Indoctrinating Your Friends into the Cult of Nerddom
Joss Arnott // Staff Writer
Jamie Kusack // Illustrator
Part I: The Pitch
J: “The party is escorting a caravan pulled by two oxen. The track of hardened dirt beneath your feet is called the Triboar Trail by locals. You’ve been travelling down it for roughly two days, steadily making your way to the mining town of Phandalin. The party was hired to escort the caravan by a dwarf named Gundren Rockseeker—”
D: Oh, ok.
S: That’s kind of on the nose, isn’t it?
E: Only if he’s a miner.
S: Maybe it’s like a stage name?
“By a dwarf named Gundren Rockseeker. For your services, you’ll be rewarded handsomely, 10 gold coins apiece, upon safe delivery. As the party continues down the Triboar trail, you all notice something up ahead; A burned-out wagon, signs of a skirmish, it looks like there was a fight…”
J: “What do you do?”
The magic of Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) stems from those four simple words. The Dungeon Master has set the stage, now it’s up to the players to decide what they want to do next. They could make lunch, investigate the road up ahead or fan out into the woods and search for possible ambushers. It’s up to them.
Recently, Dungeons and Dragons has undergone a resurgence, being as popular in 2017 as it was when it first launched back in 1974. The renewal of the decades-old franchise is largely thanks to shows like Community and Stranger Things, as well as popular podcasts like Critical Role or The Adventure Zone, and a strong presence on Twitch and YouTube. These digital shows have made D&D accessible to new players in a way that it never was before.
It’s hard to see the appeal of D&D if you haven’t seen the game in action. Afterall, it’s supposed to be just a bunch of nerds sitting around a table for a few hours.
In a world full of chaos, plague, racism, sexism and homophobia, D&D offers one of the purest forms of escapism there is. D&D allows us to step out of our world and into another one, becoming the hero of our own stories. Movies, television and books are solitary experiences, but we can only ever be spectators. In the world of D&D you can be whoever you want to be, and do whatever you want to do. That’s what makes D&D so special.
D&D subverts reality and offers up an alternative. When you sit down at the table you cease to be yourself and become your character. Trivial details like social statuses, race or gender don’t really matter when there are dragons to slay and treasures to be found. You don’t have to be Bob the CapU student, for a few priceless hours, you can be Chungus the Chaste, Half-Orc paladin and a lover of orange juice. There are no pandemics, parking tickets or zoom calls in the world of D&D, only the people you bring with you and the stories you all choose to tell.
Part II: In Practice
Classically, D&D is played around a table, but if you can’t manage that right now websites like D20 and Fantasy Grounds let you play the game digitally. As long as you can get into the game, the medium isn’t nearly as important as the people you play with.
The first and easiest way to start playing is finding an existing group of players. If that’s not possible, you’ll need to form your own party.
The most important member of any party is the Dungeon Master (DM). The DM is the interface between the players and the world, narrating the adventure and voicing non-player characters. Sort of like a referee, the DM tells players what dice to roll and orchestrates things behind the scenes.
D&D is a big game—without an experienced player to guide you through it can feel like flying in the middle of a hurricane without wings. The important thing to remember is that at its core D&D is really just one system, with infinite options. Once you’ve figured out the core system, you’re set.
The core loop of D&D is essentially; set-up, action and resolution. The DM will describe a setting, a player will roll to do an action, depending on the roll the DM will say if it works or not. Understanding this can take a bit of learning, but once you learn the loop, you can stumble through the rest until you understand what’s happening. Remember, the crux of D&D isn’t details and dice—it’s fun.
The first tools you need to play D&D is a Player’s Handbook (PHB) and a set of dice. The PHB holds everything necessary to create a character and understand the game from a player’s perspective. Dice are the foundation of gameplay in D&D. Every action a character makes is determined by the roll of dice, from the four-sided pyramid D4 to the twenty-sided D20 and more. If getting something more haptic is out of the question, dice can be found online at Roll20, or in systems like Fantasy Grounds.
The D&D Starter Set is perfect for a first time adventurer, it contains pre-made character sheets, an abridged rule book, one set of dice and an adventure; The Lost Mine of Phandelver. The adventure puts players right into the action, and has plenty of tips for new DM’s.
As for the rest of your party—Enthusiasm can be contagious, so the best way to get people interested in D&D is to share your own reasons for liking it. It’s your job as the shepherd of this mad journey to see your friends through it. That means leading the action and encouraging other people to engage with you in character. Put on a silly voice! Pretend to sing a song, or tell the story of how you got to this point in your life as a four-hundred-year-old, socialist Gnome, named Gnoam. If you’re the DM, you are the storyteller, the narrator of this yet to be written grand epic. Set the scene, tell the stories, make it real.
At the end of the day, D&D is a game about escaping the limitations and restrictions of society and having as much fun as you can make up.