I Was A 30 Year Old D&D Virgin

I Was A 30 Year Old D&D Virgin
Image: Kotaku

“What name are you going to go with,” someone asked my partner, as we were running through the process of picking names for our Dungeons & Dragons characters. She thought about it for a second, and then started Googling the names of those Nigerian princes you find in spam emails.

“Reverend Father August Goodluck,” she announced to the table, and a chorus of laughter.

This was my introduction to the world of real-life Dungeons & Dragons.

My name’s Alex, and I’ve never played a proper game of D&D. I’m almost 30 years old. I’ve played countless numbers of RPGs on the computer. Baldur’s Gate. Neverwinter Nights. Betrayal at Krondor. The first few hours of Pillars of Eternity. A fair chunk of Divinity: Original Sin.

I’ve had plenty of experience with what traditional Dungeons & Dragons seems like. But I’ve never played the real thing. Last time I tried, the local game store near my house closed down. There was another one nearby, about a 15 minute trip combined travel, but my work hours changed and the opportunity to go raiding never came up again.

Until recently.

After much talk about getting various game nights going — board games, card games, video games — a colleague of mine and her partner finally pulled the trigger. They created a Facebook group, invited heaps of people, and the wheels were finally put in motion.

And so was the actual process of D&D. I remembered using an app many moons ago to create a character. I remember it being some kind of deity, not exactly a god class but something borne from gods or descended from the heavens beyond.

But we were using 5th Edition this time around, and a beginners campaign. And after taking the cheap way out and consulting the internet, I ended up settling on a Gnomish Rogue.

I’m pretty happy with the name.

What people didn’t tell me was how much real life D&D was like a process. The “character creation” night is almost like a long, slow version of drafting from Dota 2 or League of Legends.

The night starts with everyone finding the house in question. Then every comes up, gets settled in. Have you had something to eat? Would you like something to drink? You take your shoes off, find a seat, settle down, maybe go to the toilet for a second.

And then more people begin to arrive. “I bring supplies,” one person announced. It’s a bag full of packet-sized chips. They’re the kind I remember taking to a family friend’s place when I was in primary school and we’d have little LAN parties of our own.

That’s what the whole night feels like. The clock has been wound back. We’re all kids again.

The group swells. It’s obvious that there’s too many people for one group, so my colleague wisely split proceedings into two parties, running on different weeks. My colleague and her partner graciously offer to create separate characters to play in both groups, which seems like an arduous task.

There’s no music playing, so we run a quick straw poll. Eventually the tavern music from Hearthstone is set to loop; it ran unabated in the background for the whole night.

I’m just reading through the character sheet for the first time. Someone linked me to an online resource where I could create my own character. But upon seeing a friend roll the dice, read the Players Handbook and go through the process of their own, I figured I might as well play along.

Someone says that we should get 6 re-rolls across all of our stats because there are so many beginners involved. We start rolling 4 dice for each stat, dropping the lowest number out of the 4. After that, we can use a re-roll on any one of the dice if we’d like to try for something higher.

A friend rolls over 15 for everything. Another mate uses only 2 re-rolls and has two 19s. Those stats seem insane. I’ve never gotten those in an RPG off the bat before.

I give it a try. The rolls … aren’t good. “You don’t have over 15 for anything,” someone notes, even though I don’t have anything below 12 either.

Image: Kotaku

“They’re really low, dude,” a mate says solemnly. Others agree that I got hosed, and so I go through the rolling process again. I’m all for that — ever since I was a kid, playing with dice was awesome. Apparently you get to choose which roll goes for which stat, which is handy — I don’t really want my Forest Gnome to have a strength of 15.

What nobody told me is that actually being disorganised was more fun. A couple of people were organised and made their characters beforehand. They printed out their character sheets using an online generator, but that meant they largely had nothing to do while everyone else went through the process of picking their traits, flaws, backstories — the whole lot.

And nobody mentioned how big a deal the class selection would be. “We don’t have a healer,” someone in the other group kept saying. “We need a healer — are you going to be a Cleric?” they randomly asked. I thought it would have been fine if you doubled up on classes. Wasn’t that the sort of thing that a DM would naturally and organically work around? After all, doesn’t the experience naturally tailor itself to the characters and people playing?

But standard RPG conventions apply — then again, I guess D&D is where standard RPG conventions came from. Someone has to take the lead in fights. Someone has to patch people up. And someone has to be the “face” of the group and initiate conversations, which ended up being me.

After all, I built my character around the whole idea of being an impish little shit who takes to take the piss out of people. The kind that gets under people’s skin or mocks them without them knowing it. You can’t really do that without talking to people.

