Quite recently, my friends and I started to play D&D (5.0 Edition) and here are my initial impressions about the game. I’d like to describe my journey as a novice player, analyze few interesting aspects of the game and not bore you to death in the process. Ok, let’s roll this joint!
For those of you that don’t know what D&D is, here’s a quick intro: D&D is an acronym for “Dungeons and Dragons” – a tabletop fantasy game in which players are characters in an ongoing fantasy story. The core of D&D is storytelling and here comes the cool part: unlike in any other genres of tabletop games, in D&D you and your friends tell a story together! You have complete freedom and the imagination can run wild during sessions!
To have a glimpse of how cool it is to play a D&D session with friends you can head to the Critical Role channel on YouTube – they are awsum! Watching these people having a blast role-playing their characters, my friends and I decided to give it a try 🙂
We’ve managed to assemble a group of 6 brave people for this crazy ride.
We were even so fortunate, to have one female in the group! Having a female in D&D session is an exciting and always a welcome thing. You see, for a long time, D&D was considered „a basement dweller game”, and basement dwellers being mostly men – you can imagine that having a female, playing female character is an intriguing thing to observe 🙂 What’s more, women often bring a unique perspective to the events, situations, and interactions between characters, but I digress.
So how did I start my epic adventure into the world of unknown opportunities, the depths of dungeons and horrific roaring dragons? Well, obviously you can’t role-play a heck if you don’t have a character. I needed to create one. And here, the first steeps began to emerge.
My mind is void
When the sky is the limit, it’s an exercise of a strong will, creativity and persistence to come up with a character that is at the same time authentic, believable, well sat in the canvas of a given universe, and has the potential to grow and exceed the expectations. You as the storyteller, feel as a painter wielding a paintbrush of creation and it can be the quite paralyzing experience for some people (me included).
Imagine sitting in front of an empty paper sheet, with Players Handbook and thinking:
Well shiiit maaan this is hard, I haven’t got the slightest idea where to start and my friends are prolly already done with their characters! No way I can come up with a good idea in such a short time…
Finally, I’ve decided to man up and face my demons. I turned on some fantasy music (you gotta know, I’m a sucker for female vocals xD), rolled my sleeves and started to break this shit down.
The quest, in a nutshell, was to find out how to think about thinking about my character
I’ve started with 2 distinct frameworks of how I can approach this problem:
The tryhard approach numero uno
I could really think hard about a unique character, that in other words, is completely different than me IRL. He or she would think differently than me, react in different manner than I do and be quite alien to myself in terms of personality. I would need to get acquainted with this character and dwell deep into its the psycho-, socio- and physical intricacies. Initially, I thought, it would be a good exercise in role-playing him/her. Here is a character sheet created by my brother. I believe its a great example of a storytelling approach, and quite different in the framework approach, then the following one that I propose.
The lazy way numero dos
The second approach goes as follows: I could go the „lazy way” and simply create a character that resembles me myself. I wondered if I could somehow be transported to the fantasy realm, how would I look like, what would I do, how would I behave, what kind of story would I tell. It goes without saying that I immediately fell in love with the idea!
Following this approach, not only the sessions would be adventurous for this character but also, and most importantly for me! To pull this off, I was aware, that this approach requires a bit of self-introspection, knowing who you are, how you look at the world, how you make decisions, what are your strengths and weaknesses and so forth.
The character creation process, to my amusement, resembled literally picking my own brain
The general idea was to use my own personality and tweak it just a little bit to fit into the fantasy world, and somehow weave it into the D&D story, just as Flynn “got in” to the computer program of Tron in the Tron movies. I wanted to be Flynn – and I started designing the story of my character with a beaming spark of „I can do this!” in my heart.
Inb4 someone says: „Well the whole point of D&D is to play a character DIFFERENT than you because being you in a game is…I don’t know…boring!” Well guess what, I like being myself and it’s not boring at all for me, so just hold your horses and keep reading 😛
As a result, Elucid “Cid” Merrytone was born in my head, and then, slowly, but with every next word more confidently I poured the idea onto the paper.
The character creation process, to my amusement, resembled literally picking my own brain and really looking into myself as a human being. If you are curious about the final outcome, here’s the full story of Elucid.
After few initial sessions, I’m having a blast playing him! And what’s more, I learn a lot about myself too. You see, having a fantasy role-playing character that closely resembles you IRL is a unique opportunity to discover new things about yourself. During the session I pay close attention to what my character does, before acting, I wonder why he does what he does, how he should speak and what can he do and what can not. Other times, I just wing it, and believe it or not, I can already tell that this character works for me :). Role-playing slightly alternate self is a really eye-opening experience and I highly recommend trying this approach for yourself.
Observing other humans
Another facet of D&D sessions is the reality of human interactions. You play with your friends (duhh!) so the sessions are a great opportunity to get to know each other in a quite subtle way if I can put it like this. You have a unique opportunity to see how others think, solve complex problems, how they react to plot twists, danger and unexpected weird shit that sooner or later will surface during session….
