D&D Stands for Dark and Disastrous

D&D is big. I’ve covered this a good deal in the past, constantly rehashing that Dungeons & Dragons is one of, if not the biggest tabletop role-playing games out there. But, in last week’s post (which you can read here if you missed it), I briefly mentioned that D&D hasn’t always been so popular…at least not in a positive way. Like many new forms of media that the mainstream population didn’t quite understand at first like, for instance, video games, D&D got a lot of bad press in the 1980’s to the point of there being a media panic that D&D was really some satanic cult. This panic spawned a number of horrible works “warning” against the true dangers of tabletop RPGs. Ladies and gentleman, it’s time to dive into the darker side of D&D.

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Source: i.ytimg.com

Did you know Tom Hanks was in a satirical D&D movie? It was called Mazes & Monsters, and it was, in fact, the first film he ever appeared in (imdb.com). Thank goodness it wasn’t one that defined his career, though. This film tells the story of a group of college student outcasts who all share in common an obsession with Mazes & Monsters, a made-up tabletop RPG in which players create fantasy characters and traverse mazes under the direction of the Maze Controller. Not at all like real-life Dungeons & Dragons, right? However, this film told a dark tale of one player, Robbie Wheeling (played by Tom Hanks), becoming so enthralled with the game that he had a psychotic break and believe himself to be his character, a cleric named Pardieu, in real life. The movie’s climax is that of Wheeling’s fellow players and friends trying to stop him from jumping of the New York World Trade Center, which Wheeling insists he must do to meet with his deity, Great Hall, and that he had “spells” to keep him from falling to his death (mashable.com).

Truthfully, this film is of a very poor quality and has quite a shoddy story, in my opinion, but you can’t help but shudder a bit at the intensity of the underlying theme of “D&D could make you to commit suicide!” Sadly, in the 1980’s, pop culture held the firm belief that “immersing yourself in the fantasy fiction of an RPG could lead to flirtations with Satanism, occult worship — and, in turn, criminal behavior,” (mashable.com).

However, Mazes & Monsters was not the first, nor the last, to preach of the “real” evils of D&D. There was a short comic created by reclusive author & artist Jack Chick called Dark Dungeons (theescapist.com). Much like Mazes & Monsters, this comic tells the story of a group of kids who get obsessed with playing the tabletop RPG, Dark Dungeons (D&D for short…very on the nose). The main character, Debbie, is a young, naive girl who wants to literally become her character, a cleric named Elfstar, and therefore joins a witch coven at the recommendation of her Dungeon Master to learn “real magic” (chick.com).

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Source: chick.com

As if a little girl joining a satan-worshipping cult and using dark magic to warp her parents’ mind wasn’t deep enough, this comic gets even darker when Marcie, one of the other players, loses her character from a poison trap. Losing her persona of the thief Black Leaf causes Marcie to break into tears, screaming for another chance or mercy from the DM. The obsession the players have with “D&D” is emphasized when Marcie, unable to face reality without Black Leaf, goes into a downward spiral with a very tragic conclusion…

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Source: chick.com

Long story short, Debbie rethinks her new witch status and, through the mercy of God, denounces the evils of D&D, and her soul is saved. You read the whole comic here. According to The Escapist, “Dark Dungeons is possibly the most widely distributed piece of anti-game propaganda in the history of gaming.” As with Mazes & Monsters, Dark Dungeons is on a witch hunt, fervently warning us of true danger of playing the demonic Dungeons & Dragons…or any tabletop RPG for that matter. It’s really sad, even scary, to think that a majority of people had these views about D&D in the 1980’s…and some still do today! Believe it or not, Dark Dungeons is being made into a movie…despite the fact that D&D’s public image has, for the most part, completely flipped (wired.com).

It looks…interesting. I can only wonder how it will be received by the general populace and D&D fans alike. D&D has had an equally rough history when it comes to film, most notably the film Dungeons & Dragons in 2000 and Dungeons & Dragons: Wrath of the Dragon God in 2005 (imdb.com). Suffering from terrible acting, low-quality CGI, and just general bad writing in both plot and dialogue, Dungeons & Dragons is almost famously cringe-inducing and received very negative ratings, such as a 10% on Rotten Tomatoes. The second film, while including more details from the source material, fairs slightly better, but is still terrible by movie standards. I won’t recommend it, but if you are so curious, you can watch the trailers below.

There are rumors of Dungeons & Dragons once again being adapted into a movie by Warner Bros., with little details outside of potential casting being released (slashfilm.com). At least it doesn’t have a much of a high bar to hurdle…

D&D, despite its popularity now, has seen some pretty dark times and outright disasters in its long lifespan. Mazes & Monsters and Dark Dungeons are quite chilling to look back on, but it makes me thankful that I can go and play D&D today without that sort of stigma looming so heavily. While I may be signing off for a little bit (the class which inspired this blog is ending and winter break is coming up), I’ve loved writing about this awesome tabletop RPG, and I’d like to keep this blog going, even expand it a bit to cover some of my own D&D adventures as well. It may not be immediate, but with luck, I’ll be back with new content soon. It’s been a blast, guys!

Shout out to my teacher, Marti Maguire, for an awesome class and semester as well as the opportunity to make a D&D blog, unconventional though it may be. I hope you are an expert in Dungeons & Dragons now!

