Nima Boscarino // Columnist
There is a common analogy people use when they talk about coding which explains that, in essence, coding is creating a world out of nothing by stringing together varying sequences of zeros and ones. Another thing many people working with coding might tell you is that it can be extremely time-consuming work. Obviously, this work takes place on a screen, which everyone already knows can be tiring in and of itself. That’s why, for me, getting offline can be one of the most relaxing things to do. That doesn’t, however, mean that the creativity has to stop.
If you’re a fan of Netflix’s Stranger Things, you’ve probably watched the main characters sitting around a table in a basement roleplaying monster-slaying adventurers. This is Dungeons & Dragons, also known as D&D. For those who don’t know, D&D is a tabletop role-playing game. This means that it’s like a loosely-formatted board game with a twist: there’s no board, no little player tokens and no set objective. Instead, the players collaborate, roleplay and verbalize their actions to explore the game world, fight monsters and embark on quests. For me, this has become both a great change of scenery and a fun new hobby.
There are two kinds of players in a game of D&D: regular players and the Dungeon Master. For regular players, the basic rules of the game are fairly simple—roleplay. Simply use your imagination to think of what you want your character to do, and then tell your peers about it. Then, the Dungeon Master (also known as the DM) will tell the players about the consequences of their actions, progressing the story according to the world they’ve written.
The DM is the person who creates the game world, or to stick to our analogy—writes the code. They write the story, and act on behalf of the game’s environment as they lead the other players through it. A DM guides players through story arcs as they progress by solving puzzles, investigating ancient ruins and fighting monsters as a team. Part of the fun of D&D is in developing your character over the course of weeks, months and even years. Of course, if you’re not ready to play it for the long haul, it’s very common to run “one-shots,” which are self-contained games that only last a couple of hours.
I recently decided I wanted to try my hand at being a DM for a one-shot. It felt like a daunting task since it seemed like a lot of preparation before the session with the added pressure to ensure that the game runs smoothly. On top of that, I wasn’t very confident in my ability to create a compelling story, because unlike coding which follows strict rules of cause and effect, creating a fictional story needs room for exciting and unexpected variables. Lucky for me, it turned out that there are tons of pre-written stories online (I guess you can’t ever really escape the screen fully in 2019). As soon as the date was set for the next game with my friends, I started preparing.
At first, I was worried that I would need to be very familiar with the rules of the game to be able to lead a session, but I learned quickly that you don’t need to know them very well at all. There’s a D&D Player’s Handbook, a Dungeon Master Guide, and plenty of online resources that make it quick and easy to reference the rules even while you’re in the middle of a game. If the rules seem unclear, improvise. That is the beauty of this game after all.
I chose a story about a village tormented by a terrible beast. It’s important to create diverse and interesting locations that each have something special to offer. The pre-written story already had some descriptions of the various parts of the village and the forest that surrounded it, as well as briefs and quotes for some of the characters that inhabited the town. That’s another thing about this game—details make it better.
You can put your own spin on the story to make it unique. Some DMs bring in props like maps, dusty old books or pendants. You can also play music to further immerse the group into the world you have created. There are plenty of “DND playlists” online you can use, or you can bust out your favourite instrumental tunes to set the ambiance. In my session, the characters started their adventure at a folk music festival. So, naturally I took the chance to play some Fleet Foxes and Bon Iver.
While having the pre-written story helped a lot with setting up and running my session, I found that it still took quite a bit of time for me to prepare because I wanted to make the story feel unique and special. It’s also worth noting that D&D players tend to eat a lot, so make sure you have plenty of healthy snacks prepared because you could be in a session for quite a while.
D&D is a fun way to make new friends and bond with people. I’ve also loved getting the opportunity to use my imagination more frequently, and in more tangible ways. I’ve found that running a session as a Dungeon Master was a neat way to practice my planning, organization, storytelling and leadership skills. The next time you’re having a get-together, make it a Dungeons and Dragons night. In this unpredictable game, you never know what other skills you could draw from.