Thoughts Of A Feminist Gamer, A Dungeons And Dragons Love Story

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A'Daragon

    I am A’Daragon, Drow and purveyor of poisons and narcotics. I exist in the space between the pull of my Underdark Drow heritage and the freedom and influence of the lands above where I sell my wares. During one of my deals things got ugly and I killed a nobleman in honourable combat. It turned out he had set me up and so I lost everything, my business, my freedom and almost my life. Instead of execution I was drafted into a task force of warriors, a supposedly elite group designed to deal with messes beyond the skill or jurisdiction of the city guard. The other group members are free to come and go but I? I am bound to it for life, a slave forced to travel with idiots and deluded heroes. My weapons of choice? A pair of poisoned daggers, my crossbow and my wits.

 This is me.

No , don’t worry, I haven’t gone bonkers. This is me every Saturday night when I sit down to play Dungeons and Dragons. If you’re unfamiliar with Dungeons and Dragons a more detailed overview can be found here.

Essentially D&D is a tabletop based fantasy role-play game in which a group of adventurers, controlled by the players, set out into a usually (but not always) medieval style world to complete tasks and quests. Basically you and your friends pretend to be characters and go on an adventure. The world in which the adventurers travel is controlled by a participant known as the Dungeon Master. The Dungeon Master has many roles, they build the space where the adventurers roam, describing settings, events and interactions with enemies and non-player characters (NPCs) The DM also organises the game structure, ensures the rules and mechanics of the game are adhered to, and acts as referee. However the most important part of the DM’s job is to create a story, combining rules of the setting with player’s decisions to create a flowing narrative. Player abilities are controlled by the choices they make when creating their character, as different races and classes have varying stats. Whether player’s actions are successful or not is determined by dice rolls.

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But enough of the technical stuff. I said this was a love story and, like many great love stories, it starts with a young man.

But this is not that kind of love story.

This is the story of how I fell in love with Dungeons And Dragons.

I met the young man in question just over three years ago, having resisted my husband’s attempts to get me into D&D for many years. I’d seen the books listing the rules, mechanical aspects, stats and numbers and I could not have been less interested. It didn’t help that the only time I’d ever seen D&D played was when my husband and the group he was with at the time lost their venue one week and had to play in our flat. Confronted with a bunch of po-faced power players with books, battle mats and bags of dice and having to listen to them argue about rules for hours and hours I mentally ran a mile. Of course now that I understand D&D players a little better I know that they were probably a perfectly fun bunch of lads, it was probably just awkwardness at the prospect of playing in a small flat with a stranger hovering nearby. Playing D&D requires a certain amount of concentration and players embarking on a particularly engaging campaign can display an intense focus that rivals even the most hardcore video gamer, a trait which can be off-putting to the outsider looking in.

I could argue that I was put off by the complex looking mechanics and it would have some truth to it but that would not be the whole story. Self reflection is important and so I have to be honest with myself about this.

The truth of it is that I thought I was too cool for D&D. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not in any way, shape or form classifiable as ‘cool’. Even now in my 30s I play video games, I’m a cinephile, I read fantasy and science fiction literature, I used to do viking re-enactment and I’ve forgotten more about Star Trek than most people ever know about it, I’m a fairly big geek. But I was comfortable in knowing that as geeky as I was there were some lines that I hadn’t crossed, I’d never been on a LARP, I hadn’t named any of my children Chewbacca and I didn’t play D&D. It’s a shameful thing to admit but there’s a certain comfort and security in the thought of “Hey I know I’m lame but at least I’m not as lame as THOSE guys” We all have our faults and I freely admit that this is one of mine. What’s more I’m not alone, since I started to play I have observed this kind of attitude in others. A feeling that, while D&D may seem like it would be the kind of thing a person may enjoy, they’re not willing to step outside their geek comfort zone enough to actually give it a try.

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 Anyway, back to the young man. My husband used to go to a weekly D&D Encounters group that was held fairly near to us and, being the wonderfully generous and kind-hearted person that he is, took this young man under his wing. Our young man was in his late teens and had had a particularly rough start in life. This had culminated in him living alone in a social housing bedsit, the watchful eye of the local social services just barely ensuring that he didn’t slip through the cracks completely and end up a drug addict or dead in his home with no-one noticing for three years. Often this Encounters group was the only contact he’d have with anyone in a whole week but he didn’t always have the bus fare to get to the session, so my husband began to chat with him on Facebook as some small form of human interaction.

