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Why now is a great time to start playing Dungeons & Dragons


Dungeons & Dragons – a new way to stay sane during lockdown (pic: Wizards of the Coast)

With a new lockdown about to start games aren’t the only distraction available, as GameCentral takes a look at the tabletop alternatives.

During the first lockdown you probably took part in lots of quizzes and Zoom calls, and tried to keep in touch with friends and family more often. Then, as the pubs opened and you ran out of things to say, that became less frequent or stopped altogether. So, as you find yourself asked to start limiting your social contact once again, you might consider Dungeons & Dragons, and other tabletop role-playing games, as a new excuse to meet online with friends and family without having to worry about what to actually talk about.

Dungeons & Dragons has been around since 1974 and since then it’s been featured in a string of popular culture stalwarts such as The Big Bang Theory, Stranger Things, and The Simpsons, so you probably know more about it than you think you do. More recently, being able to stream games has been the lifeblood of a Dungeons & Dragons resurgence. Everyone, from familiar BBC comedians such as Sue Perkins playing live to raise money for Comic Relief to the cast of Game of Thrones and even action movie star Vin Diesel have been keen to role the die.

Dungeons & Dragons can be therapeutic. It can be a really great way to deal with various mental health issues, including anxiety, and for those with less artistic talents it can provide a much-needed creative outlet. It can also help you explore aspects of your personality and build confidence. It’s also been shown as a great way to help children with learning difficulties or other mental health issues to socialise and develop interpersonal skills. But even with celebrities involved, watching live Dungeons & Dragons can be intimidating for potential players. Luckily Wizards of the Coast, the current publishers, have plenty of user-friendly and financially accessible starting points.

The Starter Set includes everything you need as a complete beginner to get off to a quick start: an essential rules handbook, an introductory adventure, five pre-made character sheets (these save you lots of time and maths), and a set of dice. You can play it in person or online and it feels very similar. In person, it’s the perfect family indoor activity.

Your first session will probably be setting the scene for your adventure and just chatting to each other about your characters and how they might interact as a party. Getting the tone of your adventure right might also save problems later on. Role-playing can be serious stuff!

Dungeons & Dragons can be played on a broad spectrum, with different people finding they get the most enjoyment out of exploring a fantastical world and solving puzzles, while some relish weaving their way through intriguing social situations where they can role-play, and others simply love the thrill of rolling into combat.

If you are going to run or join a game, make sure everyone has the same clearly defined goals and expectations. Dungeons & Dragons is about collaboration with your friends and building bonds, not winning or losing.

Your most confident friend or family member will usually take on the role of the narrator and guide, called the Dungeon Master. At first, it’s much easier for them to run a pre-existing adventure rather than come up with their own story. The latest pre-made adventure released in September 2020 is Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden an icy frontier adventure where players battle to save Ten Towns from everlasting night.

Practice makes perfect and soon your party can try and move on from the starter set to the core rule books, which are the only books you really need for the full Dungeons & Dragons experience. The Player’s Handbook is a hardcover tome with stunning art, maps, and references for detailed spells and abilities. These should always be easily accessible on your table, along with The Dungeon Master’s Guide and the Monster Manual so your Dungeon Master can quickly summon a Kobold’s statistics mid adventure.

There are lots of other books to bulk your experience out, such as Xanathar’s Guide to Everything and Volo’s Guide to Monsters, which expand upon player options and introduce additional enemies as your adventure stretches out. You’ll also be impatient to start doing some serious role-playing and making your own characters with more personalised relationships, motivations and temperaments – for that there’s a great website and mobile app from D&D Beyond.

In fact, one of the positives of the franchise being around for so long is that there is now a huge amount of online resources to get you and your party up and adventuring, including Roll20 and Critical Role’s Handbooker Helper series on YouTube.

This is all you need to get started (pic: Wizards of the Coast)

Even the most casual group, after a few sessions, can have an immersive and entertaining experience. You’re always rewarded for creative thinking and often players will come up with some way of interacting with an adventure that the Dungeon Master will not have considered at all. My friend’s party have started an in-game band called The Metal Kegs, who will play local taverns for room and board. During one session they found a magic item on the road, The Bag of Holding, which can hold large objects (like the TARDIS) by storing them in the Astral plane.

They decided they would use this as a set piece for their next show by hiding the party bard inside it and have him pop out to make a dramatic entrance. But no one in the party bothered to ask the Dungeon Master if there is oxygen in the bag (there isn’t) so the Dungeon Master silently counted down the seconds till the suffocation of the bard. The Metal Kegs ended up disappointing the audience by dragging an unconscious body from the bag and having to pay out of pocket for room and board. Not all adventures are about fighting monsters!

There may not have been many Halloween parties this year but if you’re already a seasoned player and want to be get involved in something spooky, why not spend the evening with the release of vampire saga Curse of Strahd: Revamped Premium Edition, which chillingly comes in its own coffin.

If you still don’t fancy playing with your friends or family it’s worth checking Facebook for sign-ups to play in your friendly local gaming store and consider joining a socially distanced or online Adventurer’s League session – these sessions are designed to allow you to drop in and drop out of an adventure with no commitment. Be sure to bring your own dice, pen and paper, and keep your phone politely stowed in your pocket. See you in the Forgotten Realms!

By Lucy Orr

Dungeons & Dragons – fun for everyone (pic: Wizards of the Coast)

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