 

 

To Game or Not to Game: The Benefits of Playing Dungeons & Dragons

I’ve spoken in the past about D&D’s popularity and audience of over four million players worldwide, but did you know there was a time when RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons faced  an unfair amount of criticism?

In the 1980’s, D&D got a lot of heat as people, uneducated in what role-playing games really were, believed that D&D was Satan worship, “real” demon summoning, or other equally hysteric claims (psychologytoday.com). David J Ley PH.D even writes in his article that “a group called Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons (BADD) was formed by the mother of a young teen lost to suicide. Because D&D was new on the social scene, was strange, unknown, and had unknown effects, the youth’s suicide was blamed on the role-playing game,” (psychologytoday.com). Thankfully, this panic died down by the 1990’s, but even today many people sneer at tabletop RPGs as wastes of time. However, in a TED Talk, Ethan Gilsdorf advocates the exact opposite: D&D is actually good for you in real life!

Gilsdorf speaks on a lot of good points of D&D and how it is perceived by the public, adding in his own personal experiences as well. “I know what you’re thinking,” Gilsdorf says as he shows himself as a kid playing D&D with some friends, “D&D and other role-playing games – known as RPGs – are make-believe. It’s pretend. Fantasy games are for nerds and dweebs and geeks and dorks and guys, mostly guys who can’t get a date and live in their parents’ basements and have to escape the real world.” But, he goes on to challenge this stereotype, and, in about five main ways, argue how D&D can make you a better person in real life.

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His first point is that of collaboration & teamwork. Whether we like it or not, we will have to work with other people at some point, be it a group presentation in school or a big scale project at a company. D&D mandates that players travel in a party, and it is in their best interests to work together to overcome obstacles.

Gilsdorf states, “You and your party have a range of skills and talents to draw from…there is a group of people and everyone plays their part. This lesson can be applied to your life, with your office mates, with your circle of friends, with you family, everybody plays a part. And, it’s okay to rely on each other. I’ve got your back; you’ve got my back. Never split the party.” Learning to be part of a team also gives you a sense of collaborative victory when you succeed together.

Next, Gilsdorf talks about preparedness, innovation, and problem solving. Nearly anything can happen in a D&D session, and players need to be able to think on their feet to respond to tricky situations. Having the right tools and knowing when to use them, learning how to use the environment or NPCs in creative ways to suit your needs, and thinking of a dozen different possible solutions to a puzzle are all skills players must be proficient with.

“Life is like a dungeon. Don’t wander through life without the tools you need to Mcguyver your way out of sticky situations…These role-playing games…train the mind to think of more than one way to solve a problem and make unexpected connections and help you find your alternative paths through the darkness.”

The third point Gilsdorf covers is a bit deeper: character building builds character. Essentially, his idea is that being able to create a character, being able to experiment with different stats, races, classes, morals and ethics, is so important because it allows players to adventure out of their comfort zones in a safe environment. It teaches that taking risks can be good and failure, while painful, is survivable. I agree strongly with this point from experience with my own D&D character, Severa Winddriver. Like me, she is young and naive about the world, yet her confidence, calmness, bravery, and strong morals are traits I wish to have in the real world, traits which I can take on and learn to emulate through D&D sessions.

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Gilsdorf’s fourth point deal with empathy and tolerance. This comes from the most core of D&D: role-playing. Players must take on a particular role, be it like their real-world selves or not, and see the world from that character’s viewpoint. It forces them to see things differently at times, and, through role-playing, players can learn to see those real world “enemies” in a different light, with empathy and tolerance.

“Because of the immersive narrative of the game, you and your fellow players are constantly put into situations where you’re interacting with other people and other creatures…and you can imagine what their predicament is, what their situation is, what their point of view is. These fantasy role-playing games are the perfect empathy-training machines for the real world,” Gilsdorf explains.

His final point is the power of narrative and the imagination.

“We have movies and television shows and video games that offer these immersive experiences, richly textured narratives and worlds, but they don’t engage our imagination in the same way. I think it’s precisely because of role-playing games’ crude tools – dice and pieces of paper and maps and those silly little figurines. You are required to bring your imagination to the gaming table to complete the picture,” Gilsdorf says.

I think this solitary aspect is what most drew me into D&D over a year ago, the idea of a narrative where you can be anyone and anything can happen. It sets the imagination on fire. Being a part of such an immersive, fantastical story with a tight-knit group of friends is what it’s all about, and it is why I ultimately became so passionate about D&D…enough so to author a blog on it and convince all you lovely readers out there to try D&D for yourselves!

So, I’ll leave you with one last inspirational quote from Gilsdorf: “Get out the Doritos and Mountain Dew, arm yourself with pencil and graph paper, and gather around the fire of each other’s imaginations and go on an adventure!”

 

Halloween, Hunters, and Homebrew, oh my!

This last Monday, as some of you may or may not know, was Halloween. Halloween…the legendary night of spooks, monsters, and copious amounts of candy. While this fall holiday caught me admittedly by surprise this year (I didn’t even have a proper costume!), it did get me thinking back on a certain tabletop RPG chock full of monsters and magic and how, through the concept of homebrew, it can be tailor made to fit any festivity!

