity. They’re just people who enjoy playing the game. I’ve met sport jocks, English majors, theology students, and musicians that all love to play. People from all walks of life enjoy coming together and participating in a common activity, what a concept eh?
  • Playing the game isn’t always super exciting
    • I usually am always having fun but you aren’t always in a battle against hordes of orcs saving the local King every minute. Like in real life, you have to take time to run errands, restock supplies, plan what you’re going to do next, plan again after the road you wanted to take is closed, and even take a rest day or two if your character gets sick. A lot of it can be simplified thanks to the rules/system and a quality DM. A few times an entire session simply revolved around our party staying in a town talking to locals and shopping for items. Learn to embrace it as an opportunity to take the game world for what it is.
  • Our group is awesome
    • I honestly couldn’t have asked for a better group to find. Not only was mostly everyone else in the same newbie boat as I was, but we all get along really well. Most of us are fans of Rollplay and get to discuss the weekly happenings on the show. All of us have very similar humor and love to joke around in game and out. We even started to play other games together. The players, characters, and DM all bring something different to the table and it really makes the game stand out.  Dare I say…I’ve made new friends through a random online D&D party?
  • Streaming our game online adds an interesting dynamic
    • This isn’t something you’ll find in your typical D&D group, but we have had lots of fun doing it. It’s a little frustrating when twitch decides to delete a recording or when parts of the recorded video go corrupt, but we’re learning how to work around the issue and are also hosting our recordings on YouTube, possibly with additional content. Whether it is the audience interaction, hearing how watching us helps others understand D&D better, or just having the last session recorded for an easy recap makes the extra work worth it.
  • You can’t make up these situations
    • The first time we jumped into combat in game my character shot his bow, and I rolled three natural 20s in a row; critical threat, critical confirmation, and instakill! One of our party members got arrested and we had to go through finding witnesses and a trial to get him off of an unfounded murder charge! I can’t count the number of times we’ve gotten ourselves too far into combat with half the party unconscious and our cleric dishes out damage and heal spells to save us all. A bard in our group played Wrecking Ball on his flute and rolled a natural 1 for his skill check. These are moments I will remember for a long time. I look forward to Monday evenings when I can chill out with some friends online and roleplay Cabaan the Elf ranger who sucks at perception checks.

Moving forward, I’m not entirely sure what the future of our game stream looks like.  We finished “Season 1” of our campaign with 30 play sessions, around 26 of them are recorded and online our twitch and youtube channels, and have had over 10,000 viewers.  10k isn’t a whole lot in the world of internet videos but it is pretty damn impressive for what we’re doing.  We will be starting the next season this week and I’m definitely excited to see where our story goes.

If you have any interest in checking out what our D&D sessions look like, jump over to our campaign page or stop by my twitch channel on a Monday evening(8pm EST | 5pm PST) and say hello!

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