First Impressions: Dungeons & Dragons

By Ben Kieffer

As I began to stumble into dungeons and marvel at the dragons, I spent 5 hours trying to make a character on my own. I knew there was a great depth and variety; as a beginner I wanted a character that was not too complex, and ideally easy for me to understand and utilize.

I set out to read about the types of characters in the Player handbook, but when I was about 5 pages into the first description with all of the attributes, advantages, and added abilities depending on level attained, I gave up. I resolved to find a dwarf fighter that could work without too much complication. For whatever reason a dwarf fighter seemed to make the most sense because I’m not that tall and in my mind the goal is to fight the dragons or whatever type of villain I’d come across.

After the grueling hours of looking over the handbook and searching for tips online I asked my friend/Dungeon Master for help. I would soon relearn the lesson I had learned and forgotten so many times: NEVER underestimate the variety of material that the gaming community produces. My Dungeon Master quickly found a base model dwarf fighter pre-made. PRE-MADE!! It was exactly what I was looking for! But was just one turn beyond my grasp (if only I had dark vision).

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Once the character was ready I joined the group for the first night of adventure in the collective imagination. I introduced myself with the first cool potentially dwarf sounding name I could think of: “Wolfgang.” I was met with laughs and one of my new comrades asked if my character’s last name was Hasselhoff. So, I obliged, not sure if I needed a last name, but sure that I wanted to be on the good side of the people I’d be adventuring with.

It took me a while to understand that there was a planning phase and acting (or fighting) phase. I was ready to take my battle axe at anything that moved, but spent a lot of the first few turns just following people around and agreeing with their assertions.

The ghoulish zombie things in the village quickly became an issue and that is where the game came alive for me. I found great pleasure in describing how I would lift my battle axe up over my head, swinging it down in an arc and aiming to sever the left knee of the zombie ghoul from its already stinking leg. Then, with the roll of a die, I would find out if my efforts were effective and the bad guy was playing hopscotch, or if I rolled a two and for some reason, with all my vivid description, my axe took an inexplicable turn for the ground near his foot, leaving me (a small, yet strong dwarf) axe in the ground looking up at the thing and wishing I could have rolled a 19.

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I soon learned that my action was just one in a string of the actions of my teammates. I also found that not all of them wanted to be called my teammates and share my virtual orange slices and juice boxes after the round. For a moment, I thought “well this guy’s kind of a jerk and isn’t in the spirit of the game.” But then I realized he was just playing his character, and his character was really cool and didn’t like oranges.

It was pretty easy for me to do the planning stages because as a dwarf; I generally went along with the group and was ready to fight when necessary. It turned out to my advantage to be a player that was kind of predictable to the group and reliable in that I would just keep swinging just keep swinging at anything that bothered us. It didn’t hurt that as a dwarf fighter I had some numerical help in getting critical hits with the dice.

After the weekly adventures came to a close I reflected on how amazing it was to have the various online services that handle the game play, the conversations, the rule book, everything. But I did come away thinking it would have been fun to do in person, to see the facial expressions of each player as they make their moves and describe their actions. However, being in different geographical places made this impossible.

If I had the opportunity to play again, I would probably go along with the group, then rush headlong into the night, forgetting the dark vision, axe in hand, ready to swing for the knees of anyone who wants to mess with my friends, because I am Wolfgang Hasselhoff the dwarf fighter.