Homebrew, at least in D&D, can be loosely defined as, “any campaign in which the DM has cobbled together what he wants in his game. This can be a mix of published material and custom-created material,” according to en.world.org. Simply put, to homebrew something is to bend the official rules of the game in order to create something new, often to fit a particular situation. For instance, there are homebrew monsters created just for Halloween…like this Pumpkin King posted on dnd-5e-homebrew.tumblr.com this last monday which inspired this post!

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The Great Pumpkin is real, Charlie Brown! Sorry…couldn’t resist. But, this monster and others like the Timekeeper or Evil Doll (Dungeons & Dragons Memes) are just a few examples of the amazing things that can come from the mind of a creative DM. Homebrew monsters can make a stagnant campaign lively once more by giving the players something new they’ve never encountered before or keep veteran players who have slain every creature in the Monster Manual on their toes by throwing them up against a foe only the DM knows the strengths and weaknesses of. Like in the case of a Halloween campaign like the Pumpkin King was designed for, homebrew can provide a unique experience separate from your usual dragon-slaying and damsel-saving.

Homebrew doesn’t just apply to monsters, though. DMs can homebrew classes and races as well. A famous homebrew class (in my opinion) is that of the Witch Hunter, created by Matthew Mercer (geekandsundry.com). Mercer is a well-loved voice actor and DM of the popular D&D YouTube show, Critical Roll, by Geek&Sundry. For a Halloween special of their weekly Thursday session featuring guest star, Vin Diesel, Mercer homebrewed the Witch Hunter class for Diesel in honor of his latest movie, The Last Witch Hunter (geekandsundry.com). You can watch the special here (I highly recommend it!)

This class offered a unique combination of melee fighting with crossbows and spellcasting with blood magic, a homebrew style of magic drawing power from the caster’s own body. After the special, Mercer shared this new class online so other DMs around the world could add it to their own campaigns as an option for their players to play.

This brings me to the darker side of homebrew (to carry on with the creepy Halloween vibe I’ve got going). As homebrew deliberately breaks the rules, there aren’t any true restrictions to prevent imbalance. A certain homebrew monster might be near impossible to defeat by even the most skilled PCs or a homebrew class might get twice as many skills, proficiencies, and spells as any other class. While usually not intended in malicious spirit, these can tilt the campaign wildly in or out of the PCs’ favor, sometimes even “breaking” the session and spoiling the whole group’s fun. This is why most homebrew material is thoroughly play-tested by experienced D&D players before it is released online, in order to make sure the content is balanced and find out what must be changed if it isn’t. Some untested homebrew material is uploaded on online wikis or reddit with merely a warning to use at your own risk.

Sadly, in my experience with D&D 5e, there is a LOT of homebrew material out there…much of it poorly written or unbalanced. However, that should not discourage DMs and PCs, both newbie and veteran, from looking into homebrew material for their campaigns. Homebrew adds something wild and new to spice up a session, but like any spice, it should be used in moderation. After all, all those D&D rulebooks and supplements were made with the intention that players actually use them. Still whether it be a Halloween Pumpkin King or a Christmas St. Nick Demon (they DO exist), D&D homebrew is sure to give an interesting twist to any game.

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Source: paizo.com

Roll Initiative

For my first post, I covered a lot of the history and basic rules of D&D. I didn’t go too in-depth on actual game play mechanics as I had a lot of material to cover…but now, I figured I’d elaborate more on how a D&D session actually runs. Get ready for a How-to on fighting a round in D&D…with lots of cool graphics!

D&D can be broken up into two kinds of game play: character interaction and battle. Character interaction involves the PCs interacting with the world around them and any NPCs they may come across such as villagers or shopkeepers. This part of the game always takes much more time and is far less structured as, generally, the PCs can do anything they wish. Because of this…

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In my experience, a session should last at least 2 hours at barest minimum, otherwise there is just not enough time to truly get into character and get a real juicy story going.

Battle, on the other hand, is more structured. In it, PCs fight against a hostile force of some sort, taking turns to dish out damage or support each other with magic while trying their best to not take damage themselves. While battles don’t (hopefully) pop up as much as character interaction and are more streamlined, they can still go on long if the foe is particularly tough or crafty.

So, let’s break down how a common battle might go. The PCs are first informed that a skirmish is on the way with the DM’s infamous words of…

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Source: giphy.com

“Roll Initiative” is a classic phrase in D&D which simply means everyone must roll a d2o die in order to determine which order they will be acting in during the battle. Obviously, a higher number is best as it means a PC can move earlier, perhaps crippling a foe before it can attack. The DM then rolls initiative for the enemies before proceeding to call out each fighter in order to allow them to act.

During their turn, a PC has an Action, Bonus Action, and Move. Move is self-explanatory; it’s the PC’s chance to move about the battlefield, the distance dependent on the character’s speed, either towards or away from a foe…depending on the situation.

Action is where a PC can choose to attack a target with a weapon or spell. They roll a d20, add any special modifiers their fighter may have, and tell the DM the final number. If the roll is greater or equal to the target’s AC or Armor Class, then it hits and the DM tells them to roll for damage. If the roll is lower, then the attack misses or does no damage…which can be frustrating when you REALLY needed that hit.

