This was the first thing I had heard my 15 year old say to me in the last several months that didn’t include the words, “need a ride,” “money,” or “more money.”
“My buddies and I were talking.” His buddies being the ones who come over nearly every weekend with their XBoxes in tow for LAN parties, drinking all of the Dr. Pepper, and staying up late. There was nothing wrong with it. These kids aren’t out doing drugs or knocking over liquor stores, and they were all active in athletics at school, as well. But it’s been a weekend tradition for years. “We want to learn some other games.”
I’d noticed that sometimes when I woke up to make breakfast for the horde of teenagers sprawled around the living room – a leg sticking straight up against the couch, an arm flung over the head like a cortortionist was trying to audition for the circus – that a deck of cards or Uno would be on the dining room table. One time, there was even an unfinished game of Monopoly on the table. They were starting to come out of their video-game induced comas that had lasted several years.
“Do you know how to play Dungeons & Dragons?”
I didn’t, if we’re being perfectly honest. I’d played when I was, like, 10 with my cousin. And all I remember about it was a notepad of graph paper and a book. But still, this was an opportunity to, if nothing else, answer a question about not driving him somewhere.”
“Oh HELL yes, I know Dungeons & Dragons. Why?” I was certain the reason would be because they were involved in some sort of complicated hazing ritual of a Fat Neil type.
“We were wanting to know if we could play next weekend. I mean, is it, like, hard?”
That was a loaded question that I honestly didn’t have any answer for. But I saw, if only for a moment, a chance to spend a weekend with my son in the same house where he wasn’t behind a closed door in his “man cave” and I wasn’t binge watching LivePD eating Cheetos. I wasn’t going to let this opportunity slip by.
“Oh, it’s no big deal at all. You guys would love it. Let’s plan on next weekend. I’ll get the game and have it all set up for you.”
A seven-day binge began on my part of purchasing books on Amazon, then dice, then DM shields. Then the hours of watching YouTube videos under the search heading, “How to play Dungeons & Dragons.” There were approximately millions. What the hell had I gotten myself into? These boys were going to take one look at notebooks and pencils and head right back downstairs to Fortnight, or FIFA, or Black Ops 200.
Welp. In for a penny, in for many pennies, I always say. If they wanted to learn D&D, I would be their Dungeon Master – the storyteller who controls the pace and play of the game. Oh, I forgot to mention, it’s a game entirely set in a collective imagination. There are no pixels, no controllers, no WiFi passwords. You get a pencil and a piece of paper.
Do kids even use their imagination anymore? I was about to find out.
We had begun a Snapchat group with my son and two of his friends where I’d occasionally Snap them a photo of the Starter set, or a YouTube video with the words “SOON” over it. They seemed excited, but, they also seem to want to shower and wake up on time.
Learning to DM the game meant that I would need to know the rules before the players tried to break them. This was like being both an umpire AND a writer – not too shabby.
Friday night arrived, and, as it so happened, it was the day before the long Labor Day weekend. My mind couldn’t concentrate on anything other than the pending game before us, so I knocked off work early to prepare… and worry. I hadn’t had this much hand-wringing and worrying over 15 minutes of fun since my wedding night. HEYYYY-OOOOOOO.
Umpiring, creative writing, and a healthy dose of OCD caused me to prepare the players table with notebooks, pencils, a set of dice, their character sheet, and a bowl of M&M’s in the middle. Because, M&M’s, obviously. I didn’t learn much about how to play D&D during the week except that the goal isn’t to “win” the game, it’s really more about enjoying time with friends and eating junk food. If that was the barometer to be held against, I was pretty confident we’d succeed.
The players began to arrive, and began to read over their character sheets. Only one of the adventurers had played before and it was during an after-school program in middle school – but he said he’d forgotten it all. So literally the blind leading the blind here.
I had five character sheets and four players. The four players decided to play with one fighter, a wizard, a cleric, and a rogue. The first command to the players, read the character sheets and pick a name.
First, we have Salazar, played by my son. A folk hero, human fighter. A strapping young lad, if I say so myself.
Second, we have Milo Tosscobble. He told us that his nickname is “The Tosser,” a criminal rogue half-ling.
The third member of the party still carried his child’s name – a name he can choose to rename as he gets older. He is a high elf, acolyte wizard named Rinn Liadon.
The final member of the party sat back in his chair. He told us his dwarven name as a soldier cleric. “Mike. Hunt. That is my name. Mike Hunt.”
The soda was chilling in the refrigerator. The bowl of M&M’s were already at half-health. The pencils had been sharpened. The game of Dungeons and Dragons – the campaign of the Lost Mine of Phandelver – was about to begin.
Success or failure, my heart was already full. Whether it would take 15 minutes or a lifetime, it all begins with this…
“Four strangers find themselves in a crowded pub in the city of Neverwinter. The four of them have sat down at the only four seats that were empty as a man walked up to the table with a quest…”
More about the actual campaign later…