Category: Tabletop

500 Words on the Adventurer’s League

Of late, (almost) every Friday night, I take a long trip from my flat to West Seattle so I can join in the occasionally madcap shenanigans known as the Adventurer’s League.

For the uninitiated, the Adventurer’s League is the ‘official’ organization for players and DMs of Dungeons & Dragons, sanctioned by Wizards of the Coast. Participants log their adventures, XP gains, and magical items to maintain a relative power level. There are three tiers of play, based on player character levels. New players start with characters at level 1 and work their way up the tiers, trying a smattering of different adventures every week as they progress.

To what end, you might ask? The advantage of the Adventurer’s League is that you can take an official, logged character to any League venue and game, and fit right in. No need to explain any odd stats or homebrewed items to your new DM. You can review a logsheet at any time, make sure things are on the level, and start rolling dice from there. It could be a friend’s house, a coffee shop, or a huge gaming convention. It doesn’t matter. Got that +1 breastplate and your holy avenger logged and approved by another DM? You’re in.

Speaking of DMs, being a Dungeon Master for the Adventurer’s League has perks all its own. When you run an adventure, you don’t just get the satisfaction of helping your players have a good time, even if you kill their characters. You also get rewards to apply to characters of your own. Dungeon Masters can be hard to come by — the DM experience is ultimately rewarding in and of itself, but it can be incredibly intimidating. There are incentives given just to get someone behind a screen at the table. After all, you can’t have a Dungeons & Dragons adventure without someone to populate the dungeon and bring those dragons to life.

Most of all, however, beyond the experience points and whatever else players and DMs gain, the Adventurer’s League is a wonderful way to meet new people. Tabletop gaming, more often than not, is a collective experience, and everyone has something to bring to the table. Meeting like minds who contribute to a wonderful night of adventure and magic helps create a feeling of community. It helps people feel like they’re not alone. It draws people out, and encourages them not only to engage their imaginations, but share it with others. That, in and of itself, is a beautiful thing to me.

This happens with most D&D groups, of course. But when gathering at home, most of the players know one another, or get to know one another fairly quickly as they meet regularly. In the League, this happens with strangers. Every week. And everyone benefits from it, and walks away having had a good time.

I know this isn’t always the case, but so far, my personal experiences have been overwhelmingly positive. In spite of my worries, I plan to keep making the trip every week.

500 Words on World-Building

I’m very much looking forward to introducing more people to Dungeons & Dragons. The published materials for that purpose within the Starter Set are quite fine, but even moreso than the content within the books, I appreciate the flexibility of it. It’s been a while since I’ve put together a world into which others will be introducing characters with their own motivations, drives, fears, and goals. I want to flex those muscles again.

As much as I like the Forgotten Realms setting, what’s the harm in creating what might be considered a parallel world on the Prime Material Plane? Similar, but different in many ways. Same maps, different names. Similar factions, different motivations. A history all its own that resonates with the high points of established materials. If nothing else, it’s a great exercise in world-building.

Even when set in the modern era on Earth, authors tend to create their own worlds when they set out to tell a new story. Look at Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, Seanan McGuire’s October Day, Diane Duane’s Young Wizards, Lev Grossman’s the Magicians — the list goes on. I know that these are all fantasy examples, but considering this pontification is rooted my D&D ambitions, they’re what come to mind for me. I’m sure you can think of your own.

Speaking of D&D, there’s been quite a bit written about the Starter Set called Lost Mines of Phandelver. For my part, my desire is not just to integrate it into a slightly different world of my own creation, but also deepen and flesh out the characters within the adventure. Even within a D&D campaign, I’m not terribly fond of one-dimensional characters, be they cackling villains or glorified vending machines. These are, for the most part, people; people have thoughts and feelings, they have hopes and dreams, they make mistakes. To me, it’s important to convey those things and demonstrate that the protagonist (or in this case, the player character) are not alone in the world in terms of beings with agency and identity.