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Assuming the PC hits, they can roll any number of dice according to what weapon or spell they are using to determine damage dealt…plus any special modifiers such as cover shielding the target, added damage from a support spell, bonuses from the PC’s abilities scores, class and/or racial skills that apply to that particular form of attacking, and so on. It can get pretty complicated.

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Bonus Action is any extra action that is less complex than an a standard Action such as drinking a healing potion or casting some buff spells, though some classes can use it to take an extra attack.

Once these all are done, the PC ends their turn and the next fighter goes. When it comes to an enemy’s turn, like PCs, they can take the same Action, Bonus Action, and Move…sometimes even more if the DM wishes.

Simple, right? Now, let’s add in something called Ability Saves and Checks. In order to do certain actions which require skill like picking a lock or vaulting over a wall, the PC rolls a d2o and based on the number, the DM determines if the action succeeded or failed. In the same way, a PC may have to try to resist the effects of a spell or react fast to land on their feet after falling so they roll to beat the number of the Save DC. If they make it, they can take less damage or even come out completely unscathed! However, there are two numbers which can literally make or break a PC: a 20 or a 1.

A natural roll of 2o on a d20 or Nat 20 is an instant success on whatever the PC was trying to do, no matter how crazy or impossible it may have seemed. A Nat 20 is the saving grace to any hopeless situation. Say you are have to make an Acrobatics check to avoid an obstacle and roll a Nat 20…

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Source: giphy.com

A natural roll of 1 on a d20 or Nat 1, however, is the exact opposite. Referred to as a Crit Fail, this means no matter how simple the task, it went completely and utterly wrong for the PC. Sometimes, the PC might even suffer damage or an additional penalty for such a complete screw up. A Crit Fail is the bane of even the most experienced PC. So, if you had made that same Acrobatics save and got a Crit Fail…?

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Source: giphy.com

And, so once every fighter had taken their turn, that round finishes and a new one starts from the top. Rinse, lather, repeat until either all enemies are taken out…or there’s a TPK or Total Party Killed. All that’s left is for the DM to hand out EXP or experience points to the party which the PCs can use to level up and gain new abilities or improve their stats.

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Source: giphy.com

That, loyal readers, is how a battle runs in D&D. Hope you enjoyed all pics and gifs! I had too much fun with this one…

Can you Teach an Old Dog New Tricks? D&D 3.5 Edition vs 5th Edition

I’ve mentioned in previous posts such as D&D for Dummies that there are many different versions of Dungeons and Dragons. While they all are basically the same game, each is slightly different from the generation before it. The most popular, I’ve found, of the D&D editions is 3.5 as it was the last “good” edition as far as many people are concerned. 4th edition left a bad taste in the mouth of many players due to focusing more on combat than storytelling, which only leaves 5th edition, the new kid on the block. How does this newest edition compare to the oldy-but-a-goody 3.5?

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D&D is known as a very detailed and admittedly complicated game. Whether it be sword-fighting or chatting with a king, there are a LOT of stats that go into every roll and action a PC can take. This is one of the most major ways 3.5 and 5th differ in my opinion. 3.5 has thirty-five different skills which PCs could put points into in order to become better at said skill such as opening locks or spotting hidden enemies (Player’s Handbook: 3.5 Core Rules). It also gives PCs six abilities: Wisdom, Charisma, Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence, and Constitution (as well as a Reflex, Fortitude, and Willpower for saving throws) which add further bonuses or penalties to a PC’s roll. On top of that, each class and/or race might get different penalties or bonuses that could further influence the outcome of  their course of action.

What I’m getting at here is that 3.5 had a lot more source material and expansion books, therefore it had a lot more numbers and rules to keep track of. While this had the advantage of allowing a PC to be whatever they want and be good at whatever they want, the surplus of information could be overwhelming to newbies, as I can say from personal experience. “3.5 is great for people who really love the number crunching and mechanical aspects of character building. There are a lot of options and you can pretty much always find a way to build whatever character you want. [But] It can be difficult to keep track of that much content and granular rules… It is a mountain of material that, while opening up vast opportunities for those that know all of it and where to find it, can be extremely daunting for those trying to jump in,” (Pros & Cons to D&D 3.5, 4e and 5).

5th edition on the other hand is “Simplicity, Simplicity, simplicity,” (Pros & Cons to D&D 3.5, 4e and 5).  Many of the rules in 3.5 were condensed or simplified in 5th which made it much easier to just pick up and play, especially if you’re green to D&D in general. The original thirty-five skills were condensed to eighteen (the six abilities stayed the same), and instead of adding a bunch of negative or positive modifiers to skills, a PC was proficient (add +1 up to +5 to roll) with a skill or not (Player’s Handbook: 5th edition). 5th brought in the advantage/disadvantage system. If a PC had advantage, they rolled their d20 twice and took the higher of the two rolls, and conversely, at disadvantage, they took the lower (3.5e to 5e). This helped to speed up game play, particularly in larger groups. With simplified stats and proficiencies, PCs could get at best a +11 to a roll, instead of a +20 (if they played their cards right) as they might in 3.5 edition. Some resented this as being too restricting while I feel it balances PCs across the board better.

