Dungeons And Dragons Helped Me And My Friends Stay In Touch Through Lockdown

The core group of friends I left university with has always been quite nomadic, moving from place to place every other year or so. That seems to be the way of life for recent graduates though, constantly having to chase better job opportunities in saturated markets. Still, it’s meant that whenever we can meet up, it’s always somewhere new and exciting.

Naturally, like everyone else, the pandemic and national lockdowns meant we could no longer meet up in person, so we switched to regular calls on Zoom. Quizzes weren’t really for us and drinking was leading to arguments that would have torn us apart. Then, a friend who’d been dungeon master all of two times suggested a Dungeons & Dragons campaign.

Now, only one out of the six of us had ever played D&D before, and even that person had only played twice to DM, so we were definitely new to the game. He sent us some character sheets and explained the skills and classes and it immediately went over our heads. So he sent us a huge rulebook explaining everything, but none of us did our homework so we still didn’t get it. Eventually, we jumped on a call and he walked us all through the classes, skills, and races until we knew just about enough to decide what our characters should be.

The point I’m trying to make here is that you don’t all need to be experts to start playing. Even if our DM hadn’t been with us and we’d all just not been so lazy, we could have read an introduction or something to learn how to build a character. A couple of us picked cunning rogues, one went for a charming elf, one went for a deadly human cleric who worshipped the Irish Phantom Queen The Morrígan – she’ll do anything to teach us about Irish folklore – and one went for some sort of sentient cloud creature that the DM just allowed because why not? It was a great way to be creative and pretend we were all somewhere else for a bit.

For a couple of months, we had a session at least every other week.  It was incredibly slow going at first. I wanted to steal everything – I was a rogue after all – but the goody-two-shoes characters wouldn’t let me.

We weren’t quite as fluid as the pros, with everyone taking turns to do an action. Instead, we debated every single tiny thing, even in combat. You don’t have to really play any specific way, just do what works best for you and your friends.

I think what made playing together so great was that for the first time since lockdown had started we weren’t talking about it. We’d spend a few hours arguing, shouting, laughing, rolling dice on our little dice apps, doing anything other than worrying. Obviously, burying your head in the sand forever is bad, but it’s nice to have some time off of thinking about the state of the world.

Our first campaign actually ended up going pretty well. We won, which was a miracle as we barely understood how to play. We were using magic and abilities too much, healing after every fight, all things we found out had to be reset every time we rested, not just after every fight. We were having fun though, so who cares? Some people enjoy sticking to the letter of the rules, but that’s hard to do when you barely know them. We ended up having to create attractiveness and sexuality scales for every NPC because our death cleric kept trying to bang everyone. No matter how immersive a video game claims to be, it’ll never have as many features as D&D, because – to be cliche – anything you can imagine can go into the game.

D&D became a great shared interest we could all take part in and jump in and out of at any time. If someone was busy on a different call one week we could say their character had overslept, or gone missing, nothing really had to be changed or stopped.

It could fit around all of us and be put on pause when we wanted to just have a drinking call. We learned drinking and playing made everything break down real quick, so the two had to be separate activities. It wasn’t as structured as a quiz, we could just let our minds wander while we were all trapped at home.

Our DM had another campaign he wanted to share, so we did that next, but we all felt bad that he’d never been a player. Since then, we’ve all taken turns writing and DMing a campaign, and it’s been really fun. We all understand the game a lot more and we’ve started playing a bit more closely to the actual rules.

Giving everyone a chance to DM allowed them to implement their own style of the game on people. For me, that meant punishing indecisiveness in combat. In my most recent campaign, I used a fail roll – a catastrophic failure of an ability or spell or action when a player rolls one on the die – to cause a fiery explosion that stunned everyone. I had a bandit leader use this brief moment of confusion to offer to surrender and help my friends with their quest if her life was spared. Instead of accepting the offer, my friends looked the gift horse in the mouth. I made the bandit leader respond by using the lull in battle and my friends distracted discussing amongst themselves to have her unleash one final attack. It was a great moment to turn a failure into a chance at success, but when they failed again, I punished them twice as hard. I wanted them to learn to play faster, so I punished them for being slow.

D&D has been a great escape for all of us. Having some time put aside to enter into a fantasy world and have a break from reality has been amazing for us, and stopped us all drinking ourselves into oblivion. One year on, we’re all getting more confident with our DMing and playing, we look up rules way less, and we make up more fun scenarios on the fly. Start small and learn how you like to play, it’ll be way more rewarding than another damn quiz.

Next: 10 D&D Character Builds Inspired By DC Characters

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Issy is an avid film lover, writer, and game-player based in the UK. He combines his love of film and games in his writing, trying to find as many connections between the two mediums as possible. When he’s not writing, playing, or watching, Issy loves to DJ and look after his growing collection of houseplants, as they make him feel more adult.

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