Innovative Planning, Level Two: Connect with Your Audience. The purpose of this project is to practice the skills needed to connect with an unfamiliar audience. I had to develop a speech on a topic that was unfamiliar to the majority of my audience.
A human, an elf, and a dwarf walk into a bar. This isn’t a joke, but rather the beginning of an incredible adventure. Maybe they’ll get into a fight, and the dwarf, frothing at the mouth, will slam his helmeted head into the barkeep’s face. Maybe the place will be swarmed by zombies, and the elf will lift her glowing holy symbol above her head to drive them back. Maybe the human will try to pick the pocket of the richest guy in town, and get caught. Anything can happen — welcome to the world of Dungeons and Dragons.
For a long time, D&D was considered too geeky for normal people. The stereotypical players were pimply teenage boys lurking in their parents’ basements, downing Cheetos and Mountain Dew and arguing about whether it’s a good idea to roll a glowing boulder into a dark cave filled with angry trolls. (Spoiler: that’s never a good idea.)
Fortunately, in the last decade or so, D&D has gone mainstream. Everyone plays it, from my sister-in-law to the kids on the hit Netflix series, Stranger Things. The scent of nerd still hangs heavily around the game, but that doesn’t seem to be keeping new players away anymore. They’ve discovered that Dungeons and Dragons is a great way to explore characters, create stories, and have a ton of fun.
While I have no doubt that everyone is this room is a “nerd” for one thing or another, it seems like most of you haven’t played much, if any, D&D — is that a fair assumption?
[Sentence about how I can start with basics, or how people who have played can jog my memory if I miss something.]
D&D is a big topic with a lot of history and details, so since I only have a few minutes I’m going to stick to the high points: creating a character and playing the game. By the end of my speech I hope you will have caught the D&D bug, or at least know some of the terms and understand why so many people love it. Ready? Awesome.
First, creating a character. Most people start with a race and class. Your race is what species you want to be, and each has pros and cons. Humans are smart, but short-lived; gnomes can see in the dark but aren’t strong; Dragonborn are powerful, but may be considered monsters by other characters in the game.
Your class is what determines the kinds of skills your character has. Rogues are good at sneaking, Wizards cast spells, and Barbarians are great at beating things to a pulp. There are dozens of races and classes to choose from, and you can mix and match to make a Human Wizard, a Gnome Rogue, a Dragonborn Barbarian, etc.
The race and class you choose gives you different advantages, disadvantages, skills, and abilities. You use your best judgement and a certain amount of luck at rolling dice to figure out things like how hard you can hit, how good you are at sneaking or using magic, and how many times you can get hit before your character dies.
Then it’s time to choose what’s called your alignment, or how good or bad you are. Do you want to follow the rules of the land and save those in need, live outside the law, stealing and killing, or create your own moral code that’s somewhere in between?
Once you have these basics in place, you need to decide on things like Ideals (what your character believes most strongly), Flaws (your character’s biggest weakness), their name, and what they look like.
Taken together, all of these things — race, class, alignment, Ideals, Flaws, etc. — form the skeleton of a character that you use to interact with other players and the world in which you’re playing.
On the off chance that you’re totally lost, let’s take one of my D&D characters, Annika. She’s a Human Rogue, so she’s very sneaky. Her alignment is Chaotic Good, which means she lets her conscience lead her actions, and doesn’t care about what she considers pointless laws or rules. Her Ideal is curiosity — she asks questions. Constantly. Her Flaw is that she steals anything she can get her hands on, whether or not it’s actually valuable.
Is this all making sense? Perfect. Once you have your character, it’s time to put them into a world and actually play. You’ll need a couple friends who have also created characters, but just as important is to find a person who can be the Dungeon Master.
The Dungeon Master, or DM, is your guide through gameplay. Instead of creating a character, it’s their job to create the world in which your character lives. They lead the story, called a campaign, through which your character goes. It’s up to you how you move through and interact with the world. And how you move is determined by the character you create.
This all begs the question: Why? What’s the point of spending hours playing grown-up make believe at your dining room table?
The simplest reason is that it can be really fun. Even the most serious campaigns invariably have their silly moments, and it’s incredible to describe what you want your character to do, roll your dice, and have the insanely cool thing you described actually happen.
Another reason is that it gives you opportunities to learn about yourself. If your character is exactly like you, you get the joy of experiencing and responding to crazy things like dragons or hobgoblins the way you yourself would if you saw them in real life; if your character is nothing at all like you, it gives you the chance to walk around in someone else’s shoes. You can explore all sides of the human psyche while playing D&D.
Personally, Dungeons & Dragons has helped me grow, almost more than anything else I’ve done in my life. Improvisation is not my strong suit, which is partly why I joined Toastmasters. D&D offers endless opportunities for improv — and because I play with my friends, I feel safe going all in. If I try something off the cuff and it fails, that’s okay. The game goes on, and we keep having fun.
Playing D&D has also made me stronger. If my main character, Zahra, can fight her way through a monster-filled maze, make fire rain from the sky, and save the world from a god gone mad…why should I be scared of a new project at work?
Dungeons & Dragons was created over 50 years ago as an offshoot of a complicated strategy game. It’s evolved so much since then, but the one thing that hasn’t changed is its ability to bring people together, have fun, and help you figure out who you really are.
Photo by Robert Coelho on Unsplash