In the same vain of simplicity, 5th brought in resistance and vulnerability. While in 3.5 a PC might take a +5 or -5 to damage of a certain type (plus other modifiers), a PC takes a flat half damage with resistance or twice the damage with vulnerability (Nerd Immersion). Weapons, taking rests, and other mechanics that were determined by numbers or more complex rules in 3.5 were condensed down into a “type 1 or type 2” sort of style.

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Source: serpent77.com

D&D, being a fantasy RPG, also has a lot of lore and importance in magic. This is the one other area where 3.5 and 5th edition differentiate greatly. There are a lot of expansion books in 3.5 that go into different magic circles and orders, but to simplify, spell casters in 3.5 were complicated but widely powerful classes. They couldn’t wear armor as it interfered with their spells (inflicting one of those many penalties I mentioned earlier), their cantrips or “free” spells were useless in combat, and there was a LOT more spells that a PC could choose from which ranged from quirky but useful to ridiculous and completely over powered (Nerd Immersion).

In contrast, 5th edition spell casters were more balanced. Armor no longer got in the way of their magic, letting them wear armor if they had a proficiency in it. Their cantrips could actually do damage and scale in power well enough to remain useful in combat. The spell list was condensed a bit overall, and the different magic wielding classes could no longer know as many spells as they once could in 3.5. In general, using magic was “much less mathy…mostly fixed numbers instead of per-level calculations”(Pros & Cons to D&D 3.5, 4e and 5). These changes were met with mixed reviews as some veterans disliked what they felt were more limited options for spells.

As you can see, there are a lot of difference just between these two editions of the same game! Yet, both 3.5 and 5th edition D&D remain ever popular and heavily played. Every tabletop RPG has its pros and cons, so if you want to dive into this world, go look into what sort of game might be the best for how you like to play!

Inside the Mind of a Dungeon Master

In previous posts, I’ve mentioned how Dungeon Masters or DMs are essentially gods when it comes to D&D. So, what is it like be in such a powerful position? I interviewed the DM of the D&D campaign I am in currently, in person, in order to find out.

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Her name is Meredith Brookins and she is a twenty year old former student of Meredith College. She is a proudly self-proclaimed nerd who loves to play video games and tabletop RPGs. She’s also a very good friend of mine (she’s the one I mention as introducing me to D&D in the About section). This is more or less how our interview went, though some of it has been edited for space and clarity.

How long have you been playing D&D or any other Tabletop RPGs?

I’ve been playing tabletop games for the past three and a half years. I started playing with my older brother who is nine years older than me, and he just came over and said “Hey, you like video games. Me and my friends need an extra person for our game since a person moved away,” and I was like “This sounds fun!” I went and bought a whole bunch of stuff because I thought we were playing Dungeons & Dragons…but we were playing Mutants & Masterminds instead. It wasn’t too hard to adjust, though. From there, we played a whole other bunch of stuff. Eventually, I settled on D&D being my favorite.

How long have you been a Dungeon Master?

I’ve only been a Dungeon Master for a year and a half. I decided I wanted to play with a group of people my own age, so at the beginning of the school year (2015), I decided, “Hey, I’ll tell my friends about this because I’ve been playing it for two years and it’s fun!” It started as me and two other people to nine players, some of which don’t go to the school, *One of those is yours truly* and everyone just got on board with it.

What goes into running a D&D campaign, in terms of planning before the players even enter the picture?

You have to figure out how many people are playing. Without knowing what characters they’re going to pick at all, you have to start by figuring out who is your main enemy. What do you want them to start off with? I build off from there. I’m very story based. I don’t like hack n’ slash because I like to have character development with my players. I like to give them a world that they can see very clearly and build upon each week. I ask the players before they start building, what the character reflects in them? I also like to have them make up a couple secrets about their characters and their background so it can be twisted into the story.

What is it like running a session with players?

With a smaller group, it’s very quick paced. However, with a bigger group, it’s a lot more difficult because you have to even further think, what are they going to do? You have nine completely different people plus an owlbear, and you have to try to anticipate them. I work for about a week on story. After our session ends, I sleep and start writing the next morning. I make three paths they could possibly go on, all kind of different. I like to give them options, and as a DM, you’re supposed to say Yes…unless it’s something really stupid like “Can I kill my friend?” But, you really have to put the story in the player’s hand, build off of it, and let them think that you’re in control.

What are some of the highlights of being a Dungeon Master?

The biggest highlight for me is knowing everything. Because I’m so nosey. When I’m DMing, it’s a constant “I know what’s going to happen and I can’t wait!” and I try not to show it on my face. Versus when I’m a player and I’m thinking “Where are they going with this?” and I’m trying to fill that puzzle. I know everyone’s character secrets, and I have more knowledge about the game and the monsters in it.

On the flip side, what are some of the disadvantages?

The downside to it is that your story never ends out how you want it to. You can start a campaign being like, “Okay, we’re going to go to that mountain!” and you end up on an island somewhere because that’s where the players wanted to take it…and that’s ok. But, it’s a little disappointing when you’re writing down the story and then the first five minutes of the campaign doesn’t go where you want it to. You have all the power and none of the power. You have to rework stuff and that’s why it’s an ever changing story.

