Welcome to the first Mondays with Max post! I gave him the opportunity to write about whatever his heart desired and he decided that what he would like to do most in this first post was an interview about Dungeons and Dragons – the start in a series of a few posts where we discuss something he loves.
When someone says D&D, or Dungeons and Dragons, many become incredulous and a wee bit judgmental of the hobby. There’s a bit of a stigma surrounding the game as many people assume those who play it are socially awkward teenaged boys just rolling dice and pretending to be wizards. In my short experience with the game, I’ve encountered intelligent, sophisticated, people who love to create characters and stories while having fun with their friends. And, most of these people are women. Shocking, right?
Back to the dice thing, there are dice involved. But it isn’t as dice heavy as you’d think. The dice only come into play if there’s a story element relying on it like combat or a situation like gleaming information from an object you see. The dice roll tells you whether or not you attack lands or what you are able to tell – if anything -from simple perception or investigation of something. The dice add the element of chance to the game – just as in real life.
Most of the game is acting. You act as the character you created – with or without as much “getting in character” as you choose. Most of the people I play with don’t even use a character voice unless they really want to. It’s entirely up to you how much you want to “get into it” and how much you truly want to nerd out over the game.
If what Max has to say below speaks to you, give it a shot! You might have more fun than you thought.
How did you get into D&D?
My first actual experience with D&D (barring the wonderfully horrendous live action movie with Jeremy Irons) was playing the 3.5 1 edition back in middle school. I had very little idea of what I was doing, and I’m sure the friend who was running it had only a slightly better grasp on the rules than I did. We did a one and done thing and that was about it until my senior year of high school where one of my brother’s friends offered us a spot in his new group. I played an Elf Ranger 2 opposite my brother’s Dwarf Fighter (very Legolas and Gimli thing going on between the two of them) and several years and countless dollars dumped into the hobby later, here I am, nerdier than when I went in.
What has been your favorite moment in a campaign3?
Oh wow, that’s a tough one. It’s really difficult to pick just one moment as I kind of view these moments as just one large experience. However, if I had to pick (and not strictly D&D), I would say it may have been when my brother’s sadistic, greedy, back-pedaling, gnome cavalier managed to “represent” me and the rest of our group in a kangaroo court hosted by a legion of undead skeletons. Using a surprising amount of logic and paradox plays, he managed to convince the undead horde that they should have been the ones on trial considering what they were charging us with, eventually causing them to explode into dust after considering the notion.
Do you like being a player or a GM4 more?
It always goes back and forth with me, personally. Since I’m usually the one to introduce people to the hobby, I’m also tasked with running others and acting as the Game Master (basically the referee for a game). I really don’t mind, because I love setting scenes and dropping plot hooks for the rest to discover, but sometimes I get an idea for a character that I have such a strong urge to play that wouldn’t really work if they weren’t a player.
What was your motivation behind getting me to play D&D?
I mostly wanted to introduce you to something I love and given your experience with storytelling, acting, etc. I figured you’d enjoy it. I also think it’s something almost everyone should try once, just because it’s such an amazing creative outlet. There’s also really nothing like crafting a collaborative narrative with a group of your friends, and I’ve yet to find anything that comes close to it.
What is your favorite character that you’ve ever made?
Ugh, another tough one. All of my characters have a little bit of me in them, so it’s always difficult selecting a favorite one. Sticking strictly to D&D, I think my favorite would be one of my more recent characters, Thorhn, who’s a Dragonborn (think a man crossed with a dragon and you get the jist of it) holy warrior pacifist who was raised in a clergy of halfling nuns. He’s always such a joy to play just because I have to approach challenges very differently than what I’m used to, mainly subduing the urge of just running and gunning giving his non-violent nature.
What are some misconceptions you know about D&D? How would you refute them?
I think one of the biggest misconceptions I’ve seen about D&D isn’t so much about the game itself, but rather people who play it. When most people learn you play D&D, they tend to think you’re maladjusted and are completely inept at social interaction. I would argue the opposite is the case, given how key communication is to D&D, not being able to react well in social circles would be absolutely crippling considering how often you are tasked with collaborating with other players. Given the rise of high profile D&D players, such as the wonderful cast of Critical Role5, as well as celebrities who are not shy to let everyone know of their love of the game (Vin Diesel, Stephen Colbert, the late Robin Williams), I think this stigma is slowly dying and giving others the confidence to pick up a set of polyhedral dice6 and really dive into D&D and other tabletop games.
How long have you been playing tabletop games? Was the first game you played D&D or was it something else?
As I mentioned before, my first experience with tabletop games was in middle school, but I really didn’t start learning to play until late in high school. I still feel that I’m learning how to play with every session I’m in though, but that’s one of the fun aspects of tabletop games.
Other than D&D, do you have any other favorite tabletop games?
I love the gothic sci-fi setting of Dark Heresy and I’ve had a lot of fun roleplaying moments in Vampire: The Masquerade. I also find the rules for Mutants & Masterminds to be incredibly intuitive and satisfying if I want to start a superhero game, especially using the books Green Ronin put out for running something in the DC comics universe. I would also love to play Legends of the Five Rings some more as I’ve only ran it once, but the mythic Japanese/Chinese setting is something you don’t really see in roleplaying games too often and it can be such a breath of fresh air after delving into the upteenth Eurocentric fantasy game.
How do you think we can dispel the stigma around the game?
Finally, an easy question! I think the best way to smash the stigma of playing D&D, or any tabletop game for that matter, is to get as many people playing, or at least trying it out, as possible. Of course, D&D and is not going to be for everyone, and tabletop RPGs might not be fun for everyone, but just having this experience and seeing what it’s really like, whether that be sitting down in a game or simply watching a livestream on the internet will do wonders for everyone’s understanding of what actually goes on at the table.
What do you recommend people do if they want to start playing D&D or other tabletop games?
Though it’s far easier for me to say this than do, I think the best advice would to just not worry too much about getting everything right. Everyone starts out as a terrible player or a terrible game master, and that’s perfectly fine. As a beginning player, it’s a bit easier as you can usually find a group of people who have some experience tucked in their belt and they’d be happy to help you get started. For someone looking to run, I think the best advice is to get as many new players as possible, as you will all be learning together! There’s a plethora of resources out there for getting you started. If I have to stress one thing, though, it is don’t get caught up in the rules and mechanics of whatever game you’re playing. The goal of any tabletop game (for the most part anyway) is to tell a story, which is as easily done with or without dice. You’ll learn the nitty gritty as you go; the main goal should, and always, be about having fun
1. There are multiple editions of D&D. The most recent one is 5th edition. 5th edition is far more simplified than the earlier editions. There is less math and mechanics allowing the players to focus on the narrative at hand rather than the rules.
2. Elf ranger is a race and class within the game. Think Legolas from Lord of the Rings. There are 9 core races: human, elf, half-elf, half-orc, gnome, Halfling, dwarf, tiefling, and dragonborn – plus a few “homebrewed” races. The 12 core classes are: barbarian, bard, cleric, druid, fighter, monk, paladin, ranger, rogue, sorcerer, warlock, and wizard – and many more homebrewed classes. They can all be explained neatly here.
3. The adventure or story played in D&D is referred to as a campaign.
4. Game Master. They used to be more commonly called the Dungeon Master (DM); the one who runs the game and tells the story outside of what the players themselves do.
5. Critical Role, affectionately referred to as Crit Role by fans, is a livestreamed game of D&D played weekly by a group of voice actors in California. It’s rad.
6. Yes, the dice really do have more than six sides. Though there are four and six sided die used as well.