There’s no one out there that hasn’t heard of Dungeons and Dragons. Whether you’re a geek or gamer, the series is a worldwide phenomenon spawning countless tabletop games, movies, TV shows and video games. However, outside of mainstream pop culture stuff, D&D is a true RPG tabletop game that thrives thanks to its deep lore, fantastic world and of course, gameplay mechanics. If you have ever seen a Dungeons and Dragons match on TV or in film, you know that fans are very passionate about it and while the media does a horrible job of portraying the stereotypical D&D fan in the worst way possible, Dungeons and Dragons isn’t actually as hardcore as you may think. Well, up until this past weekend I thought otherwise.
I honestly had anxiety every time I thought about learning how to D&D. From what I have seen around me, the game looked intense. People put hundreds of hours aside every year to play it and I assumed players had to know every mechanic and name of every item out there to know how to play this game. Up to this past weekend, my only interaction with Dungeons and Dragons was through Baldur’s Gate, some shows and movies. So I sorta knew how it worked but this media is drastically different from the tabletop game. Or so I thought.
Unplug Yourself invited me to one of their Dungeons and Dragons Bootcamps at The Stone Dragon. For those who don’t know, Unplug Yourself is a group of tabletop enthusiasts who host events for all sorts of tabletop games around the country. Be it Magic: The Gathering, Pokemon Trading Card Game – you name it. The goal of these boot camp days is to teach those like me who have been raised to believe that Dungeons and Dragons is almost impossible to get into if you don’t have dozens of hours to learn every single intricate detail of the game. After seven hours, I walked away oozing with excitement having felled my first boss and completed my first ever D&D campaign.
You see, Dungeons and Dragons isn’t difficult to grasp at all. Sure, some of the technical aspects of the game might have taken a while to get used to, especially knowing what die to throw when and how to calculate what action I was taking. However, the game works on logic and once I grasped that, everything fell into place.
Our dungeon master, Steven Helberg has been playing Dungeons and Dragons for a very long time now. He started back in 1987 and it has been a hobby of his ever since. I could tell from the moment he kicked off our campaign that he absolutely loves what he does. He took around ten minutes to explain the forest we started the game in and I could picture it perfectly in my mind. He is a pure genius at his craft and every single little detail throughout our campaign was brought to life by his wonderful imagination. We had almost no visual references to look at during this campaign. Only the world we crafted in our minds as he explained the surroundings. From the stench of rotting flesh to the burnt grass as a result of a lightning strike.
Our campaign revolved around a group of heroes who had been travelling together for a few months now. He had been around the continent tracking down a necromancer who has been ravishing towns and villages killing innocent people and even animals. As this being travelled, all they left behind were corpses of beings with their eyes completely blacked out as if their soul was sucked right out of their bodies.
Steven really helped not only create a campaign I was engrossed in but he also took us through the core mechanics of the game. We had a set of pre-made characters to choose from and I was responsible for making up a name and a backstory for my Dwarvish Fighter. Won’t lie and say I wasn’t hesitant at first. While I had a crazy imagination thanks to everything I do all day, sharing this with people around me isn’t my strongest feature. But I ended up being a born-into-war dwarf fighter who has fought against the forces of evil my entire life. I believed that the necromancer has committed the ultimate sin – to kill someone without a fair fight. This is something my character has been raised to believe. In war, you fight and you die with honour. You kill unarmed people, you are a coward.
Our campaign had a mage, barbarian, hunter and a paladin too. All played by people at the table. Two were friends I dragged with me who are also keen to make Dungeons and Dragons a full-time hobby. The campaign had its ups and downs but the main focus of the day was teaching the so-called “101 of D&D”. We fought skeletons by rolling D20 die, and I walloped a friend in the back by rolling a “1” on a D20 dice. We laughed and slew the undead for hours on end.
While it took around seven hours to complete, the real-time duration of the campaign was only 20 minutes. Everything in Dungeons and Dragons takes time and now I understand why these campaigns can go on for years. As you go about your story, whatever you do has to be branched out to something else. We got given the option to go left or right down a split pathway and our decision resulted in a whole entire area to explore and enemies to fight.
The explorable area meant we could search things but that meant rolling dice to see how well we actually searched. In D&D, the dice determined everything. If I was to search a bookshelf and I rolled a 6, I wouldn’t have found anything useful. However, should I have rolled a 14, I then found a scroll containing a chant. All of these variables are determined by the dungeon master and how his campaign is set up. Even dealing damage to enemies – the higher the roll, the better the chance of hitting them. Damage output is then decided on a range of stats across your character.
I was also taught to think logically and while it took a while to get used to, the sooner I realised that Dungeons and Dragons is about talking and performing actions related to the world around me, the better these logical actions became. We had to flee our camp but if I didn’t say “hey, what about our equipment” we would have ended up leaving it behind.
My friend could not use her bow in a fight because previously, she rolled a “1” (you don’t roll a 1 okay) and her string snapped (decided by the dungeon master). However, she didn’t ever attempt to fix it so when she pulled it out to shoot another enemy, the dungeon master reminded her that it was broken. She then had to take two turns to fix it.
All these factors might sound a little intense but they are really just logical. Your character and campaign are as real as ever when playing a game of Dungeons and Dragons and it completely changed my thought pattern. I paid attention to the world around me, what my character was doing, my teammates and the items we all had.
Sure, I might have just scratched the surface on things during my Bootcamp but I felt so much better leaving there knowing that D&D isn’t as intense as I assumed. I also know it is something I could grow to really love. My intense heartbeat during the final fight and my anxiety levels leading up to the final showdown proves that this game simply gels with me and my constant need to mentally escape the world around me.
I have quite a lot to learn still. How to buy stuff, how to make characters and level them up and much more. But I am ready to embrace this now after experiencing my first campaign. I now have both the Essentials and Starter Kit for Dungeons and Dragons and I plan on investing time into this tabletop.
Huge thanks to Unplug Yourself and SolarPop for hosting me during the Dungeons and Dragons Bootcamp. If you want to attend one, be sure to visit the official site here for a full schedule of events. Unplug Yourself hosts a number of events across SA every month. I suggest you check them out. I promise you won’t regret it. You can also follow Unplug Yourself on social. The links are