This began a one on one D&D game, conducted in the evenings purely though Facebook chat, with my husband DM’ing and our young man as the player. It was only then that I began to see the story element of Dungeons And Dragons, the chance to not just read a great adventure but to create it, to participate in it. Creation of an established framework in which the player’s choices as their character would weave a narrative. I would read the chats as he and my husband played, watching the story unfold in a tiny box on the screen. I started to make suggestions to my husband about where he could take the story, things he could add, actions his NPCs could take to assist or counter the player’s character. But it wasn’t just the story, I learned about the young man and it was amazing to me seeing the response to that small amount of human contact. Such a small thing, a shared interest forging a tenuous link with someone who was on the edge of things and somewhat at risk of being forgotten. In short, I got invested.

After a time I suggested to my husband that we invite the young man over for dinner and I began to interact with him in person. He was an awkward little thing but polite, clearly wondering why the wife of the bloke he played D&D with online had taken any interest in him at all. Him and my husband could talk D&D for hours and hours and though a lot of the conversations went over my head I couldn’t help but get caught up in their passion for the game. The young man was amazed that I had never played and immediately joined my husband in trying to persuade me to give it a go.

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Time passed, the Facebook game continued and dinner visits became a regular thing. Sometimes there would be conflict about a decision that had been made in the game and I’d be asked for my opinion, sometimes agreeing with my husband and sometimes young man. His confidence grew and he met others that played D&D, including a young woman. A group was formed with my husband as DM. I was still reluctant to play but I would occasionally suggest some things that the villains could do to the party. I began to role play as the villain, not handling any of the mechanics but merely adding story and flavour to the character. The first time I did this it culminated in the entire universe being destroyed, it was a great campaign.

The conversation eventually occurred that since I was able to mess with the players I should take a turn around the table myself, it was only fair. So I gave in and made my first D&D character. He was a fighter named Druss, I based him on the character Druss the Legend of David Gemmell’s Drenai Series of novels (a fantastic series that I would highly recommend) He was a big, strong, tank of a man that wielded an enchanted axe named Snaga The Sender, the Blades of No Return. In the guise of Druss I joined the party and journeyed forth, we fought battles, settled disputes (and started some) In one fight Druss and his axe managed to take down two Hydras almost single-handedly (the dice were with me that night) Of course like any noob I was useless when it came to the mechanics but the DM and party were more than patient with me, guiding me through the process of learning the controls. Druss seemed unstoppable and he became a stalwart companion, though his sharp tongue sometimes got the party into trouble. Then one evening an encounter occurred with a half-dragon half-dinosaur, a huge beast that breathed fire. A party member rushed in recklessly, becoming trapped by the flames. Druss immediately went in to help his friend but the dice were not so favourable that evening. Druss fought valiantly but was grabbed by the beast and torn to pieces as the rest of the party watched on helplessly. The party despaired momentarily, the man who had seemed so indomitable had fallen, but they then rallied and defeated the beast. From that moment? I was hooked.

druss

 My character token for Druss (R.I.P)

 Since then I have made many characters and played in multiple campaigns, starting with edition 3.5 and then moving on to 5th edition.

So what is so brilliant about Dungeons And Dragons

The Freedom

D&D offers the freedom to be creative in a way that is rarely seen in video games. The streamlined Back To Basics approach of 5th edition has really opened up the possibilities to players and DMs regarding characters and settings. Want to open up a KFC in Mordor? Totally doable, except the Colonel would invariably turn out to be Sauron and his secret recipe of herbs and spices would probably turn everyone that ate it into a Nazgûl. Constitution saving throws all round. Campaigns can be as simple or as complex as you want them to be. The only real limits are your imagination and those of the people that you’re playing with. There are plenty of excellent ready written materials available for use or you can come up with something from scratch, the choice is yours.

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The Friendships

D&D is great to play with friends. However you can also make friends through the act of playing. The convenience of modern technology has meant that D&D has moved far beyond the need to sit around a table with pen, paper and dice. Thanks to Skype and the website Roll20 our weekly game is now conducted completely online and members of our group are based all over the world. You no longer even have to leave your home to play. D&D is a co-operative game and, though a little conflict is great story flavour, the game plays best if the party works together to overcome whatever the game throws at them. Sometimes campaigns can last for months, or even years, and the kind of teamwork and camaraderie that is built between characters can easily be carried over to the players in real life. Just remember to never split the party.

