Dungeons and Dragons: Altitis, Writing an Adventure, and More

So Dungeons and Dragons has pretty much taken over my life.

The official logo for Dungeons and Dragons, fifth editionWhen last we discussed this, my initial campaign had shut down, but another DM had stepped up to run a new one. This campaign is now our focus. It’s a more sandboxy and episodic affair, as opposed to the linear official campaigns.

I’ve been playing a Tiefling Way of Shadows monk who multi-classed into bard for one level for a little extra flavour and versatility. It’s become a very crowded game, though not everyone shows up every week. We also have another monk (an Aarakocra who moonlights as an exotic dancer), a Halfing fighter, an Aasimar paladin (with glorious hair), a Kenku rogue (who’s delightful), a Grung bard using homebrewed racials, and a human wizard.

Like I said. Crowded.

Our general strategy tends to be for my Tiefling and his Aasimar BFF to charge into the middle of things, start smashing everything in sight, and hope for the best. It mostly works, most of the time. There was that one time I got swallowed whole by a giant worm and our other monk had to cut me out of its stomach…

Meanwhile, another member of our social circle has started DMing some games of his own, using Adventurer’s League rules. He has a very tight schedule, so it’s more of a once in a blue moon thing than a regular campaign. We’ve only played one session so far.

In that, I’ve been playing as a Drow sorcerer, who is loosely based on my ranger from Neverwinter. I wanted to play a pure spellcaster for a while, and I’ve always liked the wild magic angle of sorcerers.

My ranger and her sellsword companion in NeverwinterWhereas my other characters so far have tended to be hybrid/supports, this time I’m just going for a maximum “burn the world down” damage build.

It’s a nice opportunity to explore another new character. While I feel that there is a lot of difference between tabletop RPGs and video games, one common thread I have found is that I’m still a hopeless altoholic. I’m constantly coming up with new character concepts, and there’s not enough time to play them all.

In addition to the three characters I’ve played so far, I have fairly fleshed out concepts for two more. One is a ranger that I intend to play in a one-off session using the Eberron setting next week, and the other is a Shadar-kai druid. I discovered the Circle of Twilight specialization, which uses dark magic to hunt undead, and fell in love, and given the anti-undead attitudes of the Shadar-kai and their master the Raven Queen, it all just sort of fell together.

The end result is what I’ll call a “death druid” sent to enforce the cycle of nature, similar to Diablo’s necromancers. I’m very passionate about the idea. Unfortunately, Circle of Twilight is from Unearthed Arcana, and therefore not legal for Adventurer’s League; otherwise I would have used it for the new campaign.

I’ve also found myself missing my original character (the High Elf paladin), so I brought her back for a cameo in the current campaign, with the possibility of maybe switching to her full time.

Art from the Dungeons and Dragons game Neverwinter depicting an Elf very much like my own paladinOur DM wanted me to write an adventure for the campaign for a while, so I decided to kill two birds with one stone and wrote an adventure around the paladin.¬†Because I’m still not a total expert on D&D mechanics and didn’t want to have too great an advantage over other players, I only wrote the story for this adventure. Our DM handled the mechanical design.

It’s a bit of a vanity project, but the others seem to be enjoying the story so far, and it’s giving me the opportunity for some great roleplay moments.

Since this campaign isn’t quite as high-power as the old one I wasn’t able to just be a paladin who’s also an arcane archer. Instead, I tweaked paladin mechanics a bit to make them work from range.

Instead of Divine Smite, I now have Divine Arrow, which is pretty much the same thing, except it works from range and rolls D6s instead of D8s for damage, to compensate for the advantage of being ranged.

I also rewrote Channel Divinity. It still gives me one of two utility effects per short rest, but instead of the usual Oath of the Ancients powers, I picked two of the arcane archer spells: Seeking Arrow and Beguiling Arrow.

I’m still weighing whether to switch to the paladin or stick with my monk. For the most part, I do think I prefer the paladin, especially when it comes to game mechanics. I’m glad I tried melee, but I think I prefer ranged when it comes to D&D, and I like having so much healing and support abilities.

Now all we need is a dungeon...However, I do really like how the monk fits into the party and the relationships he’s formed within it, like his roguish history with our Kenku and his buddy cop bromance with the Aasimar.

