You know how it is: you bring a board game up from the basement, take out all the pieces, and flip through the rules. After much debate, you eventually figure out what the hell you’re doing, and everyone starts to get the hang of gameplay. Or maybe you don’t, and that’s perfectly alright- you can just make it up as you go along.
No game has more potential to be this way than Dungeons and Dragons. A Dungeon Master’s Handbook, Monster Manual, Spell Compendium, and Basic Starter Rulebook, and several hours of play later, and you’re still being told by veterans that you’re doing it wrong! It’s enough to get anyone’s cloak of charisma in a twist!
Turn back the clock about six years. I have just been given a Basic game of D&D for my birthday, and my brothers are busily sorting through all of the figurines. Then comes the much-dreaded question…how do we play? One hour and an instruction booklet later, and this ragtag gang of preteens still hasn’t even begun to grasp the complexity of the new and mythical universe that’s just been laid at their feet.
So what do we do? We play anyways.
Rolling for Initiative quickly went the way of the Dodo, if we even started at all. Experience point rewards were done clumsily, then steadily less frequently until they were utterly forgotten. Character’s stats were rolled up with manoeuvres that champion card sharks and munchkins alike would be proud of. After less than a month, we didn’t even bother to refer to the manual unless we were pretending to look at the cost of a suit of chainmail…that our character intended to steal anyway.
In short; the books were more what you’d call ‘guidelines’ instead of actual rules. Any and all situations were negotiable, and it often fell to our ability to negotiate/browbeat our youngest brother into a more flexible role as Dungeon Master. Heck, he even controlled his own character as he DM’ed, and still does to this day. His Halfling is one of the only members of our original party still in play…making her obscenely wealthy with an annoying god complex.
As we grew older, our characters gained a depth and hilarity that I’m convinced they probably wouldn’t have had if we’d followed the rulebook religiously. Our tavern swelled to house Drow alongside Elves of all denominations; paladins adventured alongside my brother’s Rakshasa crime boss, and drunken beachside parties were a constant occurrence. Eventually, our party took on a life of its own, and we slipped back and forth between our everyday selves and our D&D role-playing seamlessly. Conversations between me and my brothers became a story in the making, written by our characters through their cavalier, lawless existences.
One day, I went over to a friend’s house, where to my glee I discovered that they also played D&D. They invited me to join in on a game, and I was excited to mesh my spunky half-drow Dragonmancer with their party. As it turned out, playing by the rules was a hell of a lot harder than I thought (what do you mean I have to roll for intiative!? I’ve already leapt on top of that Orc and ripped his eyes out the back of his skull!)
My brothers and I may have learned to play D&D the ‘wrong’ way, according to some die-hards out there. But at its heart and soul, the whole point of the game is the creation and exploration of your own fantasy world. We don’t play much together anymore, but it still brings a smile to my face every time I remember a certain Gnome barbarian ignoring her failed move silently check and stabbing a skeleton knight to death from behind with a Greatsword.
Wishing you all nat 20s on your saving throws;