I have my friend Clippy* to thank for my love of D&D.
Back in the late 90s, when both of us were still in primary school, he had an AD&D starter set called First Quest. His dad had picked it up from a local charity shop. It came with maps, dice, minis, character cards, streamlined rules, a DM screen, and even an audio CD (which you can listen to in all its glory here). I have some really fond memories of summer afternoons spent in Clippy’s conservatory, rolling dice, putting on funny voices, laughing at the cheesy backing tracks, cheering as we defeated the big bad guy. (Many years later, I found out that Clippy’s mum had originally told his dad not to buy First Quest because it was too expensive. How different our lives might have been if Clippy and I had never played it!)
In autumn of 2001, I bought the Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Game. I remember it took weeks to arrive from America, and then one day I came home from school to find a bright orange box waiting for me. We played through it for weeks and weeks and advanced our characters to the dizzying heights of 3rd level. But that was the end of it. So: what next?
What was it about this game that got me so fired up? I had always loved writing, storytelling, board games, and fantasy: D&D was a perfect blend of all four. And sure, it was fun to play with plastic figures and put on silly voices (cough, it still is). But D&D is also more than this. Not only is it interactive and collaborative, it is also immersive, improvised, and – thanks to the dice rolls and the players sitting around you – completely unpredictable. When you put these things together, something magical happens, and there is no other creative form like it.
That Christmas, my parents got me the core rulebooks: the Player’s Handbook, the Dungeon Master’s Guide, and the Monster Manual. I spent the next few weeks poring over them. I rolled up my first characters, made sketches of them, drew maps, and tried to work out how to create stat blocks for my own monsters. It has to be emphasized: I didn’t read the books; I studied them. I would start reading straight after breakfast and wouldn’t put them down until last thing at night.
It was time to build an adventuring party. Early in 2002, my brother and I invited some friends round (Clippy included, of course) and we started ‘the D&D group’. We would meet up on Sundays once every three weeks and play for six hours, with an hour for lunch in the middle. Looking back, I’m amazed we were able to concentrate for that long, although it probably helped that there would always be copious amounts of sweets and fizzy drinks. Clippy and I were the main DMs, at first, but my other friends soon had their turn at running campaigns, too. At first it was all homebrew, but over time we started to dip our toes into published campaign settings like the Forgotten Realms and Eberron, and later even Rokugan, d20 Modern, and Star Wars.
All this time it was pretty secretive. D&D was nowhere near as popular as it is today, and growing up in rural Lincolnshire, we didn’t even have access to decent game stores, sadly. In the UK, most nerds were focused on Warhammer and Games Workshop, and probably still are. I’m not sure there were any other D&D players at our school.
We carried on playing until we were 18. When we hit Sixth Form (the last two years of high school), we started playing weekly on Thursday nights. But towards the end, we probably weren’t taking the game as seriously as we once had. Other interests were taking over. We finished school, went to uni, started jobs, and over the next nine years, we stopped playing RPGs. In 2011, with no money coming in, I even started selling my old rulebooks. (Note: never do this.)
I never stopped following D&D, though. I carried on at uni and afterwards. We even tried a few one-shots – 4th edition, Pathfinder – but they weren’t quite right. But then 5th edition came out in December 2014. We first tried it nearly a year later, as a one-shot, and by spring we were playing through Curse of Strahd on Fantasy Grounds. Now, four years later, it’s safe to say I’m hooked again. It’s amazing to think of the new friendships I’ve forged thanks to this game, and even more amazing to think that nearly two decades on, in different cities, with different jobs, and some of us bringing up future players, the same five nerds from back home are still rolling dice.
So: why blog? To some extent, why not. After nearly 20 years of playing tabletop RPGs, I might not have hit my 10,000 hours of practice just yet, but I’ve definitely learned a few things along the way. I hope by sharing my articles I will give you some new ways to enhance your game. It’s a fantastic hobby. It brings me enormous joy and fulfilment. And as far as I’m concerned, there has never been a better time to play.
So … (sc)roll initiative!
* You might think I have changed this name to protect the privacy of an individual. You would be wrong.