The Adventure Begins: D&D 101

Technically speaking, I am quite far from A Complete Noob when it comes to playing tabletop RPGs. I am on the committee of my local club, which meets once a week in a community centre to run a huge variety of games – from the big names of Dungeons & Dragons and Call of Cthulhu, to quirky little homebrews, and everything in between.

I first joined the club around 2 years ago, and I was terrified walking into that room. I didn’t know a single person there, but they had seemed friendly enough on the Facebook page. And anyway, I told myself, this is the one social situation where you can guarantee that pretty much everyone is at least as socially awkward as you. It was one of their “drop in” sessions, and if I remember correctly I played a one-shot scenario of Lamentations of the Flame Princess.

The idea of “playing D&D” interested me from when I first heard about it in my teens, but I didn’t know anybody at that point who played it. I certainly didn’t have the confidence to rope my friends into it. After all, that would have meant setting myself up as DM (Dungeon Master, the person who runs the games, for those not in the know), and I still don’t have the confidence to give that a go. There was also, for me, an element of social stigma. I was already seen as The Weird Girl, and though it wasn’t enough to put me off my dyed-black hair and reams of eyeliner, I felt that expressing, let alone pursuing, an interest in D&D would be the final nail in the coffin of my social life.

A decade out of my teens, the thought of how much fun it sounded had never left me. I didn’t know the names of any games or gaming systems, I didn’t know my arse from my elbow, I had never owned a polyhedral dice. But I couldn’t shake it. I loved this idea of, essentially, playing through an interactive story: like a really cool real-time choose-your-own-adventure book.

I still had no one to play with. But I had moved to a new town with my then 2-year-old in tow, and I was looking for something that would make me feel like myself again. Something new, something fun, something that would hopefully lead to making new friends. I tried various New Things (including a brief stint in a rock choir, during which I even performed in a live show), but none were the right fit. Until.

Until.

I’ve never looked back. Two years later, and the girl that greeted me that first day and I are hoping to plan a girls’ trip to somewhere in Europe later this year. I spent last night in the pub with the guy who was my first ever GM, and is now one of my closest friends. Much to my surprise, I have ended up with quite the excellent circle of friends from that club. I even met my boyfriend there. It has been nothing short of fantastic, even during the blocks when I’ve been in a game I’ve not enjoyed as much as I thought I would; I’m learning more all the time about how to get the most out of this hobby I love. And I have an awesome dice collection.

Though my friend who has been my GM on many, many occasions insists that I’ve played a game with him using a D&D system, until a couple of weeks ago I had – pause for dramatic effect here – never actually played Dungeons and Dragons. When you try and explain this hobby to people who aren’t into it themselves, they generally stare at you blankly until you either offer them the cultural shorthand of “like D&D” yourself, or until their eyes widen as it dawns on them and they say, “Oh, I get it! Like Dungeons and Dragons!”

The natural consequence of this is that I’ve spent 2 years explaining my hobby to people by saying I “play Dungeons and Dragons” – very few people understand what you mean when you try to explain that you’ve been playing a Lamentations of the Flame Princess scenario using Troika – when I never actually have. As time kept ticking on and I still hadn’t done it, I started to get imposter syndrome in a big way. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to give the classic RPG system a try – I desperately did – but I just hadn’t had the opportunity, or other games had interested me more that block, or the D&D games offered seemed scarily complicated, or… the list of excuses goes on.

Long story short, my lovely boyfriend M – also a committee member of the Club, and an experienced GM – was having none of it. About a month ago, on a lazy Sunday, we created my first ever D&D character: a Level 1 half-elf rogue called Dorien, with a mysterious past, a talent for manipulating people through the art of seduction, a nasty larceny habit, and a full-on alter-ego he can disguise himself as whenever he likes.

For a few weeks, Dorien sat on a bookcase in my bedroom unplayed, until I took him with me to M’s and we found ourselves with a long Saturday afternoon stretching out ahead of us.

With about ten minutes of preparation time consisting of a quick flick through a ring binder he keeps full of Important Dungeon Master Stuff (I’d love to DM one day but how they do it I’ll never know), we launched into a one-shot scenario that, essentially, he had pulled out of his arse. It was So. Much. Fun.

So now, I’ve finally played Dungeons & Dragons, if only for a 2-hour-ish 1-on-1 scenario. I made choices, took risks. I rolled initiative. M will be starting up a new game soon that will run on a weekend every 3 months or so, during which I’ll get to play Dorien properly and really stretch his legs, and I’m really excited for it. Another friend of mine is starting up another game soon that will be 1 Sunday afternoon per month that I’m hoping I can be a part of. I already have my heart set on my character for that one: a dwarf paladin.

In addition to this, at the club I’m currently playing a spooky little homebrew game that’s running on an adapted version of Advanced Fighting Fantasy. Another friend is hoping to start up an instance of the Discworld RPG, which I’ve played a variant of before and had a lot of fun with. I also have a never ending list of board games I want to play, after getting heavily into them during the short blocks at the club – though in the next short block, I’ll be doing a 3-week D&D scenario, which I’m also excited about. God knows how I’ll fit all of this in alongside Family Time, my extensive reading habit, binge-watching the upcoming new series of Game of Thrones and Stranger Things, plus being a student midwife, but dammit, a girl can try!

Though I’ve been playing table top RPGs for 2 years now, I finally feel like I’m settling into them. I know (roughly) what I’m doing, I’ve found my footing. I have finally graduated from Level 0 to Level 1. This is where I can really start exploring as a player.

This is it.

This is where the adventure begins.

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