Okay – so I can admit that I grew up on D&D. I’m just north of 40 now and was around when the first D&D modules were released. That was a cool time – because no one really knew how the game was played and the rules were really simple (no feats, achievements, paragon powers, etc.). There was elegance to the simplicity of the whole thing. The first module I remember playing (and I wish I still had it) was B1. I don’t remember rolling dice – or complicated character sheets. What I remember was wondering what was over the next hill or around the next corner. I remember laughing out loud over some of the exchanges with NPC’s (non-player character controlled be the Dungeon Master). I remember 10 foot poles and falling down holes and getting lucky and taking out a kobold from cover with my crappy little sling…
Sure – we eventually graduated into more complicated modules. I do remember playing the “D” series where we encountered the Drow. It was fun but it did feel at the time like
we were losing something. At that point we had magical everything – could blow holes in giants with fireballs and levitate and lop off heads of lesser creatures with a single swing. It was cool – but – and this is what I remember most – the fights took forever and the rule lawyering got silly. In particular I remember a fight in a room against an aspect of Lolth that took nearly a full day. Gone was the “wow this is immersive and fun”. Instead it felt like balancing financial statements figuring out how much we could carry – which spells were currently available – how many charges my wand of polymorph still had and how much loot we still had to divide up from the last dungeon.
Here’s the thing. It doesn’t have to be that way. Recently I picked up the D&D starter kit and decided I’d play with my sons and some friends. Now – I really wasn’t sure how
it would go. Remember we are in the generation of “Call of Duty” and “Oblivion” and more recently “Skyrim”. I was dubious about my chances of engaging the boys. More than that – I really didn’t want “rules are rules” to be the take away from our D&D
sessions. My sons get enough of that at school and soon will at work.
So – I made stuff up. I used the D&D starter set adventures as a guideline and went from
there. The starter set is great because it includes pretty clear instructions, lots of cards and tokens for guidelines but really lets you take the focus away from rules and put it on the fun part. I even embellished a lot by throwing in some puzzles to keep the team thinking.
A lot of being a good DM is making things up anyway. Here’s an example. One of the more blood-thirsty players decided that actively coercing minions (read – torture) for information was a good tactic. They found out pretty quickly that the approach just coaxed every bad thing in the dungeon to come right to them (plus random encounters that were somewhat less than random). In other cases I invented traps when they decided that charging down hallways screaming was the right approach. In the end they had more fun just interacting with the scenario and each other. They had fun.
The moral of the story is that D&D should be fun first. More advanced players and adventures might bring in additional rules and guidelines and strategies. Most important though – make it engaging and immersive and enjoyable. Otherwise you
might as well be balancing financial statements.
Conspiracy Comics sells the D&D starter set and lots of other D&D related games and merchandise. For a cool alternate way of playing D&D like campaigns check out some
the D&D like board games. There are several.
For a really excellent review of the starter set contents and play check out this link (though don’t let the rules daunt you);
Have fun and get playing!