It’s 7:50 p.m. My children are asleep, soundly. My husband pulls a wooden cigar box out of the credenza in our dining room, an excited gleam in his eye that I don’t often see. I ask for a moment to change and grab a drink, and he agrees. The soft white light bulbs are replaced with red ones. We’ve been texting about this all day, making plans and laying out every last detail.
These events sound like the build-up to a steamy scene from a paperback romance novel, but in my house, they lead to something far more innocent, I assure you. Yes, we’re preparing for role playing games, but not the sexy kind. More like the kind with multiple rulebooks and ten types of dice.
We’re getting ready to play Dungeons & Dragons (D&D).
How I came to play this game that is the ultimate delight of nerds the world over is a bit of a story of its own. I spent my college days at a technical college mercilessly (and wrongly) poking fun at the folks gathering in the dining hall on Thursday nights to play Dungeons & Dragons. I snickered at the mere mention of the D&D books, giddily crying “Nerd alert” every time we passed the gaming store in town. With more than a decade of hindsight, I’m not exactly sure why I did this, other than it seemed like all of my friends were also picking on them. I realize now, with some maturity, that this behavior was far from kind and thoughtful.
Flash forward a few years, and imagine my shock when after nearly a decade of being together, I discovered that my husband was one of them. He had grown up participating in role playing games with his friends and continued into college. I discovered this when we were unpacking, and I found a single box filled to the brim with D&D manuals. I was shocked and embarrassed by my previous behavior.
The uncovering of the books led him to reminisce about the fun he had with friends playing the game. He and his friends decided to start a new game and would be meeting at our house monthly. My husband hadn’t “DM’d” a game since his teens, and would need my help getting ready. (DM = Dungeon Master. The DM is the creator of the game’s plotline and leads the group on their make-believe adventure). He asked me to help him create a character “Just for practice.”
I remember the events that unfolded clear as day: we sat on the bathroom floor while our toddler bathed, with him asking me a series of questions: what race is your character? What class are they? What are their motivations and flaws? What sorts of gear and weapons do they carry?
Then his friends came over. They played while I used headphones to watch episodes of Real Housewives in the next room. But then they came again, and he asked me if I wanted to watch.
I had been bamboozled, truly. It had always been his plan that I would play, too. And I find it incredibly thoughtful and sweet that he took such a big effort to get me involved in something that he finds fun.
One minute I was helping my husband prepare for an upcoming game because he was “Out of practice,” and the next I’m a gnome archer named Gidgit, who rides a mastiff named Fudge (yes, the dog), and is about to embark on a journey with a bunch of strangers to stop a demon god from uprising and taking over the universe… or something like that. Oh, how the mighty will fall.
As it turns out, this thing that I had made fun of others for doing because it seemed ridiculous to pretend, turned out to be really, really, really fun. Sitting around the table with a group of friends, laughing while we escaped into a land of make-believe wasn’t so bad.
It was nice to be in someone else’s life for a while and to explore parts of myself I hadn’t considered since childhood. Even if I was dangerously close to running around the backyard in costume with a makeshift sword.
This shared activity also turned out to be a great way for my husband and me to find common ground during a challenging time in our marriage. 2020 hasn’t been kind to anyone, but between working two strenuous jobs, a new baby, and a preschooler with disabilities, it’s been hard for us to find time to connect. Role playing games turned out to be just the thing we needed. Who knew you could rekindle romance by getting your nerd on?
If you’re interested in getting started with D&D, I have some advice for you. First, find someone experienced who knows the rules, and ask them to lead you through a short game, called a “one-shot.” This will give you a taste and help you decide whether or not you want to invest the time and energy it takes to learn the ropes.
Next, either borrow or purchase a copy of the Player’s Handbook. You can also download the better portion of it for free. This free version will have almost everything you need to create a character. You’ll need a group of 2-6 people to play with, optimistically known as a party. While sitting together around a table for hours on end isn’t advisable during COVID times, you could always play over Zoom. You’ll need a set of dice, which you can purchase locally from Quarterstaff Games, Turner Toys, or the Frozen Ogre. If you’re short on cash, you can save yourself the $10 and use a dice rolling app.
Once you have a party, some dice, and you’ve created a character, it’s time to adventure! Again, I highly recommend finding an experienced DM to lead you through your first experience. That makes it possible to spend more time imagining and less time fretting over the number of hit points some 20-eyed tentacle monster has left.