This past month I have started playing the world’s most famous fantasy role playing game, and no I’m not talking about being a career politician, I’m talking about Dungeons and Dragons. I’ve wanted to play for years, as I’ve always loved RPG video games as well as fantasy fiction. It’s always seemed like a daunting task (because it is), however I was introduced to a podcast called Dungeons and Daddies recently (NOT a BDSM podcast), that tipped me over the edge towards starting a game. By the way, the podcast is hilarious and very well produced, it’s about four suburban dads who are transported to the world of Dungeons and Dragons to find their lost children.
Anyways, I bought the Players Handbook, Monster Manual, and Dungeon Masters guide and spent two weeks reading through countless rules on how to create and operate a fictional fantasy world. I was immediately overwhelmed by the number of rules which control minutiae we take for granted in the real world, such as how far you can travel in a day and how much you can carry. Despite my negative tone so far, I want to make it clear, I love this game. You get to create your own world, and have your friends carve out their own identity and story within it. It’s amazing. It is also great exercise for the brain, accessing your creativity, creating compelling stories and characters, and functional adventures for your players to play. This doesn’t include trying to memorize countless rules, which I’ve discovered are good to understand and read, but are pointless to commit to memory. As well as creation and memorization, I’ve had to be adept in group psychology, trying to appease everyone’s wants or needs, predicting what they will do, and how to adapt quickly when they make outrageous decisions. Unfortunately we have 6 characters in our group, which I think is 2 too many, so I have to monitor the actions and thoughts of 6 different people at once. Weve had 3 sessions and in what feels like no time it has been 5 hours, my voice is raw, and I have to pee. I have written a significant amount and spent several weeks world building but am still primarily using the D&D starter set’s “Lost Pact of Phandelver” campaign. This is to familiarize myself with how to create activities in the game.
The biggest challenge for me hasn’t been preparing and creating a world for my friends to play in. It hasn’t really been to manage it according to the rules either. But my fatal mistake, and biggest issue so far is telling my players to study the rules. We have played about 12 hours, and so much time as been wasted bogged down talking about what is acceptable in play or what should be happening. I’ve decided next session to take away their rule book, and I am going to focus on trying to get them to just role play. This is supposed to be them in a different world. In our ‘real’ world we wouldn’t consult a 300 page tome if someone swings an axe at you, and I am tired of it happening in this fantasy one. Their rulebook is going to be taken away, and I am going to try very hard to work on the pacing of the game. Focusing on role playing, having characters actually talk in between combat, and for combat to be nerve wracking and fast, not like a long, very verbal chess match. No more two minute long turns, if you don’t already know what you are doing once your turn comes around, that’s too late, an orc has now swung its sword at your head. Our problem stems from that we have never played live role playing games before as a group. We have also played highly structured board games (the Game of Thrones one is fantastic), so they default to that line of thinking when playing Dungeons. But this way of thinking and processing is so detrimental to the flow of the game, and what it is capable of being.
The rules are there for a reason, especially for combat, to provide structure. But I have made the serious mistake of adhering to this much to strictly, and even more so, allowing my players to do so and make those calls. It’s time to take back the reins and be the game master I know I can be. I am not going to throw away all the rules for combat, but sometimes I may in order to have a better more fluid experience, and above all, control the pace of the game. I have a feeling my friends will be cursing me under the breath soon and complaining, but I know it will be better for all us in the long run, so we can have an enriching memorable experience.