d20+13: A brief history of not playing Dungeons & Dragons

dd

(photo credit: The Stranger’s Bookshelf)

I’m a month shy of turning 33, and one of the things I want to do most is play a round of Dungeons & Dragons, or at the very least, some other type of pen and paper role playing game (RPG).

I suppose my age isn’t all that important, save for the fact that most people probably don’t get into games like these in their thirties. Seems like a train you need to catch when you’re a teenager, and if you miss the ride, you miss the ride.

A private, Christian school first put the notorious Dungeons & Dragons in my realm of awareness. Not in the sense that we sat down as a class, d20 in hand, character sheets at the ready, to wage a campaign against some nefarious miscreant, but rather a comment on how dark the game was. That people, drawn in by the seductive power of pen, paper, and multi-sided die, decided to play for real, down in some subterranean system of piping, which lead to actual deaths.

The lesson as far as I can tell? People died=Evil Game=of the devil; therefore, anyone playing the game was a servant of the dark lord.

And I believed them. What was my recourse as an 11 year old? At that point in my life, I still trusted that whatever an adult told me was most likely true.

At the same time, though, I was intrigued.  How could pretending to be a wizard or barbarian fighting the forces of evil be wrong? It was just a game based on imagination, and I played those kinds of games all the time.

Let’s time travel a bit. About a year later.

Weezer released their first album, Weezer, dubbed “The Blue Album.”

Weezer_-_Blue_Album

In addition to classic songs like “Buddy Holly,” “Undone (The Sweater Song),” and “Say It Ain’t So”–made popular by clever music videos under the direction of Spike Jonze–this record included a track, “In the Garage” (track #8 for the nerds out there). While this wasn’t one of the “hits” off the record, it was one of my favorites. The tune opens with a fingerpicked guitar, accompanied by a harmonica blowing the melody.

Then the fuzz kicks in, ushering in the first verse:

I’ve got Dungeon Master’s Guide./I’ve got twelve sided die./I’ve got Kitty Pride, and Nightcrawler too,/waiting there just for me. Yes I do.

What? Dungeon Masters? Polyhedral dice? And the goddamned X-Men? How could I not want to play this game?

(This was the era in the nineties, when Fox played an X-Men cartoon every Saturday morning at ten and I watched it religiously. For some reason, I liked Gambit the most, and it’s only now I realize how lame he was. Maybe it was the trench coat. That was pretty sweet.)

popular-x-men-cartoon-charcaters-list

Digressing here. Sorry.

Nothing came of this experience. I listened to the shit out of Weezer and watched the X-Men cartoon, but didn’t play Dungeons & Dragons. I didn’t even know how I could play. None of my friends played. No one at my school played. Well, there was this kid Brody who was into RPG’s. He set up a verbal game to play during the week of Outdoor Ed. Beyond those brief moments of narration and gameplay, I never thought about the game again, until years later when Paul Feig and Judd Apatow released the television show Freaks and Geeks.

I don’t really need to explain Freaks and Geeks here. If you’ve seen the show, then you know how amazing it is, and if you haven’t, please go watch it immediately; I think Netflix has it up for free…you won’t be disappointed.

As much as I enjoyed all of the episodes (there were only 18), the final episode, “Discos and Dragons,” which managed to simultaneously provide closure and raise new questions, was my favorite. Though the Freaks storyline was entertaining, I was drawn strongly to the Geeks story, as it focused on Dungeons & Dragons. The protagonist, Sam Weir, isn’t sure that he wants to continue playing the game with his friends, concerned that it’s too geeky, adding further to a laundry list of reasons he’s harassed and bullied. It’s only when Daniel, the “leader” of the Freaks, who must work in the AV department as punishment, shows interest in the game that Sam relents. He invites Daniel to game, conveying how much fun it is, goofing off with friends, eating junk food, and saving princesses. After a scene, briefly introducing Daniel to the game, and developing his character, Apatow and Feig move into a montage of the Geeks and the lone Freak playing a campaign of the game, ending with Daniel successfully completing the quest, saving the princess, and asking the guys if they can play again tomorrow.

This appealed to me: hanging out with my friends, cracking jokes, and making shit up in a cool story. But once again I had no way to play, and I quickly forgot about it. It was high school after all, and I cared more about playing football and guitar and trying to get a girlfriend.

Let’s time travel again. Present day. 2016.

Nerd culture has exploded. Many things that once carried such a negative stigma are now cool, including table-top, pen and paper, role playing games. Now feels like the time where I can play this game. Like it would acceptable. But no one I know plays. I don’t think I can talk my wife into playing. That’s not her sort of game, and how the hell do you play these kinds of games with two people. My kids are too young. The closest gaming shop is an hour away, and I can’t justify taking time to drive that far to play a game.

I guess I don’t have a bow to put on this right now, so I’ll leave it open. I’m sure someday I’ll find a way to give this try. Maybe when I’m old, I can find an old man’s club and convince them to play a campaign of D & D in between rounds of cribbage.

5 Replies to “d20+13: A brief history of not playing Dungeons & Dragons”

  1. Hey Gus, I really liked your post. Thanks for sharing your story. You may be interested in trying an online tool like Roll20.net, which provides an excellent platform for playing tabletop RPGs online. As for finding players, you may have some luck using Meetup.com, which is how I found my current group (we’ve been going strong for several years). Finally, there are many games out there, some really easy to get started with. If you haven’t already seen it, my site, Learn Tabletop RPGs, may be helpful. If it isn’t helpful, please let me know so I can improve it.

    Cheers and best of luck to you!
    Erik

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  2. Ah, but now we’re in the electronic age, where there are now options that allow you to play D&D with other humans, right from your computer. RPoL.net, Roll20.net, Fantasy Grounds via Steam, all provide you the opportunity (though you’ll have to have Steam to use that last one) and those are just some of the better known examples, there are dozens perhaps even hundreds of ways to find, connect, and play with people online nowadays. Some are quite willing to show new players the ropes and with a little research and effort I’m sure you’ll be playing in no time. Give it a try.

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  3. “Seems like a train you need to catch when you’re a teenager, and if you miss the ride, you miss the ride.” man, that’s not true. I didn’t get into tabletop RPGs until I was well into college. you’re never too old to start either. I know the commenters above are trying to push the online approach, but I’d definitely make that hour-long drive to visit a game store (yes, even if it is hard to justify). if they are a true FLGS, you’ll definitely find someone to show you the ropes irl instead of trying to clumsily explain stuff over the internet (at least that’s been my experience with online sessions, clearly your mileage may vary). and who knows? maybe when you get there you’ll find out there’s a group that’s closer to where you live, then you don’t have to make that hour-long drive just to play.

    also, you say it’s not your wife’s “sort of game”, but why is that? is she not into fantasy? I also can’t see how your kids are too young to learn to play D&D, unless they’re like toddler age. but starting out young is never a bad thing, especially with a hobby like this, and they do in fact make RPGs aimed towards younger players (though I’d imagine the kinds of adventure they’d get into are less violence oriented and more about problem solving).

    my point being, I really think you should look at your situation a little differently. right now it seems hopeless, but if you do some digging you’ll find yourself with more opportunities to play than you have time.

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