Delving Back into the Dungeon
I have been playing “Dungeons and Dragons” since I was a teenager. I started with the “Second Edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons” rule set and used to have quite a collection of those books. I loved the idea of playing in a world of swords and sorcery, being the hero, saving the world, all of that. Video games weren’t what they are now—if I wanted to play a role playing game on my PC it was things like “Eye of the Beholder” or “Wake of the Ravager” from SSI, neither of which could come close to the kinds of immersive stories that a good Dungeon Master could deliver. Be it a box adventure or something home brewed from your own imagination, there really was nothing better at the time. As I lost track of that group of friends that I played with, I stopped playing and I sold off my books to people that could use them when I lost the bug. It wasn’t until I started talking about the old days with some friends after playing an “Arkham Horror” game that we all decided it was time to start delving back into the dungeon.
That was almost three years ago, “Second Edition Dungeons and Dragons” was long gone and my DM didn’t like 4th Edition so we started playing back with edition 3.5 (If you played BioWare’s “Neverwinter Nights,” that’s what was used there). It was very math heavy and specific so if you didn’t have an intimate understanding of all the rules it could be a complicated thing to play. It was still easier and much more forgiving than second edition, and I didn’t care about the the specificity of the rules. I enjoyed the time with my friends playing a character and shooting arrows at orcs. So, when my DM announced that we were switching to 5th Edition I was a little concerned. I hadn’t paid much attention during its development as “D&D Next.” I knew that the 4th Edition wasn’t well received and as a result many fans flocked over to “Pathfinder,” which was nearly identical to 3.5 with a few tweaks and new rules and name changes for copyright reasons.
5th Edition was pretty much everything I had hoped it could be. Much of the min/maxing that people could do in earlier editions was virtually eliminated—skills, ability scores, saving throws, combat, everything was streamlined and simplified. Many of the perceived penalties for playing other races, specifically small ones like Gnomes and Halflings, were gone, making them fun to play again. They kept some favorite classes and races from earlier editions like the Warlock and Dragonborn. The focus was almost entirely on roleplaying; in fact, the majority of the “Player’s Handbook” is about creating a complete character—not just ability scores, skills, and spells, but back story, personality flaws, bonds to people or places.This helps people focus on what I’ve always loved about playing Dungeons and Dragons: playing a role and being someone else. 5th Edition allows for more creativity and improvisation, and really empowers players and the Dungeon Master to work together to tell the story (be it a module released by Wizards of the Coast like “The Rise of Tiamat” or a homebrew adventure out of the mind of the Dungeon Master). It is truly a cooperative game and effort.
I’ve been playing 5th Edition now since it’s release with mostly homebrew campaigns that my Dungeon Master has created in his head, and I have loved it more than any other edition I’ve played. The focus on role playing, the rules not being quite so rigid, and really lowering the barrier of entry for new players probably makes this the greatest edition to come out for “Dungeons and Dragons” so far. Players feel empowered, Dungeon Masters have more flexibility (no longer at the mercy of rule lawyers), and it truly becomes a cooperative experience for everyone involved. Whenever I get together on Friday nights now for our weekly “Dungeons and Dragons” session I am no longer Andrew, semi-retired single dad still trying figure life out, I am Roman Walker, a Lawful Neutral rogue with psionic powers who kills with precision and without remorse. He’s a terror to his enemies and steadfast and loyal to those he names as friends. Or I’m Dallion Amakiir, a half-elf fighter/sorcerer and noble merchants son, slaying enemies with lightning and and long swords, attempting to civilize my half orc barbarian companion ‘Thrask’ so he knows which fork to use at the dinner table and failing at that quite miserably. I get to escape for a few hours and spend time with my friends, and that is what everyone needs from time to time.
Distance doesn’t even matter like it did before. While I have yet to use any of these services,there are now virtual tabletop websites like Roll 20 that will support group Skype and Google Hangouts, character sheets, dice rollers that everyone can see, and even virtual maps with a fog of war or dynamic lighting system to help with position placement in combat, and app support for tablets on both iOS and Android platforms so you can play with friends even if they are across the country or across an ocean. In fact, some of the Can’t Talk Media crew will be using such a system to play some 5th Edition “Dungeons and Dragons” together in the near future! Maybe I can talk Amelia into finding a way to record these to share on YouTube or Twitch.
I can’t tell you how much fun I’ve had playing “Dungeons and Dragons” over the years. I’ve learned a lot about myself, my friends, and it’s made me a much better writer and storyteller because, much like some of the most immersive video game RPGs like “Dragon Age,” “Mass Effect,” or the “Elder Scrolls” series, I get to experience things that I may not get exposed to or be afraid to express in a place that I don’t feel as comfortable as I do in a room with close friends who I trust. So, play games! Play different roles, experiment outside your comfort zone, and have some fun with your imagination!