So I went through the book. What skills do I need to “talk” to people? Persuasion seems like a good thing. But I also want to be the observant type. So do I need Investigation or Insight? Is Stealth of any use, or would Sleight of Hand make more sense? What about Deception? I might need extra rolls to lie to people.

Even in the simplified world of D&D 5E, it’s all a bit overwhelming. The player books didn’t have a clear step-by-step that I could refer back to. Everything was in separate chapters. Like the night itself, it was a little unorganised. But that seems part of the charm: throwing yourself in, getting lost, and finding your way out again.

Eventually it all started to come together though. I learnt little adages for your bonuses. “Minus 10, divided by 2 rounded down,” someone told me.

I’ve still got to finalise my backstory and reprint out a new, clean character sheet. And I’m not sure if I picked All The Right Things. But almost 30 years on, I’ve finally been introduced to D&D.

And, more importantly, I’m starting to understand. D&D is like being a kid again. That works for me.


    • Watch this space. I’m still working on it but I’ve been drafting up an *insert ruleset here* (likely Pathfinder, could be persuaded to D&D of some edition) campaign, hopefully start recruiting by the end of the year on Roll20.

      • Groovy. I don’t think I ever actually played Pathfinder, in the end. I am also trying to get a local group to play (because I ideally prefer IRL gaming) 40k Rogue Trader adapted to playing as Freebooter Orks.

        Keep me in the loop!

        • Will do.

          The Monday Knights™ has been my first Pathfinder experience and I’m loving it (for the last… almost 30 months). It feels just like 3.5, with some streamlining and some expanding. Very enjoyable.

        • Yeah my bad that the 40K online stuff wasn’t quite clicking for you. I totally understand the preference for IRL gaming but I’ve found online RPGing to be very flexible for people’s schedules.

          Also, love the idea of playing as Freebooters. Hope it goes well!

          • Nah, not your fault it didn’t click for me! I think I picked the wrong starting character.

      • I wish I was in your timezone because I’d be so up for that. I really miss playing Pathfinder. 🙁

        • Hypothetically, if Saturday midday worked for everybody, that’d be Friday evening for you, right…?

          • Right now, 7pm PST is Midday the following day in Australian Eastern time so yes. At start of November when we go off Daylight Savings and Australia goes onto it we gain an extra 2 hours overlap so 5pm PST is Midday in AU instead (i.e. more time available).

  • “Someone has to take the lead in fights. Someone has to patch people up. And someone has to be the “face” of the group and initiate conversations, which ended up being me.”
    I disagree with this. Having played for years and DMed for a lot of that time too, i don’t think you do need a person to fill any or all of these rolls. In fact it can be interesting to see how a party overcomes such drawbacks when they don’t have these traditional roles. In the end it’s up to the DM to adjust as needed to make the game fun for everyone.
    If everyone wants to play a wizard, then that’s fine, if nobody wants to be a healer, there are ways around it.

    • The problem is they don’t have the experience to know how to go off the rails without crashing. The beauty of pen and paper RPGs is that you can negotiate with everything, but sticking to the script for a while lets you get a handle on everything rather than interrupting the game every five minutes to figure out how you’re going to make what you’re doing work.

    • Problem is that so many people get used to this system that they can’t think about doing anything different. They’ll never strategize in combat, just all rush forward and rely on the cleric to slap them in the back of the head with heals. Even outside combat they’re relying on the cleric pulling them up when they fall down from their risking leap. I’ve seen characters walk into clouds of poison and coming back to me to heal their diseases. What’s hilarious is watching these same players freak out the second the healer dies. I’ve seen players immediately and completely abandon a quest and their current fight the second their healer goes down.

      According to the Angry GM, the problem is that everybody views combat as a DPS race. They go in and try to do as much dice rolling as they can before the enemies roll as many dice against them.

    • That was something Alex actually pointed out. But as a beginner campaign maybe it was just a bit safer for everyone considering it’s “1,2,3, my first RPG”

    • Agree. Definitely possible to play without a healer, it just means the DM has to be a little careful and/or generous with potions or healing wands.

      Also depending on the system you often end up with a ‘face’ character by accident, by virtue of the fact that several classes (esp. in Pathfinder) have Charisma as a prime stat so they just get conversation bonuses naturally.

      Still, the fact is that Pen & Paper RPGs are at their absolute best when they’re at their most absurd. Players massively overreaching and then spectacularly succeeding or failing at something is generally far more entertaining for everyone involved than always being super efficient.

  • I used to tabletop alot but not for the last 15 years or so. i will admit i miss it and its organised chaos

    • Don’t you mean ‘Pun-Pun of us’?