In D&D, individuality and uniqueness really come out and when everyone has a great time, sessions are giving birth to truly unforgettable moments that strengthen relations between people and enrich your lives in often hilarious ways xD
Up until now, I was sharing the things I like about the D&D, but what about stuff that I don’t like? You must understand, I’m not really a „technical person”, I easily get lost when there are too many small details to work with or when multitasking comes forward. What I’m trying to say is this: it isn’t just sunshine and rainbows playing D&D as a novice, and we are about to find out why.
Ahhh helll noooo… fokin calculations!!1
D&D, for me, feels like a moderately complicated game…
I would like to take on this problem of too many damn calculations, from a perspective of the flow. By the flow I mean, the state when everything seems to be going smoothly as you play. The more experience you have in the game, the easier it is to get yourself into the state of flow. But since I was a novice in this realm I had to find a simple but effective solution for this calculation problem. Before jumping to any conclusions, I am aware, I’m a little bit spoiled by all those PC RPG games, that make players life so much easier by automatically tracking the number of items in the backpack, the amount of gold one has, not to mention other character names, maps and weapon damage and arrghhhh…
Only after playing a D&D session, you can truly appreciate the PC RPG’s automatic tracking systems of gazillion variables, be it character Hit Points, equipment slots, overweight alerts, and combat calculations.
To experience true D&D, one should need only 3 things: dice, pen and paper
I can appreciate the beauty of this pure, minimalistic approach, but nevertheless, some people might find it too (ironically) complicated and get easily tangled up in the process. There is a partial solution to this problem – a printable Character Sheet, which is supposed to help you outline the most important aspects of your character and lay them down tidily on one sheet of paper – but even this proved to be quite demanding task for me xD
Make it silky smooth plox
Looking for a solution for smooth gameplay, I stumbled upon this app called Fight Club 5. Basically, the app is an interactive Character sheet on steroids. The interface is clear and well thought out, but one thing that the app lacks is a quick, step by step character creation system that guides the user through the process. As a novice player in the realm of D&D, a number of options available was overwhelming. Anyway, I fed it up with data and after a short trial and error phase (sigh), I generated an „interactive” character sheet that I could use during our adventures. Besides, the app has many useful features, here’s what you get:
- Instant calculations for skill, ability, and saving throws
- Easy to manage “spell-caster book” that tracks prepared spells and spell slots
- A handy database of hundreds of items and spells with descriptions, properties etc.
- Equipment manager, with gold tracking
- Condition tracker (categories like Blinded, Poisoned, Bonus to Ranged Attacks +3…)
- A notepad
Below are screens of Elucid character sheet created in Fight Club.
We do it online
I didn’t tell you at the begging, but since my friends and I live in different cities, we needed a platform to somehow organize our gaming experience. At first, we thought Tabletop Simulator would do the job, but due to some performance issues…
we quickly swapped to a promising alternative: a website-based app called Roll20.
You use Roll20 to create a room, where players can connect, this room is your world – well technically not yours but Dungeon Masters but anyway… Players can create character sheets that are interactive and do all calculations, which is quite cool.😀 As a DM you control the room, the board itself and chat. Here are the main advantages of this solution:
- Its free lel
- Easy to setup
- Can create entire maps from scratch
- Interactive character sheet
- Quick dice rolls for various skill or ability checks
The app allows for uploading your own content i.e. custom maps, items, or character avatars. The default and free repository is of somehow mediocre quality, but it does its job. Out o natural curiosity (sigh), I kept digging about some alternative images that we could use on the board to make it more immersive. And lo and behold, I’ve found this little gem:
The Hex map
Meet Hex Kit Volume One: Fantasyland. The Hex map features almost 1.150 unique tiles that DM can use to create epic maps and locations. And oh boy, I love how the artist stylized each tile so that they look great combined together, yet having this individual tone and its own function. Looking at the final map created with help of these custom tiles is a joy in itself. It honestly feels like looking at an art piece more than a terrain topography. Your imagination immediately runs wild, the aesthetic impression makes the map so much more interesting and the overall experience becomes more immersive.
Just look at this beauty zomg!
Looking for a perfect girl…I mean dice
Having an app to do all the calculations when the dice are rolled, is cool and all, but there’s nothing more immersive, than actually rolling the dice, feeling its texture under your palms, hearing it rolling on the desk and waiting in a silent suspense for its nonnegotiable number to emerge.
I’m a sucker for well designed and creative products, so I quickly went ahead and started my final quest for immersive accessories – these being dice.
I started digging through Google, Etsy, Indiegogo, and finally Kickstarter. I was looking for something of high quality, that could last long and look original, yet not too much pretentious. In my search, I’ve stumbled upon an interesting set that was just trending on Kickstarter.
I really dig this Wizard theme. The creative approach and the effort to change how dice could look like should be noted and admired. I love that they provide different color options and stretch goals. Oww and the color names are awesome, can you imagine something cooler than Wizard Stone With Mystic Runes or Violet Storm With Lightning?! I’ve ordered a set myself, and the only thing I’m a little bit worried is how the dice will look like IRL – bc as far as I can tell, the pictures they provided on the campaign page are renders and not actual product. The campaign is over, but I’m sure there’ll be a shop opened in the near future – so you too can have your unique Wizard set of dice 😃
Let the immersion quest begin!
As always, feel free to comment and ask me any questions!