Dungeons & Dragons

Tierney Watkinson | Team Member

Wounded and weary, the adventurers watched as the dragon Venomfang coiled and bared his fangs in a menacing grin, preparing to attack. His scales, glistening poison green, were stained with globules of shocking red blood that oozed from wounds in Venomfang’s flesh, wounds that were slowly beginning to take their toll.

Venomfang looked to the sky, where the gaping hole in the crumbling tower ceiling loomed far overhead. His body tensed- -he unfurled his wings slightly.

The group of travelers knew in that instant that Venomfang was going to try to flee.

Penny, a powerful wizard, cried out, “I can stop the dragon from escaping!”

“But we might fail,” Sir Villanueva grunted as struggled to stand, still reeling from the dragon’s last blow. His torso was covered in burns. The dragon’s acidic poison attack had melted through patches of his once-fine clothing and blackened his armour. “We could die. And for what? An empty village?”

“But if we don’t kill him, the dragon could come back!” Malek shouted, his voice hoarse from the poison gas.”This was my home! People will return and try to rebuild! What happens when Venomfang returns, as well?”

Suddenly, Venomfang leapt into the air. The tips of his wings brushed the walls of the tower as he dragged himself airborne.

The bloodstained, burned, half-dead companions looked to each other as the dragon lifted himself further and further towards the ceiling with each stroke of his wings. Their weapons were as sticky with dragon blood as their armour was with their own.

There was silence for a heartbeat, the scene frozen in time as the companions came to silent agreement.

“Do it!” Amber roared at Penny, raising Light Bringer, her mace, in defiance. Triym, too, let out a roar that defied her halfling size.

Without hesitation, hands raised to the sky, the wizard cast spiderweb, creating a net that spanned across the broken tower ceiling. The tower became darker as the strands of web knitted together, trapping the sun outside. 

The spell had been cast just in time. Venomfang struggled to halt his ascent but collided with the web, his wings becoming entangled within its sticky, unbreakable tendrils.

With a roar of fury, the dragon tore his wings free and turned back to face his adversaries. The bloodied adventurers readied themselves for the end.

So went the final quest in my first Dungeons and Dragons campaign.

The first time I remember being introduced to Dungeons and Dragons, I was watching the TV series Community. My first glimpse of the game in action thus involved a bitter, elderly man doing his best to kill off the in-game character of a bullied nerd by commandeering a fictional universe and becoming a dragon tyrant. As you do.

Fast forward a few years and I am here, gifted with amazing, nerdy friends and participating in my second campaign.

D&D, first and foremost, is a group activity. If you enjoy board games, the concept is similar but the playing field primarily exists in your own head. The Dungeon Master (DM), the player in charge of the storyline for the campaign and the omniscient higher power, is tasked with providing players with maps for references, either as drawings or via internet. These maps can be as detailed or as vague as the DM feels necessary.

The best part of this game: YOU create the character. You can be whoever you want to be. You get a choice of race (gnome, human, dragonborn…) and class (monk, paladin, rogue…), and you design your own personality. Are you a conflicted drow who is unsure of where he stands in the fight between right and wrong? A battle-worn, high elf monk? A mage of undisclosed gender with a penchant for collecting the body parts of enemies? Your character is as simple or as complicated as you want it to be.

You and your teammates traverse a fantasy land, dictated to you by a DM, and complete quests as you delve deeper and deeper into the story. D&D, in my opinion, is effectively an interactive novel. The Dungeon Master holds the base copy of your adventure. Depending on the choices you and your fellow travelers make, different monsters, quests, and allies appear. You and your group members earn experience points together as you capture villains, complete objectives, and defeat enemies.

Truth be told, the battle scenes can be frustrating when you are just starting out, and since the quests generally center around fighting some enemy, there are a lot of battle scenarios. It is difficult to react quickly to events in the game when you are struggling to remember your weapons or spells and how sneak attacks work and oh wait which dice do I roll and how many and is this a bonus attack or an actual action and what the hell does a dexterity save mean–?

Battles seemed simple in theory to me, then revealed themselves to be much more complicated, but after my first campaign they are easily understandable if a bit more complex than I initially expected. For instance, battles are simplistic in that each player takes a numbered turn. During your turn, if you want to make a move, you roll a die to see if your character is successful. Then you roll another die to determine damage. However, there are 7 dice to a set. Which one you roll for damage depends on the weapon, and you add extra damage points in accordance with your character’s proficiencies and class capabilities. For example, some spells or physical attacks can reach farther or do extra damage if you delve into certain power banks. As a monk, you have a set number of “Ki” points in your power bank, and spells or enhanced actions cost a certain number of Ki points each. This seems complicated, but the extra points you have access to or that you tack on to damage generally stay constant throughout your level. And your weapons or spells come with guidelines to refer back to until you eventually memorize the rules concerning your character. Other actions, such as “medicine” (to determine the medical properties of a plant or to heal someone, for example), are also determined by the roll of a die. To sum up, everything your character does depends on rolls of the dice.

During my first campaign, which was tailored for brand new players, the character sheets were pre-made and therefore saved me and my fellow teammates from the daunting task of godly creation. Every player has their own character sheet, created and filled out to suit each individual player’s needs. A typical character sheet is a single, doublesided page that overviews your character race/class/level, alignment, personality details, background, abilities, weapons, equipment. Only the Dungeon Master and yourself have full access to your character sheet. I learned from wiser fellow players that it is handy to attach blank pages to our character sheets, to have extra room for spell descriptions and background information. I found mine especially handy for the bountiful loot our team collected.