      “Pun-Pun grants himself the Wu-Jen spell Giant Size as a spell-like ability at-will. He casts it on his familiar through the Share Spells ability. This increases the viper to colossal size, granting the viper a +32 size bonus to strength. For the average tiny viper, that means his strength score went from 4 to 36. Using the Manipulate Form ability, the viper then increases Pun-Pun’s strength score permanently, up to a maximum of 36 (the viper’s own strength score). This is not a size bonus to strength. The viper is using the ability of Manipulate Form to increase and decrease a creature’s ability score. No bonus is being given.

      Pun-Pun’s base strength score, with no bonuses of any sort, is now 36. Pun-Pun dismisses the spell effect on the familiar and it goes back down to tiny size. The familiar’s strength score goes back to 4. Pun-Pun uses Giant Size on himself, growing to colossal size and gaining a +32 size bonus to strength. His strength score is now 68. Pun-Pun uses the Manipulate Form ability to directly increase his familiar’s strength score up to 68. Again, this isn’t a size bonus that he is giving the familiar, he is actually increasing the base score to match his own. Pun-Pun dismisses his Giant Size effect, and he goes back to a small size with strength 36. The viper is still tiny size, with strength 68 now.

      The viper repeats the process of growing to colossal size and increasing Pun-Pun’s strength score. Pun-Pun does the same. This process is repeated until Pun-Pun decides he is satisfied with his current strength score.”


    • That’s the idea! Thinking of doing an ongoing series, bit like Mark’s Idiot in Azeroth but for D&D. Will see how it turns out.

      • Will you be playing through the Lost Mines of Phandelver?

        My friends and I are nearing the end of that campaign. Most of us are new to DnD, and we have had a bit of turn over as people have dropped out and joined. We are fairly set now with three of us: a War Cleric (me), Warlock and Ranger.

        • I don’t know what the actual name of the campaign is. The next night isn’t until next week, so I’ll find out then (and you’ll all hear about it soon thereafter).

    • I met a guy recently who is the most stereotypical jock I’ve ever met and he absolutely loves D&D. You’d be surprised how easily people get into the game once they get started and get into the groove of D&D.

      • This. If Vin Diesel, Judi Dench and The Rock can all be into D&D, then anyone can.

        (Also I’d pay really good money to be a fly on the wall in a session with those three playing)

    • Yeah, 38 here and I’m the same. Always used to read through the D&D handbooks, always wanted to get stuck in and have a go… but not only is it a friend constraint but a time one. The only time I attempted such an undertaking we got as far as character creation then nobody could get together again at the right time.

      So… video games. Character creation done in minutes. There was always time to play when I was ready. Lesson learned: people cannot be trusted or relied upon.

      Also…. I take that Baldur’s Gate and Betrayal at Krondor and raise you Pool of Radiance and Eye of the Beholder. My youth was not ill-spent.

      • I really think pen and paper RPG’s are the kind of thing that only really work when you and your group of friends are young. Once people have jobs, spouses/partners/kids, houses, etc etc it’s really, really hard to line up a decent block of hours on a regular basis when everybody can get together at the same time.

        Online gaming is a little easier… you can sometimes line up an hour or two late at night, which is a bit easier than getting everybody in one room.

        • Even back then, not just partners but work/uni commitments too. Then the stoner commitments by which I mean sitting on the couch for 8 hours being more fun than doing something. Never understood that. So I’d play with myself in a dark room. Then afterwards, fire up the PC and play RPGs.

        • Which is where something like Roll 20 comes in handy. Virtual tabletop, virtual dice, Roll20 itself can handle the audio / video for each person (with mixed results) – Couple hours every week or two or three, and you’ve got yourselves a campaign.

        • I’m 38 and have been playing D&D/Pathfinder for many years. I only really started after I grew up, got married and got a job. Our sessions now tend to be once a month, but boy are they good!

        • Yeah we started playing in 1984 and did not let up until marriage, kids and work became a priority . Now we have a game once every two months, if we are lucky.

  • The first time I played, the night was mostly taken up by our friend trying to create all our characters and I was surprised that it all took so long. Don’t think we actually started playing til the next day. I can’t remember how much of it he took care of exactly but we did get to make some decisions about things. All so long ago that if I tried again it would basically be the first time again 😛

    • I just remembered, we used a name generator to choose names, clicking until we saw one we liked. I think mine was something like Gaebar, which I decided on specifically for the constant exchange of “Ok, gay bar” “It’s ghee-bah!”

  • I know some people like the mechanics, but for me statting out characters and shopping trips is actually one of the dullest parts of RPGing- i’d rather get to the roleplaying.

    That said, always, ALWAYS buy pitons as part of character generation

  • That said, always, ALWAYS buy pitons as part of character generation

    What does this mean ?!

