A legit Dungeon Master explains why Dungeons and Dragons is so great

Art by Claudine Aranza

Editor’s note: The author is also known as Dungeon Master Celeste, and is a Level 6 Tiefling Monk

The party is surrounded by three kobolds and a Dragonborn cultist donning a purple, gilded robe. The cultist is first to attack, sending a fire-bolt in the direction of the party, but it misses the adventurers by a hair. In a merciless counterattack, the female Elven ranger lunges forward, taking aim at the cultist.

There’s a dull clatter of dice on a wooden table. The party holds their breath.

“Nat 20,” says the ranger with a smile.

Suddenly, a fulminous burst of light erupts from her bow. The arrow traces white before exploding on the Dragonborn, lighting the place up five feet around. The cultist is reduced into a pile of shimmering, purple ash — but what’s this? Strewn around it are pieces of copper. 50 to be exact.

The party cheers as I say, “You get 70 XP for that!”

Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) is the world’s most famous tabletop roleplaying game. The dice got rolling in the ‘70s, and people have been playing ever since. Basically, players create and customize their own characters and embark on different story-based adventures — called campaigns — which are facilitated by the dungeon master (DM). The outcome of the games are decided based on strategy, creativity and luck. Dice rolls are used to determine whether you succeed or fail in an action like attacking, persuading, etc. In the fantasy world of Faerun — or whatever world you choose to play in — one is only limited by one’s imagination.

Some players go as far as customizing their own miniatures and building-scaled replicas of castles, forests and dungeons. Personally, I’m the kind of Dungeon Master that mostly relies on the theater of the mind. There are niches all around Metro Manila that host their own D&D game nights. The craze has spread online too, with guilds, forums and voice chats on Discord. With pop fiction popularizing D&D (think: Stranger Things, Community, and Ready Player One), tabletop RPG content is going through a resurgence.

I have always asked myself, what is it about D&D that gets people hooked? I mean, it’s just a pen-and-paper game. There are no high-definition graphics, no state-of-the-art engines propelling the gameplay. Most of the elements and storytelling are intangible. I finally found the answer when my high school bestie Pilar invited me to play a one-shot in her house back in 2015. From then on, I fell straight into the D&D hole.


I think the crux of being a DM is having a good sense of storytelling and focus. At the heart of every D&D campaign is a promise to bring players into that fantastic adventure. As the DM, you walk them through it, occasionally screwing with their minds.

 

Being immersed in the storytelling of any campaign is probably the reason I’ve never gotten tired of D&D. As a player, the allure of adopting an entirely different identity, having awesome powers and saving the world with friends — there’s nothing quite like it. As a dungeon master for almost four years, running the D&D 5th Edition, every game I facilitate is new and exciting. Every story is fresh, every party is an absurd mix of characters, and the possibilities in any play are endless.

I first tried my hand at being a dungeon master a few plays after Pilar introduced me to D&D. As DM, I got to sit at the head of the table and facilitate the encounter behind a “screen,” a pop-up wall that contains all your notes, enemy and NPC statistics. It was like being the commander of a ship, as I would have to play a variety of roles, from run-of-the-mill halfling to lofty elven queen.

I think the crux of being a DM is having a good sense of storytelling and focus. At the heart of every D&D campaign is a promise to bring players into that fantastic adventure. As the DM, you walk them through it, occasionally screwing with their minds. Focus is essential because you have to keep the players on track with the plot, but at the same time you have to give them leeway to make their own creative decisions. I think it’s important that you find your own style as a DM; there’s no equation to being the perfect Dungeon Master. It’s like a spectrum; you could go for the more action-based, fighting style or the narrative, theatrical experience.

 

It’s not shameful escapism. Rather, by immersing ourselves in fantasies, we attempt to explain our own realities.

 

Beyond that, I believe what draws me to D&D is the fact that it can bring people together. It attracts people of all ages and backgrounds, and it blurs boundaries. We’re all part of this big geek community. In D&D, we’re free and accepted to be anyone. We transform into our own heroes, create our own destinies. We find our own raison d’etrê in a fantasy world. It’s not shameful escapism. Rather, by immersing ourselves in fantasies, we attempt to explain our own realities.

We are captivated by D&D simply because the stories we embark on tell us a lot about us. We crave to feel — happiness, love, excitement, adventure — and we are able to fulfill this through media like games, books, and films. Sometimes it is through the lens of fiction that we are able to explain reality and the human condition much better than non-fiction, which ironically, in many cases attempt to cover up reality. In the end, we love stories because they explain much about who and why we are.

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#culture #friendship #games

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