D&D, depending on how often your group can get together to play, is not a oneevening game. It definitely involves a level of commitment. Our starter game took many evenings and weekends over the course of six weeks to complete. Beginning a campaign just before the semester ends could be a problem if you all want to be in the same room. However, for my current campaign we have one member who lives out of town, so we play via computer.

Roll 20 is an interactive gaming website that allows you to play D&D even when some of your team members can’t quite make the regular commute. It isn’t quite as personable as playing without any electronics, in my opinion, but it does make long-distance playing possible. The maps on this website are absolutely amazing, too.

During the night, the group was woken by the Innkeeper’s cries of alarm.

Two trolls had appeared in the night and and were working to break into the stables, intending to feast on horseflesh.

The travelers leapt from their beds, seizing their weapons and rushing downstairs to save the horses.

Two members of the group, however, remained behind.

Cloud on the Mountaintop, a tabaxi bard and Babo, a gnomish warrior hurried to a window overlooking the stables and threw the shutters open. They stood side by side at the second-storey window of the Inn, and watched the battle unfold below.

Elves, goliaths, and humans alike struggled to keep the enemy at bay. The trolls were surprisingly strong and the travelers were exhausted from their journey the day before coupled with their interrupted rest.

Someone had to do something spontaneous, something to throw the trolls off, and fast.

Babo knew what had to be done. He looked up at Cloud. “Throw me,” Babo said.

Cloud looked back at Babo, speechless and whiskers twitching, for a mere moment before jumping into action. He ran back into his room and returned to the window in seconds, pulling on his Gauntlets of Ogre Strength and carrying Babo’s spear in the crook of his elbow. Babo took the spear in hand.

Cloud lifted Babo to the open window, took steady aim, and then, letting out a ferocious war cry, he threw Babo with all of his might. The gnome shot straight as an arrow towards the battle, his spear held out before him, and plummeted into the nearest troll.

Cloud’s aim was true. Babo’s spear plunged deep into the troll’s flesh. Back on the second story, the bard rejoiced to see his friend yank his spear out of the severely wounded troll and leap lightly to the ground, unharmed. The other members of this mismatched group of travelers looked on, momentarily stunned in the heat of the battle.

“I cannot believe that just happened,” Torman said. The dragonborn monk shook his head in awe.

Meanwhile, the wounded goliath Vakan could be heard muttering in bitter, sarcastic tones from where he lay on the ground, “Here I lay bleeding. I stare at the sky…watch as it all leaks away. ‘It’ being my blood.”

You can imagine the DM’s reaction when a player said “Babo looks at Cloud and says “Throw me”.” The most fun was had via listening to our DM trying to figure out what die should be rolled to determine the success of chucking a gnome out of a window, considering that Cloud had a special item to help him (the gauntlets, which we retrieved as loot after an earlier battle) and attempting to calculate the damage properly. And then everyone was flabbergasted that someone had just chucked a gnome out of a window and caused the most damage to the enemy for that entire battle. That incident involved a fair amount of metagaming.

“Metagaming” is using the knowledge you have as a player to advance your character in-game. Or talking out of character during the game, or discussing battle tactics with other players. As a new player, it is virtually impossible to get through any battle without timing out and asking questions or clarifying actions, especially when you try to get creative. The gnome-tossing inspired a great deal of out of character discussion. The DM, the voice of command for every campaign, was gracious enough to allow it.

If you are an actor, D&D is excellent practice. If you’re not an actor, have no skills in acting, and have zero desire to ever be onstage, this game can still be for you. If you are a writer, I found that D&D really helps with writer’s block because it prompts you to visualize scenarios for a character of your own creation. Games are serious or fun or a combination depending on who is playing, the views of your DM, and how your team feels that day. Cliche as it sounds, the only thing stopping you is your own imagination. I am typically shy when it comes to roleplaying or acting, but when you are playing D&D your acting skills do not matter. You just need to be able to immerse yourself into the game. When you are part of a group that has the same goals as you, it is not difficult to do.

D&D is also a great way to exercise or build upon your strategic thinking skills, especially as you level up. My only complaint with my first campaign, as someone who loves complicated and convoluted storylines, was that our actions did not necessarily lead directly to disaster or victory depending on our choices. For instance, if we killed a captive rather than bring him/her to prison, the consequences for either action were nil. Whether you stabbed a villain through the eye and left them to die or carried them to the nearest village for justice didn’t really effect the story as long as you made sure to obtain information from them, first. However, we were playing a beginners’ level campaign.

appealing part of D&D. I get to go on a weekly quest with friends. We spend huge chunks of time together every time we meet, working through in-game problems, thinking up tactics that are efficient and/or utterly ridiculous, and taking on enemies together. I believe it really is a game that brings people closer together. And if dungeons and/or dragons are somehow not your forte, D&D is available in steampunk, futuristic, and other themes–there are endless possibilities. You can even create your own campaign from scratch, a homebrew without the use of DM guides, and tailor a universe to your wants.

If you have been thinking about trying the game, I insist that you do so. You will not regret it.