When I was a sophomore in high school, I made my first foray into Dungeons & Dragons (D&D). It did not go well.
I had little exposure to role playing games (RPGs) prior to high school, but had fallen in with a group of boys who were (and still are) rabid for them. After a certain amount of cajoling, I agreed to give it a shot. My interest in the fantasy genre was limited, but the storytelling aspects of D&D appealed to the burgeoning writer in me and I even wrote out an extensive history for my first character. Because I also had some artistic talent, I created portraits of all our characters. So, before I’d even had my first adventure, I’d already put a lot of effort into the experience and my enthusiasm was building.
On a sunny summer afternoon, we assembled at the Dungeon Master’s (DM) house for my first game. I was the novice of the group, and my level one character was a poor addition to a fellowship which had been in play for a long time; but with my friends to guide me, I felt comfortable and confident. Within the first hour, we found ourselves in a dungeon and, being the most under-powered character in the group, I was holding back.
“Y’know,” the DM told me, “if you don’t take any risks you won’t gain any experience points.”
At his urging, I took it upon myself to break down a locked door — immediately falling into a pit of green slime. Thus my character, only an hour into his first quest, met an abrupt and unseemly end.
Keeping in mind that “do overs” are not included in the D&D rule book, and the DM’s uncompromising personality did not incline him to make any exceptions, I found myself with few options.
“What do I do now?” I asked.
“Nothing. You’re dead,” the DM replied.
“Can I roll up a new character?”
“You can for the next game, but not this one. You can watch us play, I guess.”
Needless to say, I didn’t spend the rest of the day watching four other guys play Dungeons & Dragons. I went home and convinced myself that RPGs simply weren’t my cup of tea. That attitude lingered for thirty years. Except for a brief flirtation with World of Warcraft (the digital version of D&D, I suppose), I’ve never had any interest in trying RPGs again.
In retrospect, what kept me away from RPGs wasn’t the games, but the gamers. Over the years, watching from the sidelines as my friends continued to play, I was amazed by how seriously they took the experience. (This is not unusual for gamers.) Still, I found it ridiculous when one friend stopped talking to another over a romantic dispute involving a female NPC (non-player character). Another would become enraged whenever a companion “went rogue” and strayed from an agreed upon action. Yet another was so conservative in his game play that he eschewed any kind of combat, robbing the gaming experience of its excitement. From a distance I could find all this amusing, but I knew if I actually sat at the table with these kinds of gamers, I’d want to kill them or quit.
So why am I telling you this? Well, after thirty years of resisting D&D, I just started playing again and I’m finding plenty of others my age who are doing likewise. Yet it can be daunting to know where and how to start so consider this a cautionary tale. What changed between my two experiences is who I decided to play with, opting for other noobs and finding a DM who was patient and willing to instruct rather than dictate. I kept my focus on the social aspects of the gaming experience, rather than becoming obsessed with the minutiae or one-upmanship I watched pervade so many other games. As a result, I’m really loving my RPG experience.
If you’re new to RPGs or just curious to try them out, find gamers you can work with. Many game and comic book shops will hold workshops and classes to help beginners, and this might be a good place to start. But also take a moment to ask yourself what you want to get out of the experience. As I found out in high school, your first foray may color your perception of RPGs for a long time to come so make it a good one!