Playing D&D Part 1

The First Great D&D Adventure

All players need a place to start

I don’t think anyone in the universe prepared for a first adventure as much as I did.

I won’t lie, I was nervous about running a pack of 12-year-olds through a 5E D&D adventure.  I hadn’t played this new-fangled version of the game, and being a DM (the guy who ran the game) meant I had to know my rules.

So, being me, I turned to the internet and found a great collection of YouTube videos on line that taught me the rules and gave me some advice on DMing.

Gosh, there was so much that was new, but after 2 weeks, I felt like I had a handle on most of the rules and I wasn’t shy about making it up if worse came to worse.

All I had to do was make it fun.

Easy, right?

Well…. Not always.

Now, for those few people who have never played D&D, the basics are actually pretty simple. It’s a table-top role-playing game, played in person, with real people sitting next to you and tossing Doritos at you. To quote the designers of the game, “The core of D&D is storytelling. You and your friends tell a story together, guiding your heroes through quests for treasure, battles with deadly foes, daring rescues, courtly intrigue, and much more.”

One person ‘runs’ the game. That’s the Dungeon Master or DM. That’sa me. It’s my job to make sure the players have fun. I’m the guy behind the curtain (or in this case, the DM screen.)

And those are the critical words there. Have. Fun.

It’s not a game that pits one player against another like Risk. No, it’s cooperative, and that’s what can make it so much fun, but if the DM sucks or has to spend a ton of time looking stuff up, no amount of great story-telling will make it fun. It’ll be a disaster.

See, the stakes were high for me. I really wanted the boys to like D&D, to play it for years, maybe even meet their love of their life while playing, and form nerdy friendships that last forever. Heck I met my first wife, Margot, and my best friend through D&D.

I know I set a high bar for myself, but for me, I’d been known as a good DM 400 years, ago, so I wanted to keep my rep intact.

So, like I said, I prepared. (NERD WARNING!) I bought a DM screen, printed out maps, made maps on graph paper, created character backstories, researched all the character’s abilities, finished off the boys’ character sheets, made initiative cards, found pictures of the monsters and characters, made monster cards, made ‘condition’ cards, bought miniatures for each boy, painted the hell out of them, sealed them with indestructible sealant, made potions from bottles bought by my friend and fellow nerd, Sheila. I bought coins to be used as special tokens, I bought trees that could be used on the tabletop. I wrote out a world history, a local history and even, whew, a history of one of the pivotal non-player characters.

I even read through the Monster manual to find the best monsters for them to fight, read through the DM guide to find the perfect treasure rewards, and bookmarked the Player’s Handbook, so I could find things quickly.

OMG.

I bought snacks, set up a table, moved all my D&D books to our new D&D rec room, set up lamps for better light, moved my painted minis to a shelf in the D&D rec room, fixed chairs that were broken, found more miniatures to use as villains, printed out pictures of all the non-player characters so the boys could put a face to a name, and found a jewelry chest that would remind players what their goal was.

Ready to go! Got my minis. Got my Rubbermaid container of dice. Got my character cheat sheets.

Yes. I had prepared. I wanted to have a lot of visual aids because I felt the boys wouldn’t be keen on me talking for hours about a chest or the world or Buttons the halfling. I wanted them to see the battle, not just imagine it, to move their miniatures through a forest to fight the evil Blackskulls who terrorized the area. When they went to drink a potion of healing, I wanted there to be a potion that they actually drank.

After all, these boys were coming from Fortnite, GTA or Assassin’s Creed. They had been brought up on visuals so I needed to make it as visual as possible. Heck, if I could have programmed holographic maps with 3D characters, I would have done so.

But after two weeks of preparation, would it all pay off? Had I been overthinking this? (not that I ever do that.) Would the boys have fun? Would they become life-long players?

Well, at the risk of creating a spoiler, let me just say that, as if typical when you design and run an adventure, nothing quite goes as planned.

So, hey, if you want to check out more pictures, see the instagram account or check out the pinterest page.

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The Best Day Part II

dungeons and dragonsI thought I was prepared for everything, but I had forgotten how D&D can twist your expectations. For better. Or worse.