What do you like most about being a Dungeon Master? About D&D in general?

I like being a DM because I can make the story. I don’t have to rely on someone else to make the story interesting; I can do that myself. My favorite thing about D&D is the fact that you can be whatever you want to be, and it will make sense and you can build a world around that. You can go and beat up monsters, be a hero or whatever, but you can also just build up a personality in a game. I like that. D&D is so open to play with the newer editions. You can be just about anything and homebrew (custom make) classes as well. If you want to be a homeless thief who climbs up walls like Spiderman, you can do that.

Lawful Good, Not Lawful Nice

Once during a D&D session some time ago, I got myself into an interesting situation which came to define my character. I play a girl by the name of Severa Winddriver who is a human monk (essentially a kung-fu fighter who lives a life of isolation and piety). During a heated argument, she ended up punching in the face and knocking out one of her fellow adventurers who was getting on her nerves. Afterwards, Severa was asked by her party why she, who had lived in a holy monastery all her life and held herself to a strict code of justice, would do such a seemingly evil act. She replied, “I’m lawful good, not lawful nice.”

In previous posts, I’ve gone over different elements of building characters such as class (read more in last week’s post), but another important aspect of any adventurer is their alignment. Alignment is what determines a PC’s behavior and personality as well as their moral/ethical standing. According to Wizards of the Coast, there are two axis that determine alignment.

The moral axis has three positions: good, neutral and evil. Good characters generally care about the welfare of others. Neutral people generally care about their own welfare. Evil people generally seek to harm the others’ welfare. The ethical axis has three positions as well: lawful, neutral, and chaotic. Lawful people generally follow the social rules as they understand them. Neutral people follow those rules find convenient or obviously necessary. And chaotic people seek to upset the social order and either institute change, or simply create anarchy. (Wizards of the Coast).

Choosing one from each of these two axis creates nine different choices for alignment: Lawful Good, Neutral Good, Chaotic Good, Lawful Neutral, True Neutral, Chaotic Neutral, Lawful Evil, Neutral Evil, and Chaotic Evil. If that explanation is too wordy for you, maybe this chart will help.

Disputes over alignments, however, arise when players who see each category as a cut-and-dry archetype that can only be played one way argue over what is keeping to a PC’s alignment or deviating from it. For instance, Severa who I mentioned earlier is Lawful Good which “acts as a good person is expected or required to act…She tells the truth, keeps her word, helps those in need, and speaks out against injustice,” (Wizards of the Coast). In other words,many players, like those in my group, consider a character who is Lawful Good to be the perfect goody two-shoes who never strays outside of the confines of the law. Such a one dimensional character would be pretty boring to play, but many players believe they must adhere to such archetypes if they play certain alignments.

If you are a D&D player confused about alignments, I may have found just the thing to help! A youtuber named GuildMasterDan has done a series of videos on his channel called Alignments Done Right which had a unique perspective on the alignment system and, I felt, did a far better job of explaining how each alignment should behave. Instead of Lawful or Chaotic and Good or Evil (which lend themselves to certain stereotypes), he referred to the alignment axis as Principled or Unprincipled and Selfless or Selfish (Alignments Done Right). Essentially, a Principled character holds fast to their values and beliefs while an Unprincipled character merely goes with the flow or doesn’t know what they stand for. Selfless characters put value on helping others over themselves while Selfish only care about themselves with little consideration for others. When described like that, none of the alignments are inherently good or bad; they just put value on different things.

For his segment on Lawful Good/Principled Selfless alignment, GuildMasterDan’s example of a Lawful Good/Principled Selfless character was none other than the caped crusader, Batman (Alignments Done Right).

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Source: 2nerd.com

While Batman is far from a light-hearted or friendly character, he follows a strict code he never deviates from (he doesn’t kill or use guns) and he will always fight to protect others even at risk of his own health. Batman may work outside of the law in order to uphold justice and may be far from a shining role model like Superman (another example GuildMasterDan used), but he is still a perfect example of the Lawful Good/Principled Selfless alignment (Alignments Done Right). Looking back at Severa, she would fit comfortably into Principled Selfless. She has a code she adheres to loyally therefore being Principled, and she tries to be virtuous by defending the weak whenever possible therefore being Selfless. However, she is not required to be friendly or even polite to others because of her alignment which, like Batman, explains how she could do something more aggressive like KO’ing a teammate when frustrated. She’s Lawful Good, not Lawful Nice.

You can check out GuildMasterDan’s video on the Lawful Good alignment below. His whole Alignments Done Right series is one I highly recommend to any D&D player (or anyone curious about where well-known characters like Darth Vader or Deadpool would fall on the alignment chart) so be sure to check it out!

 

It’s All About Class

In its 40 years of history,   Dungeons and Dragons has featured a large amount of different classes for people to play as. Each new edition and supplement handbook brought new archetypes for adventurers…though not all classes were home runs as blogger Rob Bricken can attest to. In his article The 24 Most Embarrassing Dungeons & Dragons Character Classes, he went over some more…inspired classes from older editions of D&D such as Beggar, Clown, or Fetishist which really are better left forgotten. While he mostly tears apart these useless classes, he does reaffirm that despite this D&D has far more well-made classes than it does bad.

