For a few hours on any given Sunday, I’m transformed from the type of person who cries on the treadmill to a spear-slinging warrior who battles monsters while playing Dungeons and Dragons.
Sometime in the past few years, the Earth must have been further tilted on its rotational axis. Being a nerd suddenly became “cool.” While this was tragically too late for my own middle-school experience, I’ve enjoyed these golden years where cosplaying or watching anime is embraced by the masses.
Despite all my nerd sensibilities and many fandoms, I had never crossed over the Dungeons and Dragons threshold.
The fantasy tabletop role-playing game, which dates to the 1970s, allows players to build mythical characters and embark on adventures. With a little help from an appointed Dungeon Master (hereafter known as DM), players set off on a journey using just their imagination, paper, a pencil, and dice.
Although the game is commonly associated with folks who are denizens of their parents’ basements, D&D has a surprisingly expansive following, including actor Vin Diesel, television host Stephen Colbert, comedian Mike Myers and director Kevin Smith.
My boyfriend, who is a longtime player, tried unsuccessfully to convince me how much I would love the game. All my superficial experiences with D&D led me to believe that arbitrary rules, multi-sided game dice and numbers would make the game too complicated.
There was no way, I thought, that a game with a rule book big enough to cause blunt force trauma could be flexible or imaginative.
But if there’s anything I hate more than math or dull rules, it’s the fear of missing out. So when my friends began a new D&D campaign, I decided to take my first excursion into the Forgotten Realms.
First, I was tasked with building a character. I had help with that, because the process could best be described as “arduous” and “not at all like making characters in the Sims.”
Like all things I feel challenged or annoyed by, I embarked on understanding all of the races, classes, spells and weapons with voracity by reading the giant rule book I once loathed the sight of. When our DM asked for my character’s back story, I gave him a six-page, color-coded PDF, with ancillary lore I made up myself.
I settled on a merfolk character, which is a “homebrew” or player-made race in the D&D universe. Characters also are customized through their class, such as a wizard or a fighter, and have certain abilities.
Characters will be weaker in some areas, stronger at others, which keeps the game interesting. For instance, because my character is a giant land fish, she’s devastatingly slow on land but quick in water.
Each player’s character adds a little bit to the group dynamic, which helps to keep the plot moving along.
Once the game starts, the DM becomes the story’s narrator, referee for the rules and plays outside characters such as the monsters the players may battle. Each time players want to perform an action, particularly in battle, they roll dice to see if the action is successful or not.
Within the first few minutes of playing, I became frustrated. I was surrounded by people who had been playing for years, and I was self-conscious about interrupting the game to ask questions or to ask which one of the fistful of dice I should use.
But as our DM took us deep into our story, I began to become absorbed in my character. I felt a rush of excitement when we shook down a surly bartender for information about a cult and hesitance when our group flipped over a wagon to find a secret door to a dungeon.
In D&D, I was able to be a part of an unfolding, collective story with my friends. When we ended our journey, I felt as if I had just finished a book I couldn’t put down, with characters I had grown attached to.
Since my first game, I’ve been hooked on D&D and the transformative effect it has had on my life by kickstarting my imagination after a long hiatus.
Growing up as an only child, I spent hours on end making up stories by myself to pass the time. Now as a big-girl journalist, I almost never write outside of work.
Playing has become more than a mechanism to escape; it has become a chance for me to flex my creative muscles in an entirely different way.
As I progress, I hope to one day take the reins as a DM. But for now, I’m happy to catch up with friends and travel to a far off place.