I don’t think that I found D&D, I’m pretty sure it found me.
Like most people, I fell in love with fantasy at an early point in life. Bedtime fairy tales and stories of knights and wizards were a part of growing up and a major contribution to forming my infant mind. Oh, the stories we made, about our castle being for some reason attacked by a pirate ship, stories of fully armoured warriors being carried off by the giant seagull that apparently worked for the pirates. It would seem that worries about breaking immersion only come about later in life, probably when we actually learn what reality is, and fantasy is pushed out of our minds in favour of the cold hard truth of existence.
I think, like for many of my generation, my first real self-imposed foray into fantasy was reading Harry Potter. Before reading the works of J.K. Rowling I had tried other books but not being the most literate of children I had consistently failed to fully grasp them and generally abandoned them after a few pages. My elder brother was an avid reader of Terry Pratchett, so of course, as a younger brother, I wanted to emulate him. After reading the first few pages of The Colour of Magic, I was already well out of my depth and I must admit feeling pretty peeved about it. Thankfully for me, my reading habits changed with J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter series. I devoured them, rushing to get the next one every time it came out. Even after we moved to France, I continued to purchase them (in English), often before my new French compatriots were able to. About a year ago, I purchased the audiobooks and happily listened to the voice of Stephan Fry recounting the stories again as I worked. I couldn’t really stop my brain picking up on the occasional plot hole, or sometimes wondering how the whole world functioned correctly (who does do the accounting in Harry Potter or do they have a propter statera spell? Who pays the school fees? Do they have taxes?), but that doesn’t stop me enjoying them, and forever being grateful to J.K Rowling for introducing myself, and quite a lot of my generation, to the world of fantasy.
I was hooked, and my reading level had improved considerably and so I plunged myself into all the works that I hadn’t been able to before. I made full use of my brother’s collection of Terry Pratchett novels, becoming the main staple of my fantasy reading and the yardstick by which all other works are measured. My feelings back the works and life of Sir Pterry could fill an entire blog post so I won’t go into them here, but his works shaped me and my writing ever since I read the Colour of Magic and then eagerly worked my way through the rest of the Discworld collection. In between Pratchett’s works I also made my way through some of the other fantasy and sci-fi greats: Tolkien, Le Guin, Gaiman, Hobb, Clark, Adams, … However, by that time I had finally stumbled across D&D. Yes, more than 500 words in and I’ve finally got to the point where I discovered D&D, well sort of. So, let’s go back in time slightly, before I had reached most of the authors listed above, including most of Pratchett. I was 11 when we left Great Britain and moved to France and, having done one year of German in an English comprehensive school, I didn’t even know how to count in my new adopted country. I was therefore lucky to receive French lessons by a wonderful teacher who managed to put up with my abysmal skills for over three years while I slowly grasped the basics of French. Now three years of French lessons might seem dull, but this saintly woman was kind enough to one day bring along a game for me that we would play in French to help me learn, and that game was the Dungeons & Dragons board game that came out in 2003.
This was my first foray into D&D, with me playing the Dungeon Master and my teacher playing the different heroes. It was also my only foray into D&D for many years. After my lessons ended the board game was put away in the cupboard to be mostly forgotten about fifteen years, until I remembered about it and thought “wouldn’t it be fun to play this with friends”, which we did for one game night, running several adventures until somehow achieving a TPK, officially due to a lich but actually because by that point we had all drank far too much to be playing with any sort of tactics whatsoever. It was fun but we felt it was lacking something, it was all a bit simple, a bit too orchestrated. We moved on to the board game Descent to try it out and had some fun with it but again, it was a fun combat simulator, but it didn’t really fill that roleplaying itch.
In the fifteen years between my first and second time playing the D&D board game, the idea of playing a real D&D game never really left me. I knew, by some sort of cultural osmosis I presume, that D&D was more than a board game, that it happened in the mind of the players who described what they were doing and rolled dice to see if it actually worked out that way, but I didn’t really know much more than that. I had found some PDFs online (from dubious origins that I would no longer recommend, but so are the errors of youth) and had skimmed through them, but had never really understood the differences between players and the DM. I never bothered reading the rules, I just mined them to fill my imagination with races and classes and worlds to use in occasional short stories or abandoned writing exercises. The idea of actually playing D&D stuck with me, however, and after finding Descent limited, I decided to look around on the internet and found by accident the Critical Role series on Youtube. Soon after I had stumbled across Adam Koebel and Matt Colville. A quick message to some friends to judge interest and I was down at my local gaming store buying the three core rule books: the player’s handbook, the dungeon masters guide, and the monster manual and I was off.
The story of what happened next is the subject of this blog. I’ll talk about the different inspirations I found on the internet that have guided me, of my preparations as a novice DM and of course write up some campaign diaries. I’ll probably occasionally chat about some other geek stuff that I might have found interesting and want to share, we’ll see what comes up. Thank you for reading this far, I hope to see you soon.
The Descent Board Game: https://www.fantasyflightgames.com/en/products/descent-journeys-in-the-dark-second-edition/
Critical Role: https://critrole.com/
Matt Colville: https://www.mcdmproductions.com/