What Does “D&D” Mean?

I’ve been playing D&D for going on 7 years now. That’s not a long time by any means, since I only started playing in college, but it has been a pretty significant part of my life ever since then. I had a really good DM the first time I really played (a campaign) and a really bad DM the second time I played. The third time I played, I was the DM.

As any DM will tell you, the first time you run a campaign is always rough. I’ll definitely admit that a lot of the issues weren’t a result of an inability on my part, but more a result of the social dynamics that grew up over the year and a half that I ran my first campaign. Things started well enough, everyone had a good time, and I had a pleasant world for the characters to explore. By the end, I was making dumb stuff up just to fill the next session, my players resented what I had built for them, and some of the players tried to stage an intervention.

While all that was going on in our sessions, the group of players (who had become my only friend group over the past year due to most of my other friends either leaving the college or picking sides in an argument in our fraternity that I refused to get involved in) stopped spending time with me, my best friend tried to get my girlfriend to break up with me and date him instead, and all of my friends (how they all found out, I’ll never know) decided that it would be best to keep all of this from me. I suppose you could see why I might not be super motivated to make their D&D experience an enjoyable one.

After that, I didn’t do much large-scale DMing for almost a year. I ran a few sessions here and there, did a couple one shots, had small-scale campaigns to test worlds I had built, and was unable to find D&D to play anywhere else. After a year and a bit had passed, and I had gotten some closure on what had happened with the players in my last major campaign, I started a new one. I built this elaborate, ridiculous world that broke most of the rules players take for granted and was entirely geared around the idea of just having fun.

After that, I generally tried to keep my campaigns on the sillier side. I’m really good at keeping people laughing, at fostering a relaxed, fun atmosphere, and coming up with the best jokes and situations for the people currently playing in my campaign (there was no set cast since each session was its own full adventure) was fairly simple. I will admit that I stayed away from the more serious and story-oriented campaigns because of how horribly things went the last time I’d done one. I didn’t think I could stand being rejected and hurt like that again.

I really like to make people laugh. I enjoy story-telling more than almost anything. I enjoy creating these worlds for people to explore and helping them to reach their utmost potential. I love being a dungeon master. Even with all that, there was always something missing for me when I ran one of my silly campaigns. I never enjoyed it as much as I knew I could. In early 2016, I realized it was because I was telling stories without nuance, stories without a life of their own that took place in a two-dimensional world. Yes, they could be fun, but I knew there’s so much more that I could be doing.

Early last spring, I started a new campaign with my roommate and three of our closest friends. A small party with a tight focus on what was going on in the world. I painted broad swathes of the world in simple colors and then filled in the narrow sections they occupied with extraordinary detail, giving them the feeling of really living in the world. I provided them with an array of tools and sub-plots that they could pick and choose from, figuring out how to use each tool to fit their situation and finding their way down what seemed the random disparate paths of their plots only to find them all tied together neatly at the end of the first story arc. We brought in a fifth player to fill some of the gaps, another close friend, and I was able to add even more to the world with what he brought to our sessions.

As we approach the one-year mark, I can happily say that we’ve avoided all the problems I ran into with my first major campaign five years ago. The whole group is getting along excellently, they’re all enjoying themselves, and they’re all clamoring for our next session. My social life has only improved since we started playing and I’ve now got an even larger group of people who want me to run for them. I’ve started exploring new ideas of what it means to run a D&D campaign and how players can experience a D&D campaign. I’ve got so many new ideas for how I could accommodate a group of over a dozen potential players that I am super excited to try out. I can’t wait to see what this year brings for me as a DM.

I don’t play D&D as much as I used to and I kind of regret that. I really enjoy being a player and I can never seem to get enough playing that I’m ready for a break, but being a DM is where my heart truly resides. DMing is my favorite way to experience D&D and to truly live out what I believe it means to play Dungeons and Dragons.

To me, D&D is a way to connect with people I would otherwise have a hard time connecting with. D&D is a way to practice my skills as a story-teller and get instant feedback. D&D is a way to create a space in which my friends can relax and enjoy themselves. D&D is fulfilling in a way that the job I’m leaving has never been. D&D helps me scratch the itch I feel, that drives me to write, in a way that recharges my writing energy. I may end each session feeling tired and worn out from putting all my energy into making my campaign fun and engaging, but I’m never more inspired to write or create as I am when I put away my dice and stick my books back on their shelf.

 

I’ve Always Enjoyed a Little Dungeon Play

In news that should be surprising to no one, I am a huge fan of Dungeons and Dragons. I prefer 3.5 since the rule system requires a bit of ingenuity to be pretty broken, but I’ll play Pathfinder if people prefer. I tend toward DMing even though I prefer to play, but that’s mostly because I’ve got so many stories to tell and I’m generally pretty clever at sneaky little plot details or creating a world that’s just fun to experience.

I tend to stick to one of those two things. For instance, in the campaign I’m running for my friends from college, I gave them a climbers kit in their second session that they were then able to use to nail vampires into their coffins two months (nine sessions) later. At the other end of things, I’ve created a world where magic is the dominant force in the world so flying ships are safer than ships on the sea. I mean, physics is completely disregarded so often that it stopped caring and, as such, buoyancy is hardly dependable. All the fish already started flying, so the mortal races took the hint and switched to air ships. Not to mention the king of the largest city (by election, of course) is done in my best “Elizabethan Rich/Noble Mother” impression. Think Mrs. Bennet from the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice and you’re pretty much there.