    • What it says on the box. 😛

      What @redartifice is getting at is that pitons can be used for more than just climbing purposes, I think.

  • I’m 32 and have tried to get a game going with friends twice to no avail. The first time I tried tradish pen & paper and the second 2 nights ago on roll20. Having done the most research I was DM and was pretty organised to get it going with a beginner campaign containing pre-built characters. Trouble was most of them liked the theory of playing over actually playing the game. There was food, mountain dew, Spotify fantasy playlist, candles (my wife wanted ambiance) and chat but very little gameplay.

    By the time I managed to get them going we only played for about an hour before people got too tired and wanted to go home. Most of that time was people asking me what to do or what their characters should do and didn’t play long enough for people to start to do things by themselves, so each time we play it’s just restarting from scratch. Pretty disappointed and really keen to play but you need the right people. In the meantime I’ll live vicariously through others and keep listening to podcasts and playing video games.

    • One thing I’ve learned is late night sessions can be bad for keeping people motivated. Try morning or afternoon sessions if possible when everyone is alert and keen.

      Also if time is limited try throwing them straight into a climax scenario with premade characters, no early long winded wind up just straight to the action should give them a good taste of what they are missing out on.

      Also make lots of use of the +2/-2 +4/-4 rules to save on downtime and keep everyone interested 🙂

      • I say got tired and wanted to go home but it wasn’t even that late. I also integrated a tutorial part that went straight into a basement/rat scenario. Could be that people just aren’t interested and didn’t want to say it which is even more annoying as I wouldn’t have wasted my time. Can you give some more info/link on these alternate rules?

        • Basically the +2-2/+4/-4 is a homebrew rule some people use to save time for those unfamiliar with rules that want to keep the game rolling without having to stop and search through rulebooks everytime someone wants to do something outside of the norm.

          Eg. A guy wants to run past two armed guards before jumping onto his target with a knife. You’d say “ok you’ll get a -2 to your attack roll (chance to hit) due to the guards blocking your way, and an acrobatics check too”

          Or say the Player is the guard “ok you’ve got a +2 to hit cos this guy is trying to get past you”.

          It’ll make rule junkies cringe but it saves time, keeps things flowing and moving along. Better then “hold up guys i think there is something on that in my 300 page rulebook”

          -4 +4 would be for even more drastic ideas but hell you could use any number really.

          Don’t be afraid to ignore certains rules your group dislikes and form your own set as you go to suit your playstyle.

          For example confirming criticals, if you roll a 20 in my group you’re going to hit critical Where as traditional DnD will tell you to “confirm the hit”

          Also we roll both the d20 for attack roll and the damage dice at the same time, so if you hit above the target’s AC on the d20 then you already know what damage you’ll do.

          Little things like this can really shape the game into what you want it to be especially in the days of PnP DND being overshadowed by videogames. Theres alot of info out there but I find it’s best to just “roll with it” har har.

          Hope this helped.

  • Is D&D 5 easier to learn than 4? I started up a D&D group a few years ago using 4 as it was the newest at that time, and the whole powers that can be used at different times really seemed to slow things down. I was thinking of starting up a new group, but I’m wondering if there’s an easier system to use (eg Warriors just attack, mages just cast weapons) for people just getting into D&D. I organised my first D&D session when I had my 30th birthday party and invited a whole bunch of people from school I hadn’t seen in ages. 6 months later, we finally sat down to play.

    • 5E is much more of a throwback to the older editions, where 4E felt a lot like you were playing an MMO and managing cooldowns. It’s easier to play but it’s maybe not as simplified as you’re suggesting.

      From the sound of it you might want to look into Numenera. Numenera’s got very simple character creation and very simple combat designed to make the game easy to run. You should ask @redartifice about that system if it sounds interesting.

      • and @agracos

        Numenera/The Cypher System (same thing) is certainly easier to GM, as combat is less complex. All depends on what you’re looking for as a player/GM. I like the Numenera system because I’m more focused on the storytelling side of things as a GM over the tactical combat aspect.

  • I started pen & paper role-playing in the mid 90’s when I was 20. I think I started with Traveller, then 2E Shadowrun, D&D & Vampire: the Masquerade. What I have learned playing across many different groups is that afternoon sessions are certainly the best for getting things done, but not always possible as you get older. I am in two evening groups, we meet once a week around 6:30pm, someone cooks dinner, we eat, we play until 10:30pm, this seems to generally work for people. But, you do need to be organised in order to get things done and a facebook group can help in between sessions.

    As for newbies, generally I have found it easier if they are introduced into a group of welcoming but experienced players. I have found groups before by talking to people in a local gaming shop, and even in a small city like Adelaide there are a couple of large facebook groups for finding rpg gamers.

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