Also, D&D races don’t seem to be very well-balanced, and Tieflings seem to be just plain better than Elves. Hellish Rebuke in particular is an amazingly strong racial ability, at least at current levels.

Ugh. Decisions are hard.

My indecisiveness aside, I’m really enjoying diving into Dungeons and Dragons. I love building characters and exploring the stories, and getting to share it with my friends is a really positive experience. Our D&D sessions are becoming the highlight of my week.

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Playing Dungeons and Dragons for the First Time

I am, in almost every way, the stereotypical nerd. My favourite books, movies, and TV shows are all sci-fi or fantasy. I love video games. I do well in intellectual pursuits, terribly in physical pursuits. I have reams of action figures and replica starships cluttering my apartment. I don’t consider this a negative; I’m comfortable with this identity.

The official logo for Dungeons and Dragons, fifth editionHowever, there is one major area of nerdom that has been a blindspot for me, one area in which my nerd cred was never proven: tabletop role-playing.

I’ve had a vague fascination with the idea, off and on, over the years. When I was much younger I bought all the core rulebooks for Dungeons and Dragons, but mostly I just enjoyed reading the lore and looking at the art. I never got around to playing a proper game.

I was somewhat put off by my experience with CRPGs, which are the video game world’s attempts to replicate the tabletop formula. I’ve never liked those sorts of games very much; I find them slow, stilted, and lifeless, feeling more a matter of numbers and stats than an immersive game.

Now, finally, a few of my friends have set up a Dungeons and Dragons group, and I’ve gotten to try it for real. I’m only two sessions in at the time of this writing, but on the whole, it’s been a lot more fun than I expected.

My biggest worry going in was that it would be a very slow and plodding affair, but it’s actually been relatively fast-paced. The story is moving along at a decent clip, and there’s never too long a wait between fights. The pace of leveling is a little slower than I’d like (we’re all still level two), but given the game’s complexity, I see the reason for it.

I do credit our dungeon master for doing a good job so far. He’s been hitting a good balance of imposing order while still allowing us some creativity.

As someone who’s always found class choices in video games too restrictive, I also appreciate the greater flexibility Dungeons and Dragons offers.

For example, my character is a paladin (Elven, of course), and I’m playing with the intention of being the group’s main healer/support. However, rather than the traditional tanky sword and board paladin, I have low health and am using a longbow as my main weapon. I’ve actually been able to dish out a fair bit of punishment. I think I got fully half our party’s kills in the first session.

Longer term, I intend to double down on my archery and expand beyond the stereotypical holy magic. Our DM is open to letting me incorporate elements of the arcane archer sub-class, and I intend to take the Oath of the Ancients specialization, which has a nature/druidic bent.

The end result is going to be a long way from what you probably picture when you hear “paladin,” while still capturing much of what makes the class appealing to me.

She’ll still be a crusader for good, but rather than smiting with sword or hammer, she’ll be a deft ranged fighter, slaying evil from range with blessed arrows. She’ll still be a bastion of healing and support, but she’ll do so by channeling the raw vitality of nature and the purity of her own heart, rather than seeking the favour of a specific god.

Art from the Dungeons and Dragons game Neverwinter depicting an Elf very much like my own paladinI haven’t felt the frustration I do when playing CRPGs. Ultimately, I feel it’s a bit apples and oranges. Tabletop role-playing has a social, collaborative component and offers more freedom than a video game ever could. Video games are better suited to providing an immersive, seamless experience that lets you live in the moment. CRPGs try to combine the two, but only capture the worst of both worlds.

That said, I’m not without complaints. I had always found the sheer complexity of D&D intimidating, and while it’s not quite as bad as I expected, there’s still a lot to keep track of. I need a clipboard of papers and a rather hefty file on my tablet just to keep track of everything about my character and her spells. Oftentimes the challenge is not so much choosing the right action, but simply remembering what all the many and sundry options are. How a dungeon master manages everything I’ll never know.

Managing clashing character concepts can also be a bit hairy. I’m still not really sure how we’re going to have a party with a lawful good knight, a neutral good paladin, and a deranged necromancer building an unholy flesh golem without someone eventually getting murderized.

Still, none of this been enough to hamper my enjoyment of the process too much so far. Nothing’s perfect, after all.

Again, it has only been two sessions, but so far my first foray into Dungeons and Dragons has been a positive experience, and I look forward to more.