Dungeons and Dragons, D&D if you prefer the shorthand, is probably best known by those who know it as one of (if not THE) the most popular tabletop role playing adventure games… ever. Hell just based on snippets and references in popular TV shows and movies you probably know what it is that I’m talking about… even if you have no idea what it is I’m talking about.
What may surprise you to hear however is that the game isn’t completely alien to us here in India. Sure in terms of consumers of niche or non-mainstream products we may still be parsecs behind most of the western world, I’ve personally certainly seen some real interest in this world in recent years – and not just amongst the small group of “uber nerds/geeks” that I unfortunately call friends, amongst the larger consumer base of Comic Con India, which, for the most part, pretty fairly represents a large sampling of the audience out there. In fact one of the attractions at the Pune Comic Con was an area for people to play Dungeons and Dragons – a welcome opportunity for many first timers I’m sure, since the biggest challenge (now that the internet has taken care of most access issues) is to find a group to learn/play.
I’ve been playing for just over a year now myself and while it took a while to get together a regular group I’m happy to say we now have a solid number of people – enough that we can rotate around with people jumping in and out when we alternate campaigns and one-shots – with lots of colourful characters (in and out of the game) to keep things nice and interesting.
So for all you budding players out there here are a few helpful tips – some Dungeon Do’s and Dragon Don’ts to keep in mind while playing…
D&D can be a lot of fun – you have worlds to discover, exciting foes to vanquish, cool magical items to collect. But it can also seem a bit silly – keeping track of how many coins you can carry before you can’t move, figuring out what your character sounds like. And you’re often playing with people of varying levels of skill and experience. So the first and best advice is – commit to the process! The game makes a lot more sense if, for 3-4 hours at a time, you stop thinking in terms of “the real world” and just dive in. It also helps greatly to bring the experience to life for yourself and your fellow adventurers.
So go ahead – give yourself some back story, figure out what your character sounds like (and don’t be afraid to work out those accents/acting skills) – it’ll be a lot more fun getting through the less fightey bits. And never roll your eyes or deride someone who is going the extra mile or making that extra effort!
2. PLAN YOUR SESSIONS WELL
Nothing turns a fun intense session anti-climactic like having to fast forward through the last few bits because someone has to leave. Or putting a game on hold for three weeks because people get busy, and thus losing all your momentum. So its important to plan your sessions well and stick to those plans. This means pick days/times when everyone can regularly block out 3-4 hours. If you’re a new DM – read ahead as much as you can – you’ll waste less time mid-game when your adventurers (inevitably) throw you a curve ball or two by not following the plot like you’d hoped. First time players – make sure to get to the meeting point/dial in ON TIME – Its not fair to keep other players waiting and when you’re new to the game you lose a lot of time figuring stuff out, so even a quick one-shot adventure can take 4 hours with the training wheels on.
So remember – Pick a convenient start/stop time and stick to it! Plan food/other breaks in advance. And DMs don’t get too ambitious with how much progress can be made in one session (or pick adventures with convenient points to stop and pick up again).
3. WHEN IN DOUBT, TALK IT OUT
The Fifth Edition (5e) rules for Dungeons and Dragons are pretty comprehensive. But the thing about an open world format table top game that is only limited by your imagination is, sometimes something new comes up. So if you can’t figure out how something works, or you just don’t like certain rules, talk it out with your DM and your fellow adventurers. The main thing about D&D is to work together and have fun – So it only makes sense to play the way that everyone can and does. Many rules are optional or played only in advanced versions of the game – but that doesn’t mean you can’t mix and match, as long as you’re consistent about the game and don’t just keep changing stuff when it suits/doesn’t suit you (remember, the game works better if you commit!). It’s also important to know that talking it out doesn’t mean just arguing obstinately till the other person gives up! That goes for DM’s and players!
So DMs – You are not God, you are more like the narrator. And Players – Ask questions if you’re confused, but remember it’s a lot more fun to play along with the group than it is to insist on winning every argument.
Sort of raised this with the last point – You have to be consistent. Yes this game is designed to be limitless, but that doesn’t mean you should just ignore things when they become inconvenient or just change the rules of physics whenever it suits you. If you’re not a fan of a rule or you want to clarify with the group the extent to which nitty-gritties (coinage, weight encumbrance, strict turn-by-turn play) may play a part in your gaming, bring it up before you start. Don’t decide in the middle of the game to just change the rules. This isn’t helpful to the players or the DM, because it makes it hard to figure out how things will work and that pulls you out of the role-play. It’s also important to not constantly be changing your mind when it comes to your character – you shouldn’t play Neutral Good one day, and just plain Chaotic Evil the next – that just doesn’t make sense. Nor does it make sense to re-level up your character because you couldn’t make your mind up the first time. If you want to change something in the game, find a way within the parameters you’ve set.
This is key – Keep it consistent – That way you know what makes sense and what doesn’t and you can concentrate less on the dice mechanics and more on diving into the role-play!