I like to play because it gives me a place to get a feel for some of the characters I’m writing. Sure, I could sit down and writer some stories about them, but that’s getting to know about them rather than getting to know them. Place them in situations for which they’re entirely unequipped or force them to make difficult decisions they’d never face in their world and you really get to know them beneath the surface.

There’s this old adage common to lots of religions that more or less amounts to the deity of choice not making one’s life more difficult than one could handle. When it comes to writing, that tends to be especially true. What kind of story would it be if they character just quit halfway through or died and everything just fell apart without them? I’m not talking Game of Thrones kinds of deaths either, deaths that serve the purpose of advancing a story or making a point, but deaths that are truly pointless. No one would read it. That’s exactly why I like to place my characters, especially the protagonists or the people who are the sole stars of stories, into D&D campaigns. They’re always in the wrong place and they can just die pointlessly if they make the wrong decisions.

One of the things I enjoy the most, either as a DM or as a player, is the cooperative story-telling you can get with a good DM and a good group of players. If everyone is focused, paying attention, and genuinely participating, you can wind up with a story none of you saw coming. The DM lays the groundwork, they provide the opportunity for stories to happen, and the players take the threads and weave a story with them. There will always be loose ends and there will always be missed opportunities, but a good DM can weave them into the story to create something ultimately fulfilling for all parties.

The best DMs I’ve ever had weren’t the ones who could paint pictures with words, nor where they ones who fulfilled their players’ every fantasy. The best DMs I’ve ever had, and that I try to model my own DMing after, are the ones who helped their players tell the story they wanted while still making it a mystery to them. My very first DM was one like this and he was the reason I kept playing and started DMing. I was very lucky.

My weekly D&D sessions, playing or running, are the highlights of my week. There’s nothing like getting together with a bunch of my friends and doing some interactive story telling.

Take a Chill Pill

I have a hard time relaxing. I get the concept pretty well, but the actual execution often eludes me. You could ask any of the people I’m close to and they’d all tell you that I constantly complain about being tired and needing to relax. It is a constant state of being for me, one that I can’t seem to get a handle on despite my success managing most of my other issues.

Anxiety? Got a cure for that. OCD acting up? I got a remedy to take it down. Feeling super depressed? No worries, I got that covered! Feeling kind of tense of wound up? Well, shit, I suppose there’s video games? No, that’s not working… Books! Well, that didn’t work either, though I really should read more that author. How about taking a vacation? Shoot, I’m all out of ideas. And so on.

A lot of the suggestions for relaxing is finding something that frees your mind of your concerns and genuinely brings you joy. That eliminates meditation because, while pleasant, I wouldn’t really say that I enjoy it. Its more like medicine I don’t mind taking. Exercise is also very good for relaxing, but that tends to only work for physical relaxation and I get plenty of that. Hanging out with my close friends is also very rewarding, but it takes energy to do that, energy I need if I’m going to get through another tense, wound-up day.

I’ve had various things from time to time that help with the whole relaxation thing. At certain points in my life it was the relationships I had. Just spending time around a partner who expects nothing from you but is still a comfort to be around is one of the most relaxing things I’ve ever experienced. I’ve had a game or two I could play to really just cut loose and let everything slip away. Minecraft was that game for several years and Pokemon can be from time to time, though both tend to lose this ability if I play them much.

Dungeons and Dragons is also very relaxing. It is always fun to take leaving yourself behind for a bit more literally than usual. I enjoy role-playing immensely and love building worlds/situations for my players to work through. It has a level of freedom and independence that video games have yet to truly capture. The first virtual reality D&D campaigns with fully interactable environments are going to be freaking awesome.

The truth is that I’m not sure I really can relax. Hell, I worry about not being able to relax. How messed up is that? I can’t seem to relax so I’m getting more tense and stressed out, which is why I need to relax in the first place so I’m only needing to relax more as I worry about not being able to relax.

I even bought some of those relaxation/meditation candles to burn in the evenings when I’m trying to calm down and unwind before bed. All I’ve wound up getting is a rather pleasant smelling bedroom. Which, you know, is nice, but not exactly what I was going for. I’ve installed light alteration applications on all my electronic devices to test the hypothesis that all this blue light is making me tense. I’m only a week in, but I’m not seeing much change in terms of LESS stress and tension.

I have one hope right now. One potential chance at something that might relax me. A new game coming out this weekend is supposed to be super visually stunning, sound great, and just be a chill way to hang out and just BE. No Man’s Sky. Comes out sometime on the 12th. A lot of those playing it on the PS4 (release date was the 8th and 9th for two major markets), not to mention articles that interviewed developers and testers, all seem to indicate that this game is just that. No major multiplayer stuff, no need to interact with people unless I want to, and a glorious, vast universe to explore with no agenda other than to find what’s out there.

That would be amazing. I really hope this game is everything I’m expecting it to be. I could REALLY do with some R&R.

If you’d like a review of the game, check back on Saturday or Sunday. I promise I’ll tear myself away from it long enough to post my initial reactions to it no later than 24 hours after I start playing it.