From the beginning with the 1st edition of D&D, this tabletop RPG’s classes can be grouped into a few main categories: Fighters, Wizards, Clerics, Rogues, and Rangers. According to Wizards of the Coast, the distributor and current owner of D&D, these are the “five key classes to the game” which, despite evolving to suit the times and current player demographic, have stayed pretty much the same since their inception and remain staples of the series. But, did you know that these classes are actually inspired by real-world people and jobs?

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Fighters are based off your standard militia man or even tavern brawler in some editions, Wizards of the Coast states. All around balanced units with many versatile fighting skills and proficiency with every weapon and armor type, Fighters embody a heavy-hitting melee combatant. In 5th edition, fighters are now more of a jack-of-all-trades with the Barbarian class taking its place as team powerhouse.

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Wizards and Clerics, sometimes lumped together under the common title of Mage, can cast spells with any number of reality-warping effects and generally stay off the front lines due to being unable to wear armor. Wizards, based off witches or alchemists, appeared first in 1971, but Clerics, based off of clergy men or women, did not appear until 1974 in a later edition of the game (Wizards of the Coast). While many other spell-slinging classes have been introduced by 5th edition such as the unpredictable Sorcerer and the devious Warlock (a personal favorite of mine), the Wizard and Cleric still remain the most iconic.

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Ever wanted to play a character who was a complete scoundrel or perhaps a notorious thief stalking through the shadows of night? Enter the Rogue class, based off of the assassin and pick-pocket (if you couldn’t already guess). The Rogue was a favorite of D&D’s founder Gary Gygax’s who “liked the concept, creating his own thief for Great Plains Game Players Newsletter #9″ in June of 1974 (Wizards of the Coast). Like Clerics, Rogues oddly enough did not grace the D&D stage until a few years after the initial game was released. While other archetypes like the Mage have been reworked and expanded in newer editions, Rogues are pretty much the same as they’ve always been and remain the best class built for stealth…though the Monk class can come a close second depending on certain choices made by the players.

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The last class archetype I’ll be covering is the Ranger. Rangers are based off of Robin Hood, traveling archers at home in the outdoors (in that regard you could say they draw some inspiration from park rangers as well). Like Fighters, Rangers are physical attackers except with an affinity for long-ranged combat. Rangers were introduced the latest at 1975 and remained somewhat unnoticed for many years more, though they are an extremely popular class choice now. This class even drew on concepts from another popular fantasy series: Lord of the Rings. “This primeval ranger was likely influenced by Aragorn from Lord of the Rings (1954-1955), as its 2nd level title was “strider” states Wizards of the Coast. Like Rogues, Rangers haven’t changed too much over time though they have gained some major advantages such as the choice of having a beast companion (who doesn’t want a panther as a pet?)

D&D gives players so many options of what kind of adventurer they wish to be. Every class tells something different about the player. For instance, I play as a Monk, a holy kung-fu fighter, in my current campaign. The widely popular tabletop RPG masters of Youtube, Nerdarchy, said in their web series that playing a Monk often means the player likes to have a more balanced playstyle as the Monk class specializes in speed and versatility while also being a decent melee fighter (which is entirely true for me). They covered every class and I would highly recommend checking them out on Youtube if you want to learn more about pretty much anything D&D related.

 

A Guide to Not Dying: 5 Tips for Players New to Dungeons & Dragons

Just last week during our usual D&D session, my group received a new player to fill a hole in our party left by a player who had moved away. She’s enthusiastic but completely green to D&D. As one of the more knowledgeable people in our group, it was decided that I would mentor her on the ways of Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition and help her create her adventurer. So, in honor of her and all the other newbies out there, here’s a few basic tips for being a better role player.

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Source: reddit.com

  1. Respect the Dungeon Master

    The Dungeon Master (Game Master in other tabletop RPGs) is god. Their word is law. DMs put a lot of effort into building the story and world as well as managing both PCs & NPCs (often having to improvise when the party decides to go in the exact opposite direction of where the DM was leading them). Listen to your DM and don’t argue with their rulings in the game. An annoyed DM can make an adventurer’s life very, VERY difficult if they so choose.

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  2. Know Your Role

    While 5th edition is simpler than previous editions, D&D has a lot of rules which can be overwhelming to new players. Learning as you go is fine, but I recommend doing some research on the character you plan to play before jumping in. Learn what your class’s strengths and weaknesses are. Study your race and its unique features. Find what your role will be in the group such as scout, tank, or healer. Write out your character’s motivations, backstory, and personality to remain consistent from session to session. Keeping these things in mind will help bring out your adventurer’s full potential in the game.

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    Source: imgur.com

  3. Stay in Character

    Being “in character” is putting aside all thoughts of yourself to take on the persona of your character. While in character, be aware of what is happening in the game world and avoid “breaking character” by bringing up real world chatter like some funny post on Snapchat. These distractions disrupt the flow of the story and can turn game play into a drag. Everyone has set aside this time to play the game, so don’t be rude and waste it by forcing the DM to repeat things because you weren’t paying attention. Keep your personal feelings about the other players separate from your character’s feelings. Conflict made in game can interesting or exciting. Conflict made out of game is not.