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You Can Have Sex With ANYTHING

No, I’m not kidding. In Dungeons And Dragons it is pretty much possible to bump genitals with anything you fancy. There are plenty of resources dedicated to sexual relations in D&D. This includes a manual, the Book Of Erotic Fantasy, that details rules, stats and requirements for romantic and sexual interactions with various creatures, from halflings, elves and tieflings to orcs, hydras and gelatinous cubes. Obviously a lot of this also depends on the comfort levels of the people that you’re playing with and it’s always wise to be considerate of your other party members. Luckily the rest of my group are as degenerate as I am. I remember one encounter in which the bard I was playing at the time captured the attention of two Drow women in a tavern. He followed them upstairs and opened the door for some sexy time only to be greeted by a wall mounted harness and various tools and instruments. He/I decided to go with it, after which followed many hilarious jokes about pegging with the DM getting me to roll for how many inches my bard took and whether or not the Drow ladies finished the encounter fully satisfied, the dice were with me and they did. Word of this encounter got round and it earned my bard and the party more than a few free drinks and hospitality during the campaign. The barbarian in our current game is rapidly developing a reputation for his main weapon being, well, his weapon. This has included trying to seduce a medusa, fucking a wyvern to death and fighting off two succubi while completely naked and armed with nothing but a rage boner and his incredibly powerful ass muscles. With D&D if everyone is comfortable with it? Anything goes.

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It’s FUN

D&D is a fun and challenging game. The campaigns can vary from an epic monster slaying dungeon crawl to a thrilling mind game filled with political intrigue. Those kind of things may even occur in the same campaign, with your party slaying a dragon one minute and negotiating a peace treaty between warring nations the next. D&D can test the limits of your imagination and your intellect, at times forcing you to think quickly as the lives of your party hang in the balance. You’re creating an epic story with your friends and the choices of everyone involved have real consequences within the world that you have all created. Kill a random NPC in a village for a laugh? Fine but the guards may turn up and throw your ass in a dungeon or the village may refuse to trade with you, leaving your party short of supplies. That unguarded treasure chest you find in the middle of nowhere? Well it might not be quite what you expect…

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So why did I write this? Well since this most recent campaign started I have been live-tweeting from our D&D sessions.

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This nearly always results in someone saying some variation “Oh wow! I’ve never played D&D but I’ve always wanted try it” and so here is my advice

GIVE D&D A GO!

It’s never been as easy as it is now to give D&D a try. There are always groups looking for new players, both online and in real life. You can pick up a Player’s Handbook or you can get a D&D Starter Set, which is basically D&D as a board game with pre-made characters and simple adventures for you to run with your friends. If you think D&D is something that you might be interested in but are not sure? Read D&D stories, watch D&D videos and take a look at all the materials on offer. You don’t have to spend anything, all the basics you need are free online. You may find that it’s precisely the thing that you’ve been looking for. I know that some D&D purists and long term players would be absolutely horrified at what goes on in our game but that’s ok, the beauty of D&D is that it’s exactly what you want it to be, as long as everyone has fun.

As for our young man? He’s now living with the young woman that he met, they’re engaged to be married. So you see, D&D isn’t just a frivolous way to pass the time. I have seen it change lives, as it has changed mine. It has made me closer to my husband, something I never even thought was possible before. It has allowed me to build friendships with people I probably never would have met in any other circumstances. I kick myself now at all the time I wasted avoiding such an amazing hobby. I implore you, don’t be like I was. If you’ve ever had even a passing interest in D&D? Now’s the time. You may find that you’re as lame as THOSE guys after all.

Thanks for reading

Angela

With special thanks to my D&D group, even though you all kicked my character out of the group for being an asshole (I’m now playing as a Dwarf archer) I love you all XD

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2 thoughts on “Thoughts Of A Feminist Gamer, A Dungeons And Dragons Love Story

  1. I have absolutely no shame in admitting I am the “young man” in mention. Dungeons and Dragons…well it saved my life. That may sounds utterly melodramatic but it’s true. Without D&D and the people i’ve met and befriended because of it, I would have starved, both physically and emotionally. I started playing D&D when I moved back to my home city to take care of my Grandma who had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. I went to visit her every day but would often find myself sat with nothing to say and I started to not want to visit her because it felt awkward. I didn’t have a job, I had barely any friends so I had nothing to tell her each day. I’d always had an interest in trying D&D but could never find anyone who was running a game. Happily I found a public game who were very welcoming and it gave me something to talk to my Grandma about. Every week I was off having grand adventures as Patrin the Gold; a Dragonborn Paladin of Bahamut. The changes those games wrought in me was reflected in my Grandma as she listened intently to each story of my idiocy fell from my lips as i babbled incessantly. She especially liked that I had earnt the nickname Captain Lick it! after being told that an altar of elemental cold was before us and I….licked it. It subsequently turned into a jelly and beat me into unconsciousness but it was something to tell Grandma.
    That is why I play D&D. Because of the stories we craft together. Because of the Adventure.

    P.S. FUCK YOU A’DARAGON YOU PIECE OF SHIT

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