Dungeons & Dragons is something that I’ve had a relationship with since I was a little kid. My older brothers both played, so I was around it from the time I was old enough to read. The amount of time I’ve spent reading D&D rulebooks, especially the Monster Manual and its ilk, is almost embarrassing. To this day, I could probably quote most of the rules for 2nd Edition from memory. Thing is, none of my childhood friends ever actually wanted to play.
I managed to sporadically play in college, but the longest-running D&D game I’ve ever been a part of is a 5th Edition campaign that started in December of 2017. At the time of this writing, this campaign is about 8 sessions old. My players are The Wife, Some Guy Named Greg, and our friend Jordan. I, Skippy, am the Dungeon Master.
We have fun…mostly.
Chapter One: Characters
“I’ll go first, I suppose,” sighed the half-elf, idly swirling the contents of his tankard “If we’re working together, we might as well get to know one another. The name’s Argus, of the Bearfist clan. I’m an outdoorsman, you might say. Although it runs a little deeper than that.”
“Your elf blood,” said the woman seated across the table.
Argus took a slow swallow of ale and shook his head.
“It’s not just that, either. I’m more comfortable in the wilderness,” he continued. “The only truth is in the wilderness. The tranquility and the struggle, the beasts and the plants…in the woods I can close my eyes and feel everything around me living and dying, distinct parts that are still one existence. From the day I was born…I was a druid long before I ever knew the word.”
“That’s quaint,” began the woman, pausing to turn and lift a drink from the tray of a distracted barmaid. “I’ve never been much for camping myself.”
The druid’s eyes narrowed.
“So what are you ‘for’?”
“These days? Just getting by, really,” she said, downing her booze with one nonchalant gulp. “I’m Victoria, by the way. Polite of you to ask.”
“Right,” scoffed Argus. “Getting by. There’s not a man in this tavern who wouldn’t sell his own children for that jeweled sword on your hip. You really must’ve struggled to get by, Victoria.”
“Well, I never said I wasn’t doing better before. Let’s just say I had some family trouble up in the capital and found it…confining. It doesn’t matter. I’m here in the south on a much-needed sabbatical. It’s a good thing too, or I never would’ve run into you and our talkative dwarf friend.”
The two turned their gazes to the head of the table, where a stern-faced dwarf sat with his arms crossed. His lips were set tight behind his bushy red beard and he hardly moved except to breath. Even that seemed begrudging.
“Aye, friend,” Argus said as he tilted his tankard towards the dwarf. “I don’t know that I’ve caught your name yet.”
“Krazt,” said the dwarf under his breath.
“And you’re a cleric, aren’t you?” the druid asked.
The dwarf nodded silently.
“What god do you worship?” Victoria asked. She smiled, but it was accompanied by a narrowing of her eyes that was unpleasantly appraising. “Crom? Mitra? Or do all dwarves worship Moradin?”
Krazt sighed and rolled his eyes.
“It doesn’t matter.”
“You,” chuffed Victoria. “Are a funny sort of priest.”
Krazt set his enormous morningstar on the table with a clatter.
“ Look, I’m just here to kill stuff,” grumbled the dwarf, looking around the tavern impatiently. “Can we please just go knock the heads off some goblins or something?”
The biggest thing about D&D that I’m drawn to is world building. I love the idea of D&D as a form of collective storytelling. The notion that my players can make truly unique, personal characters and play with them in world we’ve built together – man, I just can’t help but smile at the thought. 5th Edition isn’t nearly as numbers-driven as 3rd, the last version I played, but through the use of Backgrounds, Skills, and Archetypes, it’s possible to make a character that is mechanically unique even before you start adding personality to the mix. Seems exciting. Seem great. That said, all three of my players have very different ideas about what it means to create and develop a character in D&D.
Argus Bearfist is a Circle of the Moon Druid played by none other than Some Guy Named Greg. Argus doesn’t have any sort of detailed backstory, but because of his race, class, and background (hermit, if you’re curious), you can get an idea of what Argus is about. That’s reinforced by his skill selection – things like Survival, Medicine, and Arcana. This is a character built around the archetype of the lone wilderness hard-ass, but with a metaphysical bent. I know enough about Argus just from his character sheet to come up with cool things for him to do and know that he fits just fine into the world I’ve made up for the game.
Contrast Argus with Victoria. She’s a human Rogue with an Arcane Trickster build and is played by The Wife. The Wife has multiple FanFiction.net accounts and only takes time off from working on cosplay to do NaNoWriMo every November. Victoria has an actual written backstory, including who her family is, how she grew up, and what kind of things have shaped her view of the world. I know who Victoria is because my Wife knows who Victoria is. If I need to know more she can give me 10 pages in an hour. Victoria’s concrete backstory has actually shaped the game world a bit, because this character’s drives and background were not something I’d originally thought of when I started working on the campaign.
Lastly we have Krazt Krustache, a dwarf Cleric of War. He’s played by our friend Jordan, who’s actually the most experienced D&D player in the group. Krazt does not have a background. Literally, he doesn’t have a Player’s Handbook equipment-determining, gameplay mechanic-conferring background. His skills selection comes from the quick-start guide in the PHB and it’s not even clear what god he worships. Jordan is a child of the THAC0 generation. He cut his teeth on 2nd Edition D&D and is an all crunch/no fluff sort of guy when it comes to characters and the game as a whole.
At first I thought Krazt’s lack of detail was going to be a problem. After all, what am I to do with a character who’s basically a bunch of stats with a name? Within a couple of sessions I realized it didn’t matter much. Krazt is a simple character mechanically, but he’s also roleplayed consistently. Jordan plays Krazt as a no-nonsense kind of guy who wants to be the first one through the door to the enemy base, but who’s also the first to use a spell slot to heal an injured kid. Not having a written story or a tightly developed set of skills doesn’t matter, because his player knows who Krazt is, and it comes out in the way that he’s played.
Anyway, that’s our group. It’s up to these three misfits to save the country of Esterwyn from a shadowy cult of demon-worshippers spreading chaos and summoning up hordes of the undead. In the coming weeks I’ll be posting articles on here detailing their progress and highlighting the weird moments, foibles, randomness that make D&D fun to play....mostly.