So I had the esteemed pleasure of running a Dungeons and Dragons game for a rare breed of gamer over the weekend. Hank, and his three awesome kids, came to game day at the library in an effort to get even more role-playing under their collective belts than they had been able to at home, and Hank himself wanted to get some experience from another DM. You see, Hank may have played D&D a bit when he was his kids’ age but he didn’t stick with it. Now, decades later, he and his kin came across the D&D Starter Set and did something I didn’t think was honestly happening out there. They picked it up and tried to teach themselves to play. I can likely count on one hand the amount of people I know who have come across D&D\RPGs in the wilds and have attempted to learn them with little to no guidance. It’s practically unheard of honestly, and after speaking with Hank I came to the understanding that his long ago playing of the game had very little measurable effect on his ability to parse the Starter Set. Essentially he was starting from scratch.
The whole experience was enlightening. While I was running the game there kept being these interesting moments where Hank would say something to the effect of “of course! I should have been doing that all along!”. These were not situations where he just liked my style of running the game either, these were things I had always considered common knowledge DM facts. The most glaring was when one of the players asked me for a monster’s Armor Class and I simply mentioned that I wasn’t going to tell him that, I mean c’mon! everyone knows the DM Doesn’t share that kind of information right? Well, turns out Hank had been pretty open about monster details and when I thought on it (and after a little post game look through the rules) I couldn’t really figure out where that information would have ever been mentioned. It’s just kind of something we experienced DM’s know, and certainly something we’d pass along to anyone learning to run games. It made perfect sense to Hank in hindsight but it also makes sense to me why he would have made that mistake. To be fair, nothing says you can’t share that information either though.
It all speaks to what I’ve been saying for a while now. D&D, and I’d argue most RPG’s out there, require that close friend or relative to really teach the game. Hank struck me as a smart guy who’d obviously been doing well enough because his kids were really into getting to play but, by his own admission, he was still struggling to polish his ability. There is a large barrier of entry into our hobby and I don’t know if there is an answer on the game creators’ side of things to lowering the barrier, and if there is I don’t know yet what it would be. However, if that’s not a call to arms to become a fiercer advocate for tabletop gaming I don’t know what is.
I might find myself doing a little more “here’s how to do it” work in the near future honestly. From talking to Hank it sounds like he had the chance to catch helpful videos and podcasts, and I certainly know a few podcasts I’ll send his way. I think I’d like to add to that category out there. If I make a video that helps even one person learn a bit more about running or playing an RPG, I think I would like that. In fact it seems like an organic progression from my current level of advocacy. I’ve planted the seed in my hometown, why not get a bit more widespread!
Take care, and good gaming,
P.S. If for some reason you read this Hank, I hope you don’t mind I shared your story. I had an absolute blast running a game for your family this past weekend. You all have taken to Tabletop RPGs like fish to water, you gasped in all the right spots and I felt very humbled by your constant admiration at my DM’ing skills. I hope I get the chance to run a game for you all again soon! Or maybe, you can run a game that I play in ;P . Feel free to hit me up with any questions you may have! This goes for anyone honestly.