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30th November 2023

Getting into Dungeons and Dragons with the Tabletop Roleplaying Society

Have you watched the Dungeons and Dragons film, or played Baldur’s Gate 3 and want to know how you can join in on the fun? Here’s a brief introduction, with help from the Tabletop Roleplaying Society!
Getting into Dungeons and Dragons with the Tabletop Roleplaying Society
Credit: Timothy Dykes @ Unsplash

“Right place at the right time,” events officer of the Tabletop Roleplaying Society, Hannah, tells me, when asked about how she first involved herself in Dungeons and Dragons – a hobby that recently has had one of the most unexpected rises in popularity of the last decade.

Originally created in the mid-70s, D&D initially gained a reputation either as a nerdy thing for weirdos to pretend they were cooler than they actually were, or as the literal devil’s work, created to corrupt the youth. Yet, today, it’s more popular than ever. Celebrities, including Stephen Colbert and Deborah Ann Woll, have been public about their love for the game. This past year specifically has been rife with D&D adaptations, with the release both of this year’s biggest video game hit, Baldur’s Gate 3, and a surprisingly not-terrible big-budget film adaptation, Dungeons and Dragons: Honour Among Thieves.

In recent times, the popularity of D&D podcasts such as Critical Role or The Adventure Zone has resulted in increasing numbers of people looking to dip their toes in themselves –  chairperson Jade and treasurer Brian both noting they had initially heard of D&D through online broadcasts of it, leading to their eventual involvement with the society. But where to start? I spoke recently with some members of the board of the Tabletop Roleplaying Society, hoping to help some fellow nerds a bit intimidated by the game to get involved with it. After all, how hard could it really be?

Each member recognises how daunting it can seem at first, as Jade mentions, “The books are so big… you always think you have to read all of them” – but is reassuring, stating “even if one person knows the rules, that’s all that you need.” The group also notes the common misconceptions of how D&D is often portrayed in various media, where it is often depicted, as Jade puts it, as “this very nerdy number-crunching game that isn’t that much fun… I think they often miss the mark when demonstrating how much it is a group storytelling activity.”

Brian adds that “most groups play it very differently,” where some players prefer the numbers, and others favour pure roleplaying – “there’s also people who basically don’t roll dice!” I can also speak to my own personal experience of D&D which was, for the most part, my teenage self and her friends sat around a table munching on snacks and yelling in unison when the dice just were not rolling well. Everyone pointed and laughed at the person who rolled their fourth natural one for the session!

But let me now take a moment to step back and go down to absolute basics for those uninitiated. Dungeons and Dragons is a tabletop role-playing game set in an open-ended Tolkienesque fantasy world, dictated by a set of rulebooks – although, as Jade reminds me, “don’t play by the rules, just play by a set of rules, as long as you stick with your own thing.” There are a number of different editions of these rulebooks, the most recent (and, in my opinion, most accessible) being Fifth Edition (5e).

A designated player, called the Dungeon Master (DM), will create the scenarios and challenges for the players to encounter – literally creating the world around them. The DM does this in engagement with the other players, all of whom will have created characters with a race (human, elf, gnome, and so on) and a class, which dictates what sort of role your character plays. Fancy going absolutely ham on your enemies? Choose the barbarian class, able to transform their own rage into damage.

The majority of gameplay will occur through speech (stating you want your character to do x thing) and through dice rolls – most involving a 20-sided die. Want to convince that attractive stranger at the bar to go on a date with your character? Well, you had better hope the dice gods favour you, before you get cruelly rejected and have the whole table laugh at your misfortune. Not that that has happened to me. The point being, the higher you get, the more successful your attempt at anything will be. Your basic skill points will contribute to (or, if you’re unlucky enough, detract from) the overall score you get in addition to your dice rolls – but the randomness is still very much a core feature of D&D. It is equally possible to completely flub a roll that you would be seemingly perfectly poised for, as it is to absolutely nail something your character would otherwise be terrible at.

Other aspects of the game focus on role-playing, where the players will engage directly with the DM and the world they’ve created – as Hannah stated to me, “Be prepared to improvise!” One of the best feelings I have experienced as a DM is when my players (also referred to as a “party”) spend significant amounts of time just talking to one another with very little input from my part. Seeing them get so invested in each of the characters they had created was rewarding in and of itself.

But what are the most important things the professionals at the TTRPG Society would advise prospective players on? “I would say join the society if you don’t have friends that are already into it [D&D],” Jade tells me, “even if it’s only for a few weeks, that’s when they can find a group they can meet up with.” Another roadblock we discussed was that of the monetary price of getting into D&D, given how pricey the rulebooks are. Hannah notes that joining the society means “you never have to spend a single penny… you could absorb all the rule stuff, basically by osmosis, just by playing with others.” She also notes that the society has paid access to D&D Beyond, one of the most helpful online D&D resources for beginners, which includes simplified character creation, easy access to rules, and even ready-made campaigns for beginner DMs to pick up.

The Tabletop Role-Playing Society at a semi-competitive TTRPG event in Scotland. Credit: TTRPG Society

We also discussed what Brian described as “the most important thing” for a new campaign – the ‘Session 0’, where players can meet to set things up for an upcoming campaign, which is “so much more fun” than doing things independently. Jade describes it: “You can introduce them to the setting, talk to them a little bit about backstory – you’ve got everyone around the table!”

Relevantly, Hannah speaks of sitting down at Session 0s with new players for character creation, asking them “What kind of pop-culture thing do you want to emulate,” mentioning a housemate who wanted to create a Geralt of Rivia-esque character, which eventually turned into a monster hunter ranger character. She advises new players to think up a concept or archetype they would be interested in playing, and then to transpose that into a D&D race and class.

Session 0s are also an opportunity for players to set out their expectations for the upcoming campaign, given the freeform nature of roleplaying. Hannah recommends players discuss “the tone of the campaign, and with that, any trigger warnings, subjects you’re definitely not going to go over,” Jade also comments on adding “a list of things that will never be brought up, and never touched upon,” and “stuff that can be referenced in passing… but won’t be a central point.” For new players, Brian suggests going with tonally light campaigns, particularly for groups that might not necessarily be best buddies to begin with.

D&D might appear ostensibly to be quite imposing and serious, but really is a lot of fun once you have broken into it. “Don’t be afraid to fail!” Hannah tells me, her committee members vocally agreeing with her advice. Their sentiments are open to newer players, willing to teach and get anyone who is interested involved in such a unique hobby. In Jade’s words, “Just put yourself out there, give it a go!”

Anna Pirie

Anna Pirie

she/her games editor for The Mancunion, literature student, and professional olive eater

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