  4. Teamwork!

    I’m all about playing well-rounded characters, but no race or class can do it all. That’s why there’s an adventuring party. Talk to the other members of your group if you are stuck in a situation that seems unsolvable. Maybe you can’t bust down a door through brute force, but another player can pick the lock. Work together and pull upon the skills of every PC. Communicate. Don’t withhold information just because your character is “untrusting.” Everyone trust each other enough to be travelling and fighting together. Unless completely necessary, avoid splitting up or trying to be a lone wolf. You will always be able to accomplish more as a group than alone.

  5. Roll with it

    Remember, D&D is just a game. Everyone comes together to have fun and bond. Don’t get ultra nitpicky on rules. If your character dies (which can happen, sometimes very easily), don’t sweat it. Roll up a new one and keep playing. Don’t let role playing intimidate you. Odds are no one there is a professional actor so play out as much as you are comfortable. Be free to be silly or stupid. Laugh at yourself when you get that natural 1 (a critical failure) and whatever you were trying to do goes hilariously wrong. Have fun!

For more tips, check out a few of these sites (all of which helped inspire my list!):

D&D for Dummies

Let’s get one thing straight. Reading this post does NOT mean that you are a dummy…or even that you have no knowledge of Dungeons and Dragons. I just have a thing for alliteration and witty titles. Even if you aren’t a geek per say, odds are you have heard of D&D in some way, shape, or form. At over 40 years old and played by over 20 million people worldwide according to Entertainment.Time.com, D&D is one of the most successful and popular games of all time. Period. However, despite its popularity, many still have little understanding of  D&D and its massive subculture. So, as this blog is going to be centering entirely around this tabletop RPG, let’s have a little crash course in D&D, shall we?

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The first concepts for D&D were inspired by fantasy wargames of the 1960’s as told by D&D manufacturer, Wizards of the Coast. Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, two wargame enthusiasts, decided to add a new level of storytelling and customization to these wargames by making the generic adventurers more individual and unique through personalized backstories and abilities. Thus the fantasy role playing game was born. Over the years as it was ever expanded upon and updated, D&D only continued to soar in popularity, hitting its highest craze around the 1980’s.

So, what exactly is D&D? In simplest terms, D&D is an ongoing, interactive fantasy story. Players are the characters of these stories. Every story, formally referred to as a campaign, is run by one person dubbed the “Dungeon Master” or DM for short. The DM is the “god” of the campaign, in charge of managing the world, enemies, NPCs (Non-Player Characters), and all the PCs (Player Characters) and their respective plot lines. The DM is the ultimate judge with unlimited power within the campaign, though a good DM knows to not abuse this power and be fair to their players. With great power comes great responsibility, you might say (just couldn’t help myself).

D&D comes in many different editions, each with its own sets of rules, monsters, classes, races, worlds, etc. The most recent is 5th edition which is the one I will be focusing on in this blog as it is the edition I am most familiar with. While there are many supplements for every edition, the one must-have for any new player is the Player’s Handbook which details how to make an adventurer as well as the basic rules of game play. The player must choose a race which can include anything from the more common Human or Elf to the more exotic half-devil Tiefling or reptilian Dragonborn. In addition to their species, players choose a particular classification of adventurer or class which specialize in any number of unique playstyles ranging from the spell-slinging Wizard to the devious but lethal Rogue to the battle-maniac Barbarian to the healing Cleric. From there, players outfit their characters with weapons and roll up their stats.

Speaking of rolling, now would be a good time to mention another of the most recognizable and essential tools of any D&D player. Dice.

D&D (as well as near every other tabletop RPG) use various multi-sided dice in order to determine whether any course of action a PC may take is a success or failure. A basic set of dice includes four, six, eight, ten, twelve, and the ever popular (and game-changing) twenty sided dice. Shorthand for dice is “d” plus the number of sides such as a “d20” while rolling a certain kind of dice multiple times such as an eight sided dice three time would be written “3d8.”

So, a player has a race, class, items, and stats for their character. Last but most certainly not least, the player creates a story for their character to bring them to life, things like why said character became an adventurer or any secrets from their past that may affect them during the campaign. Once all PCs are assembled, the DM sets the stage and sends them out on their adventure. A D&D campaign is played in sessions that can take any number of hours (at the very least 2 or 3, in my opinion) and a single story arc could carry across weeks or even months. Game play is split between role playing or interacting with other PCs and NPCs as your character (the story-heavy half of the game) and encounters or battles in which the PCs fight against all sorts of monsters and villains (the action heavy half of the game). The direction and outcome of any campaign is influenced by how the players interact with the world and each other, the mercy or malice of the DM, and the roll of the dice determining critical success or failure.

D&D is an absolutely MASSIVE game. Here I am trying to hold back and give the barest, simplest yet adequate explanation for this game…and look how long I’ve rambled on already! Even all this is just the tip of the iceberg for this king of tabletop RPGs. However, I do hope that those poor, unfortunate souls who knew nothing of D&D will walk away from this with a bit more understanding of just what the game is. If I’ve aroused your interest about this game, I encourage you to look up more online (Wizards of the Coast is a great place to start). If you don’t want to go through all that effort, don’t worry. I’ll be providing plenty of D&D goodness in the weeks to come!