Pregaming It (D&D series part 1)

This is the first part in a series about my experience of starting to play D&D again.

I haven’t played D&D in over 10 years. When I was in high school, I played tabletop RPGs almost every day. They’ve shaped who I am as a person over the years. The first RPG I played (Vampire: the Masquerade) even gave me the nickname that’s stuck with me throughout all the chapters of my life. And yet…I let role playing slip out of my life for over a decade. Why would I do something crazy like that? Come on an adventure together and find out!

Not all RPGs are the same

When I was younger, I played World of Darkness RPGs almost every weekend, and even sometimes during the week after school. We LARPed. I had several different storytellers that ran different types of games. When I’d met my group of gamer friends in college, I’d never played D&D before. My roommate at the time, James, said he wanted to run a campaign and asked if I wanted to join. I figured sure, why not? It can’t be that different from WoD games.

Oh boy was I wrong! I could create a WoD character in a few minutes. James sat with me for 6 HOURS working on my D&D character (this was 3.5 edition). There was too much math. Too many stats. I was SO overwhelmed. I didn’t know if I wanted to play anymore. James was so patient and gentle, and held my hand through the process step-by-step. He told me what skills my ranger would want. He helped me build an awesome animal companion (an Elven hound). He stayed up with me until 4 in the morning until it was finished.

When it came to game time, I had a blast. After one session, I went from being overwhelmed and wanting to quit, to being relaxed and wanting the game to never end. I remember when James gave me bonus xp for making a Fullmetal Alchemist reference (his favorite anime.) I also remember when he killed out friend’s character off for calling the orc leader a “beezy,” just because he thought the word was stupid. Some of this was so memorable because it was the only D&D campaign I’ve ever played. James was the only DM I’ve ever had.

That’s because 10 years ago, James died.

Art by Sam Hogg

Loss can suck the fun out of everything

When you lose the person who brought you into a fandom or hobby, there’s several responses you can have. Without James, our D&D group fell apart. He was the lynchpin, and I didn’t have the heart to play with anyone else. I still have the character sheet tucked into my old player’s handbook. Hell, when his girlfriend and I went through his belongings, she let me keep the grid map we used. I still have it, and it still has the last dungeon he drew on it. I’ve thought about framing it, or having it set into a gaming table. It’s a beautiful drawing.

I used to get very sad when I looked at this stuff. Sometimes I still do, but now it’s more of a fond memory, and a wish that I could still have fun times with my friend. I tell myself that I haven’t played D&D for so long because I couldn’t find a group to play with. With the number of nerdy friends that I have, that’s a lie. There have been plenty of opportunities to play.

What it really comes down to is feeling that it wouldn’t be the same. I’ve had one DM, and I kind of idealized him after he died. Who can compare to the guy who sat up with me until the sun came up to create a character? I’m also super shy and sometimes emotionally awkward, and he held my hand through that and pushed me (but not too hard.) Will another DM understand me like that and help me?

Facing my fears

After all of that, I’ve decided I want to take a stab at playing D&D again. Am I excited? Yeah, but I’m also…nervous. I feel like after 10 years, my creative muscles have atrophied. I went to a counseling psychology grad program, in which we had to role-play both as the therapist and the client. I sucked at it. Hardcore failed. I don’t like how fake and forced it feels.

I’m scared I’m going to suck at fantasy role-playing too. If I’m honest with myself, I was never the best at it. I didn’t do voices. I broke character a lot. Half of the time I didn’t understand what was going on and I just rolled what people told me to. And that was when I felt like I was a creative person. I’ve got some serious RPG imposter syndrome going on.

I’m about to start a campaign with friends and play a paladin, which is not what I’m used to playing. I have a feeling that I’m going to have to do a lot of talking, which makes me a little uncomfortable (maybe a lot uncomfortable?). We’ll see how it goes. I had the least fleshed out backstory for my character out of everyone at the table, adding to my imposter syndrome.

In my usual fashion, if I’ going to do something, I’m going to go all out (at least at first). In addition to the campaign with my friends, my GT Radio co-hosts and I are playing a game together! So now I’ll have to keep track of more than one character in my head. So far it’s just a one-shot, but hopefully my paladin doesn’t creep in, especially since the games are so close together.

I’m looking forward to chronicling this adventure, and seeing how the experience of jumping back into the RPG pool head first plays out. I hope you’ll enjoy it too. To my DMs….you’ve got some pretty big shoes to fill. No pressure, guys!

To James…I hope you’re watching. This is gonna be entertaining.

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