Dealing with D&D – Part 1

This Week veteran Games-Master Dan Humphreys offers their insights into roleplaying! Focusing specifically on that master of revels themselves, the GM or Dungeon Master. With your friends entire experience of a roleplaying game often resting solely on your shoulders, what can you do to ensure your sessions are more Lord of Rings rather than Monty-python?

Part 1 – “How do you invite a bunch of people to sit around pretending to be dwarves once a week?”

I was eight when my uncle introduced me to Dungeons & Dragons. 3rd edition had come out and he’d just moved to Hampshire, leaving him with no gaming groups to playtest the then-revolutionary d20 system. I probably wasn’t his first choice, but desperate times call for desperate measures. Needless to say, I was enthralled. The tome-like design of the rulebooks, the full colour illustrations of elaborate monsters, the brightly-coloured oddly-shaped dice, and the fact that I got to make up whatever I wanted and it would happen – it seemed like the perfect game (even against my generational adoration of Pokémon cards).

In time, of course, I discovered that Dungeons & Dragons wasn’t anywhere near as cool as Pokémon. It was even below Warhammer. It put you somewhere on the social ladder between that girl who always smelled like eggs and the boy who collected balls of earwax in his drawer. It didn’t matter to me, I was hooked, and I had a lot of siblings to play with – but as we got older we started to make other friends, we went to college and then university, and it got harder and harder to get a game together. Midway through my degree, I realised I hadn’t played in an RPG for almost two years. Suddenly nostalgic, I was seized by the urge to get a group together – but where would I find players? How do you just invite a bunch of people to sit around pretending to be dwarves once a week? As it turns out, it’s a lot easier – and way more rewarding – than I thought. So, if you’ve always wanted to run a game but don’t know how to get a group together, or even if you’ve been playing for yonks and fancy a turn in the hot seat, here’s a few tips I’ve picked up over the past sixteen years:

Find a System You Like

Roleplaying games have come a long way from secret basement-dwelling games amidst a backdrop of satanic accusations in the 70s. What was once a tiny subculture with works propagated by a handful of individuals has become a worldwide industry ranging from corporate giants like Wizards of the Coast right down to indie writers self-publishing their homebrews. If you’ve never run a game before it’s important to find something you’ll be comfortable with, and there’s plenty of choice out there, so shop around!

Fortunately, you don't need all of these to play!
Fortunately, you don’t need all of these to play!

Dungeons and Dragons is the traditional favourite, with a strong 5th edition ruleset (Or try and lay your hands on a set of 3.5 ed core rulebooks!) with which you’re set up for many years of fruitful adventure. Not into rules-heavy systems, or don’t like high fantasy? Try the Lovecraftian Call of Cthulhu horror RPG (5th ed is best), or if you fancy a challenge there are experimental indie systems like dark sci-fi survivalist game Stalker or emotionally tense dimension-hopping Broken Rooms. Even if all you want is a laugh there’s absurd expendable clone action in the spoof dystopia of Paranoia. Whether you like Star Wars or Game of Thrones or Firefly there’s something for everyone at every level. Get stuck in.

Ask For Roleplaying Pointers

With all that variety you might feel overwhelmed by choice. For a beginner it can be a bit confusing stepping into a gaming shop and trying to figure out exactly what you need. What’s the difference between a core rulebook, a sourcebook, and a splatbook? Between tabletop gaming and pen-and-paper RPGs? And what does polyhedral dice even mean?

No seriously, how do you even roll these?
No seriously, how do you even roll these?

All GMs have been in this position at least once in their life, so we’ll be more than happy to help. If you know someone who runs a game (or if you see a mook with an Athena Games shirt) then ask away. In fact, we’re usually so excited to see someone else getting into the game you’ll get about five times as much information as you needed. Whether it’s about why turning undead has such a complicated mechanic (seriously, why?!) or how to deal with a player character going insane without breaking game flow, you’ll probably be able to find a GM who’s had the same problem. And if they haven’t, even better – the best developments in my games have always come as the result of someone saying ‘so what if this happened’ about something I’d never even considered.

Put all your experience points into stealth, promptly dissapear for the rest of the session.
Put all your experience points into stealth, promptly dissapear for the rest of the session.

In Fact, Ask Anyone

It’s true, there are still some people who think roleplayers belong to a race of socially inept troglodytes who hiss when the day-orb’s cruel beams fall on their translucent skin. Those people are cretins. I mean, yes, these games are for socially inept troglodytes, and they’re also for popular attractive athletes who had tons of friends in school and took the girl you fancied to prom. They’re for everyone.

My point is, don’t ever be worried about not being able to find players, or about not knowing how to ask people if they’d like to join a group. It’s no different to asking if they want to join the local five-a-side, except with less Carlsberg. Here’s an example of a conversation about joining an RPG group:

Troglodyte: Hey, I’m getting a bunch of people together to play Call of Cthulhu. Do you want to come?

Cool Person: What’s that?

Trog: It’s a horror roleplaying game based on the works of H. P. Lovecraft, it’s set in the 1920s.

Cool Person: Roleplaying game? Is that like Dungeons & Dragons?

Trog: Yeah, although I think it’s a lot better. Basically you each play a character in an adventure determined by the game master – that’s me. Kind of like a choose-your-own adventure book, only way more options.

Cool Person: How does that even work? I just say what I do and then you tell me what happens?

Trog: Pretty much, yeah. You roll dice to determine how successful certain actions are, and we roleplay the consequences. It’s really good fun, we have a few beers and some snacks. It’s cool if it’s not your thing though.

Cool Person: No, I’m interested. When are you doing it?

Notice how no one tried to put the troglodyte’s head in a toilet? This is partially because we’re all adults now and that would be assault, but also because for most people the idea of a weekly night of escapist fantasy is actually pretty appealing. And even if it’s not, the worst that happens is they say ‘That sounds cool, but it’s not for me’. Some of the best players (and best friends) in my groups had never even heard of RPGs before they gave it a try, so ask anyone and everyone!

Find Part 2 here, covering what to do once you’ve recruited your group and are ready to play!

Dan Humphreys

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