Getting Back to the Game

Written by guest blogger and patron, Brian McKay – many thanks!

and Taking the Game on the Road

When I first discovered Che’s Roleplay Rescue podcast, I had already been skating around the edges of returning to gaming.  In the last few years, the explosion of 5th Edition, the current “renaissance” tabletop roleplaying games have found, and my own pondering about why I originally stopped playing all converged and motivated me to start searching for ways to get back.  Che’s podcast arrived with the perfect message – as if he was speaking directly to those of us who grew up in the 1980s and started with B/X and then tried to move to AD&D.  It challenged me to rethink why I left and inspired me to re-engage, both with 5th Edition and also with the old games I used to own and play.

My own story echoes many others I’ve heard.  I discovered B/X through friends late in elementary school and middle school.  We made tons of characters, attempted several sessions, and then spent the majority of our time reading the books and modules (rather than playing any long term campaign).  We were also still the minority – the weird kids and the nerdy kids.  The few of us that held a strong interest in the game resigned ourselves to chatting about adventures, monsters, character options, and other fantasy topics at lunch tables or during after-school hangouts.  In addition to the potential social shaming associated with D&D, this was also the time of the Satanic Panic, and schools (and many parents) did not want anyone playing these sorts of games in public. 

Finding Fresh Motivation

I could go on with a story that is probably familiar to most of you.  I played a bit more during college, but only sporadically and only with a small group of friends.  I went on to the military, jobs, and family commitments.  I shuffled all of the games and interests associated with these games into closets and storage tubs, and eventually out to others or into thrift sales. However, something sparked the interest again: something coming from different podcasts or media encouraged me to take another look at D&D and wonder why I left.  Finding the reasons why I left started to become less important when I realized that my son could provide more motivation than anything online.  

I ordered a copy of the 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set to see if I could somehow get a game going with others, and especially a game to include my son.  I watched with both fascination and a sense of nostalgia as his eyes slowly widened when we opened the packaging for the set.  His face started to glow as he slowly said the title of the game out loud, mesmerised by the cover art in a manner eerily reminiscent of how I was mesmerised by the cover art of the Moldvay Basic Set my parents gave to me one Christmas long ago.  This was a few years ago, and my son had not yet fallen hard into the world of Harry Potter and the Marvel Universe.  Somehow, the surprising magic of a box set with the words “Dungeons and Dragons” and the promise of a game started his engine.

Starting The Journey

It has been a slow return but it has emerged entirely through running small sessions for my son.  I ran him and my wife through a few sessions in the Lost Mine of Phandelver, using a very abbreviated form of the 5th Edition rules and letting them take full reign of the overall story. We set the adventure against the backdrop of a story my son created – a story where his Elf Wizard was sent by his queen to recover four magical gems to save the kingdom.  To help reduce complexity, and to help cover the fact that I still felt sorely unfamiliar with the 5th Edition rules, we simplified some of the rules – such as initiative, skill checks, and allowing additional NPCs to join his party (a bit before the new sidekick rules introduced in the Essentials Kit).  Of course, my son did not care about any of it – he loved the game, the world, and the possibilities.

So that was a few years ago.  We continued to game sporadically, mostly as I felt I was never ready to run a session for him and needed more preparation time.  My son was perfectly thrilled to play on my schedule, and he treated each session as a wonderful experience. Also during this time, my family made the decision to leave our home (and life) in Hawai’i and spend time traveling North America in an RV. 

We started our journey last September and one thing my son and I resolved to do was to continue playing D&D on the road. I resolved to myself that I would overcome some of my trepidation and discomfort with preparation and running sessions for him as a DM.  Using D&D Beyond, some of the DriveThruRPG material on my iPad, and a small set of books and dice, we’ve been playing in different States and locations as we travel the USA. The RV we own does not have a lot of room to devote to gaming materials:

We continued to play a few more scenarios from the Lost Mine adventure, supplemented by a journey to some of the Caves of Chaos and a few great one-page dungeons I found (including the fantastic Into the Worm’s Gullet, by Dyson Logos, found here: Into the Worm’s Gullet – which we expanded a bit to include a few additional caverns). I finally got over some of the self-confidence issues and decided we could run games in shorter sessions – including one of the more memorable ones in a Laundromat in Mesa, Arizona: 

Taking The Game Further

I’m starting to refine a few things that help running the game in a scaled-down version for younger players (10-years-old and up), and for smaller parties (one or two players).  We purchased a copy of the Essentials Kit a few months ago and started running through the adventures leading up to finding that Dragon of Icespire Peak. 

My son has been devouring a few of the D&D Young Adventurer’s Guide books and loves to pepper me with questions about the monsters I encountered when I was younger, and whether or not I ever used certain spells he researches. When we started playing together, I was thrilled to find myself getting back into the hobby. However, I also feared that if I ran a bad adventure, or if I did not know enough of the rules to make the sessions run smoothly, it may sour him on D&D and tabletop games forever. It may have been a bit harsh to think that. I am glad to see that no matter how long the session runs, or how smoothly things go, he loves playing.  I love running games for him – and now I realize this is what I have missed during my absence from the hobby and why I am thrilled to be back.

Many thanks to Brian for sharing this fascinating post and for his ongoing support via the Roleplay Rescue Patreon. Game on!

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