So here’s how it started. All three players, the Oldest, the Youngest and my friend, were fighters. Rough tough soldiers. Killers. Warriors.

Now the coolest thing about an RPG (a roleplaying game), is that you can create a character that’s basically one form of you, or someone you may have read about or watched on TV. Or a combination of the two. You can be a Gimli-like dwarf with a bit of nerdy Sheldon, for example.

“Bazinga! Certainty of death, small chance of success- what are we waiting for?”

Or, with the new D&D rules, they assign a few traits to help you create an amazing character.

Here’s what the boys got. The Youngest, who has already made his Christmas list, and it is 2 pages long – got a character who despises money. Material things mean nothing to him. Nothing. He was all about the fame.

Ha. About as opposite to the Youngest as it could possibly be.

The Oldest got a character who loves the forest. LOVES it. Would never harm it. Ever.

shrekNow him being an ogre and all, that was kinda cool. Ogres are known for eating children and bashing knights on the head with big clubs. But not this one. This one loved nature. A big, huge ogre with massive muscles who literally loves to smell the roses. Lie in a bed of clover. Look at the color of leaves in the forest.

OMG, this was going to be good.

So I built the first adventure around those things. The Youngest wanted only glory so I geared up great glory for him if he succeeded. For the oldest, a threat to nature. To the things he loved the most.

It all began, as most adventures in D&D begin. In an inn. There, thought I, they would be confronted by smelly bullies who hated the big ogre. The big ogre would likely pound them into snot, especially if his brother – the fighter who would see great glory in coming to the aid of the outnumbered ogre – helped him out.

Then, based on their manly heroics and impressive tossing of bad guys around, they would be asked to help find a lost caravan. In the forest.

Simple, right?

seagalSort of like every Steven Seagal movie only with less, you know, Steven Seagal in it.

But when I began the encounter, the ogre did something completely unexpected.

I, as the *cough* dungeon master began: “Alright, Ogre, as soon as you enter, three men stand up from their tables. One of them, a burly man with stained leather armor and a red nose from too much drinking, marches up to you.”

(On the tiles I’d set up, I place an Ogre figure by the door and six bad-ass-looking guys near tables. I placed figures of The Youngest and my friend at another table).

thugMe: “The ruffian looks up at you and says, “Your kind ain’t allowed in here,” He reaches for the rusty dagger at his side. He’s so close to you, you can smell how much he stinks. Like our dog after she’s rolled around in dead fish. Behind him, you see his two companions stand up as well and try their best to look menacing.

“Either you go quietly,” the thug in front of you says, “or we’re going to carve you up real bad like.”

(Now, traditionally, and indeed in most bar fights, this is where the other side postures up and soon all hell breaks loose… but not this time.)

Ogre: “I don’t see the need to fight.”

Me (and the bad guys): “What?”

Ogre: “What if I just paid you to walk away.”

Me and the bad guys: “What?”

“I’ve got 100 gold. Why don’t I give it to you and you can feed your families or go buy pokemon cards or something.”

Me and the bad guys: “What?”

“100 gold is a lot of money.”

heartbreak ridge(Now, this is where a video game would force the issue. It has no ability to improvise. To adapt. To overcome. A machine is not a marine. – Or a dungeon master, which is pretty much the same thing.

But I can adapt.

And I did.

Me: “The thugs seem confused. The guy in front of you takes a step back. He rubs his jaw, thinking, but he likes the idea of free money, so, yeah, he can’t pass that up. They take your money, laughing, and leave.”

The Oldest beams. He’s beaten the encounter. Not by violence. But by using his head and a bit of cash. Kind of like what I used to do in junior high where I traded my lunch for someone not punching me in the face.

But it reset the whole game. Like a QB who runs more than he throws, like a politician who actually does what they say they’ll do, like a movie that’s not filled with product placements.

I would have to readjust EVERYTHING and quickly. I had a warrior who hated to kill. An amazingly cool trait, but not something I expected.

I mean, what do you do in a game where the whole point is largely to slaughter the bad guys?

Improvise. Adapt. Overcome.