5. DO YOUR HOMEWORK
Nothing slows down a game quite like someone leveling up in the middle of an adventure and then stopping play for 20 minutes to figure which spells they want, or how their new feats work. So it’s important to read ahead. Know your character and think about your progression – this will keep game play more seamless and you’ll better utilize the limited time you may have as a group. There’s plenty of other hours in the week to work on your character on your own. And this goes for DMs too – read ahead and know the ins and outs of the adventure you’re hosting – or you may be stopping every 5 minutes to figure out how the environmental factors or traps or whatever else works every time your players decide to enter a new room or throw you those lovely “you wanna do what?!” curve balls.
This one ties in to No. 1 – Be prepared before start time so you have more time for the game and less time doing math, reading rule books and looking up spells.
1. ARGUE/BE PEDANTIC
As a DM it really bugs me when a player just stops game play for 15 minutes just because he/she doesn’t agree with a rule or feels a situation didn’t play out how they thought it should. Its important to dialogue and make sure everyone feels involved, but don’t shut down the game arguing semantics. Trust that a DM is not the enemy – their goal is not to kill you all off (trust me if we wanted to, it would be a lot easier than you think) – they really are one of the players, not just the evil antagonist behind a screen. And DMs – you don’t always have to have your way – its important that the players feel like it’s their game, not just yours – so lay out ground rules before you start and take constructive feedback.
If 2/3 of you are arguing – Remember that there are other players who’d rather hack some beasties or drink mead at the local tap house than hear you argue over whether someone can carry more than 2 staffs or whether a bat would have been spotted by a floating death skull in the dark.
Some players love to talk – and that’s awesome for this game, especially when it works into a person’s character. But it can be annoying/frustrating for new players, who are still trying to get a hang of the role-play aspect of the game. So if you’re a larger than life player or character, remember that it’s okay not to always take the lead. Encourage your fellow adventurers to try something, or dialogue with an NPC or suggest strategies to beat a foe. And DMs there are good ways to make sure that game play doesn’t get dominated by single players – turn-based game play, splitting party members, limiting input per player/character. Talk these out with your players before you start, and make sure to remind them when they forget.
Remember guys – It’s a team game – If you didn’t want to bother with all the other people, there are always single player campaigns on Dungeons and Dragons Online.
3. OVERDO THE HORSEPLAY
Some of the best D&D moments come out of groups of players who are all familiar with each other and spend just as much time being silly and amusing each other as they do adventuring. Frankly I haven’t had a single session where a joke didn’t break out that kept us laughing again and again – some even became running jokes inside and outside the tabletop verse. But it’s important to know when to break the fourth wall and when to leave it as is. Horseplay is good to break any monotony and to keep energies up, or to build comfort and familiarity within a team – but it can also pull you out of role play so it’s important to have a healthy balance.
If your DM keep pushing you to move on/do something – Might be an indication i’ts time to get back into character and work on the adventure – the horseplay will always be on hand for the next break
4. FORCE IT
I hate rushing through the last bit of an adventure because people started late or got distracted mid-game or someone had issues while dialing in. But if you do get to the point that you just can’t keep playing or finish your adventure, there’s nothing wrong with just finding a way to exit and get back into when everyone is ready. The final bit of an adventure is often the most rewarding – in terms of XP and loot, as well as story culmination and emotional crescendo – so why rush through that bit and have a hasty dispersal. If you’ve planned your adventure well and kept yourself in the game hopefully this doesn’t happen, but if it looks like its going to then say so earlier rather than later – then walk away and regroup when everyone’s ready.
That epilogue is what we all adventure towards – Don’t ruin the climax by fast forwarding through it – Then all you’re really doing is XP farming.
5. LAST MINUTE/LATE CHANGES
There are a lot of decisions to make in this game. So no one is going to hold it against you if you need time to figure some stuff out, or you’re just not sure which path to take. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice from fellow players or the many many online. But once you’ve made a decision, try and stick to it. DMs often plan scenarios or adventures based on your characters, imagine their frustration when you show and tell them actually I want to re-work some stuff. At the same time, players may show up ready to take on their next challenge, surely they shouldn’t have to wait because the DM couldn’t help but get in some last minute tinkering.
There are always opportunities to change your mind later, and almost no decision is set in stone – But don’t tinker and make changes last minute – It’ll cause confusion, slow down game play and just make you a bit of a nuisance.
These are just a few tips to keep in mind as you go out there and explore the many worlds out there in the D&D verse. So go ahead and start exploring fellow adventurer’s – Excelsior and Alonse!
(For those that may not now where to start here are some online resources to get you going)
D&D: The Official Site – The Wizards of the Coast site offers plenty of resources, including a Starters Players Manual, the running story of the game, and lots of official products.
The D&D Starter Set – The Lost Mines of Phandalin is a fun start to the game for new adventurers – with pre-generated characters and a rich story to follow. If you’re inclined to make the purchase you can order it from the official site or look it up in your local game store or country specific online portal.
Youtube Channels – There are plenty of experienced players online, eager to share their know-how and pro-tips. Here is one I found helpful when going through the early stages of character creation.
Finding Adventures Online – Most players will at some point or the other want to make their way through the official D&D stories, but if you’re not so inclined or you can’t afford it or you’re just looking for something different then look online- There are HUNDREDS of fan-made adventures available. This link will take you to DriveThruRPG – where many adventures are available for free, or pay what you like.