Over a quarter of a century ago, I was a Dungeon Master.
Then life happened; career, mortgage, marriage, kids. The funny-shaped dice gathered dust.
Yet over the passing decades, the impact of those teenage roleplaying game sessions has resonated through my life. Not least the fact that I’ve remained close with the school-friends who shared my nascent RPG journey, but also perhaps influencing my tastes and decisions as an adult. For example, I became a paramedic and got married in a forest to a woman with elven cheekbones.
In many respects, my friends and I stayed faithful to our gaming roots by embracing the internet age and playing a multitude of online variants of the games that drew us together. However, despite the astounding evolution of technology, no massively multiplayer or co-op gaming experience has ever quite captured the magic of our fantastical teenage odysseys (which is what led me, during my brief flirt with games journalism a few years ago, to write the bitter lament ‘Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games are a Lie‘).
From time to time, my friends and I would still get together in the real world for some tabletop gaming action (Games Workshop’s Warmaster mostly), but too infrequently to make our pen-and-paper habit worth resurrecting. Our life choices had seen us spread across the UK and beyond, making continuity a challenge.
In hindsight, it remains a mystery to me why we had never before attempted to use modern technology to bridge the gap between old and new. At least until last year, when it was suggested we give it a try using Roll20‘s browser-based RPG toolset.
The luddite in me resisted, unconvinced that the pen-and-paper RPG magic could be recaptured through the keyhole experience of computer monitors. I find comfort in the creative chaos of being surrounded by rulebooks, sheets of paper and scattered dice, as well as being able to make proper eye contact with fellow players. I saw online connectivity as detached and sterile.
But we gave it a go and, although I was slow to embrace this new-fangled interwebby roleplaying paradigm, have to admit I am now fully reborn as a 21st century Dungeon Master and digital roleplayer. As well as running two concurrent Dungeons & Dragons campaigns, I’m a player in Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay and Star Wars: Edge of the Empire campaigns run by my friends, all on Roll20.
My long dormant love affair with D&D now rekindled, I realise I’ve got a vast amount of catching up to do – there’s been like a thousand (well, three or four) new editions of the rules and a ridiculous amount of source material which I’m just never going to be able to absorb.
Not only that, the days of getting an occasional fix from a monthly magazine are long gone, now there are countless blogs to discover (Sly Flourish and The Monsters Know What They’re Doing are already favourites), forum communities, podcasts, YouTube/Twitch channels, direct social media engagement with roleplaying luminaries, online resources like D&D Beyond (which is either everything my heart desires or heresy depending on the wind direction).
It’s a bit overwhelming and a far cry from the insular RPG experience of the 1980s, but coming to terms with my D&D culture shock, overcoming the prejudices of my youth, and making old mistakes with new tools seems like a good topic for some bloggery.
Watch this (wild)space.