Not long ago, I began running an adventure for some friends at a neighbor’s house. Upon a cursory reading, I got a notion for how the local innkeep behaved and what his relationships were like. On the fly, as the players interacted with him, I created the character’s partner and began role-playing their interactions in front of the players. It was just a little flavor, a bit of color splashed into the black and white text of the pages in front of me. And it went over incredibly well.

I can’t overstate the importance of taking just a little time to flesh out parts of your world, whatever you’re creating it for and however you’re creating it. Tolkien and Martin might at times get carried away with descriptors, but would we care so much about their tales and their many characters without those passages, that depth? Their worlds persist because of the way they were built. Don’t you want the same for yours?

On Fridays I write 500 words.

D&D Matters

I’m really glad I started playing Dungeons & Dragons again.

It’s taken me the better part of a year to feel comfortable going out-of-doors again. I was walking around like a man with my skin peeled off, and the fresh air and particulates of the outside world stung like a son-of-a-bitch. I had to take that time, in a place of safety and solitude, to reacquaint myself with myself. Take a good long look in the mirror. Start fixing some shit. Get better.

Then I started going out to watch soccer matches again, and I made a friend.

She noticed my d20 ring, a souvenir of days gone by that has only the meaning I’ve given it. No other associations, no bad memories. Just a spinning random number generator for rolling skill checks in the real world. We got to talking about D&D. And she mentioned a game she was in on Monday nights. Without knowing what I was doing or why, I jumped at the chance.

Then I got nervous.

You see, I might have gone a bit too far the other way in correcting myself. I was a little hyper-vigilant. I had trouble trusting my instincts. Here was a smart, lovely, challenging person who saw in me enough value and goodness to invite me into another part of her life, and I was asking myself a bunch of questions — do I have the right reasons for doing this? Am I going to be an invasive presence? Will I get along with everyone? Should I be scared?

In order: yes, no, yes, and no.

My partner told me so. A few times. I can be a little thick-headed; it’s an aspect of myself I’ve had since I was young. Still, the answers were conveyed to me in love, even if they had to be repeated. I finally quieted the head weasels, drew up my character, and headed downtown. My head was on a bit of a swivel before I got into the Raygun Lounge. I didn’t know how my Paladin of Bahamut would go over with these new people.

I guess the best way to put it “like gangbusters.”

He had to leave the party at one point because a fellow party member made, in his opinion, a monumentally bad and immoral decision. So I reintroduced one of my favorite characters, a dark elf necromancer, to the party. Again, he was a big hit. Sure, he was the complete opposite of my paladin in personality and motivation, but therein lies the challenge. And since my life isn’t exactly on hardmode, being the sort of white male of education and relative means that often serves as a poster child for the Patriarchy, I tend to game that way. See also my pacifist/stealth run of Deus Ex Human Revolution’s Director’s Cut that is my current PC gaming ‘project’.

Long story short: I was worried over nothing.

With everything going on, within and without, it’s been difficult to fully engage with my writing brain. Certain parts of myself have lain somewhat dormant while getting better, engaging in self-care and self-correction, and generally being an isolationist hermit have dominated my time. Being with others and collaborating in telling a story about people making bad choices has started reawakening my own storytelling synapses. If nothing else, it’s underscored my need to shift my career path away from banging out code for a living to making words happen. That’s been mostly what I’ve been looking for when I’m on LinkedIn looking for a new job that has nothing to do with start-ups — I am unsuited for such a life. Perhaps I’m just too old at this point.

Anyway. Dungeons & Dragons.

The classic role-playing game matters to me because it hits all of the right buttons. It’s escapism. It’s storytelling. It’s interacting with other humans, revealing parts of oneself in a safe environment and bouncing off of one another and the Dungeon Master in delightful and intriguing ways. It’s taking chances. It’s putting on a performance in the ‘theatre of the mind’ just because you can.

I want to start my own group, and guide people through the bones of a story I construct, and watch them flesh everything out and make it a living, breathing thing that we all enjoy.

Storytelling matters. Collaboration matters. People, their dreams, their imaginations, their fears, their potential and ambition and passion — all of that matters.

All of that comes together in Dungeons & Dragons.

That’s why it matters.

Tuesdays are for telling my story.

Art courtesy Wizards of the Coast

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