In April of 2011, I came home to Dungeons & Dragons after a 15 year absence. It was a decision made outside the vacuum of the TTRPG community, hence totally oblivious of the “Edition Wars” I’ve come to know about since that time. It was a decision made purely out of a desire to revisit an aspect of my life that had been integral to my development as a human being in my teenage years. It was a return I have not regretted for one second.
The first thing I did was I checked if D&D still existed. No, seriously: that’s how far removed I was from the TTRPG community. A quick Google search confirmed that yes, indeed, D&D had dropped the “Advanced” from its name and was currently in its 4th edition. Being an impulsive person, I promptly spent $200 through Amazon.ca on core rule books and other stuff. It never even occurred to me that people would still be playing previous editions of D&D – this was the new and shiny edition, so it’s the one I acquired.
You might be saying to yourself “Wait a second here…you bought all that stuff on a whim, without checking to see if anyone would play with you?”. That would be correct. I wanted to make sure I was committed to this before roping in friends and family.
That commitment did not take long to establish itself once I started reading the 4e Player’s Handbook and Dungeon Master’s Guide. I was instantly transported back to the wonderful world of D&D with its Armor Class, Initiative and Kobolds (with the happy realization that THAC0 was history). I felt like I had come home to be enveloped with a warm blanket and a cup of hot chocolate. Without really thinking about it too much for 15 years, I realized just how much I had missed it.
Trips to my friendly neighbourhood Amazon.ca were now being made almost daily, as my hunger for D&D knowledge became insatiable. Xbox 360 controllers were left collecting dust as I suddenly preferred spending hours on end in my study writing a campaign for an as yet undetermined group of adventurers.
From then on, I mentally started working through a list of people who I would invite to play. Since this new edition called on a party of 5 adventurers as its basis for all stats, I decided to go with that amount. I settled on one returning player from our old group, with four 30-something newbies rounding it out (including my lovely fiancée – getting her on board was going to be key to spending so much time on this. Pure genius, that.). This endeavour was now getting real.
Let’s rewind a bit. Why did I seek out D&D again? First, there was the now-famous Community episode where everything revolved around a D&D session, which filled me with all kinds of nostalgic feelings. Beyond that, however, it’s obvious my motivations were completely selfish. I had been reading (for the 2nd time) Jack Whyte’s “Dream of Eagles” series, and started wondering if it would be possible to re-create the conditions that led to his re-imagining of the Camulodian Legend (namely, that the Roman Empire in Britain is collapsing and a group of breakaway legionnaires form a Utopian city called Camulod out of self-preservation). I had a fleeting thought that if I were still a DM I could recreate this scenario in the Forgotten Realms and use my adventurers as a case study in post-apocalyptic sociology. Yeah, I know – pretty Machiavellian of me. Despite this sinister strain, I forged ahead.
Little did I know that the Wizards RPG team had handed me a ready-made post-apocalyptic campaign setting with the Forgotten Realms’ Spellplague! I spent the summer months researching and building my own corner of Faerûn, encouraging my newly-recruited players to acquire their own copies of the Player’s Handbook and creating their characters. I also decided that, for the purposes of learning this new system and shaking off the 15-year accumulation of rust, we would play through Keep on the Shadowfell (with a few of my own plot hooks from which to build once Kalarel was defeated).
This unholy stew was brought to a boil, and what was served up was a cleric, a paladin, a rogue, a ranger and a wizard; a motley crew of traditional classes. I play-tested some solo sessions with a few of them to establish the overarching story before having the entire group meet in Winterhaven to begin to unravel the mystery of this death cult of Orcus.
I’ll spare you the details, but one thing I noticed right away was that combat was taking much longer than I had anticipated. I was enjoying the addition of a battlemat, which brought the visualization of combat out of our imaginations and into the physical plane. Consequently, however, our imaginations were no longer the limit of what we could propose in combat – everything now seemed accounted for and quantified by the rules. It was an advantage for me as DM but also a constraint for the players. I shrugged this off at the time, accepting it as the new way to do things.
Have you ever been on a strict diet for a few months and then been able to delight in a favourite food of which you had been depriving yourself? That’s the best analogy I can think of when describing how that first session went. We all felt it—even the newbies (only for them it was more like tasting delicious Indian food for the first time).
There is something distinctly unique that happens at a D&D table when things click that cannot be reproduced in real life. I suppose sitcom writers must feel that way when they’ve written a particularly funny episode, or when a music group experiences acute chemistry on a given night. It’s the feeling of having put your creative juices to work, collectively, and coming out on the other end with something tangible to point at and say “Wow, we did that!” That’s how our weekly D&D sessions have gone since September, and not one of my adventurers wants to miss an appointment, despite our busy lives.
For myself, I’ve gotten a particular thrill from seeing my creation come to life. I’ve finally found an outlet for my creativity that had been boiling under the surface, aching to be released. It’s left me pondering “Why was I away from it so long? Why did I even leave it in the first place?” Would you look at that: I just found the premise for my 2nd post!