rambling

Rolling the Dice: Adventuring and Learning With New D&D Players

I found myself standing knee-deep in a river at the mouth of a pitch-black cave, with small orbs of light dancing around me. One of my companions stood between the river and a large rocky incline about twenty feet ahead of me, and, unluckily for him, this spot was visible from a bridge overhanging the river and the path we were following. Our enemies atop the bridge spotted us with no trouble.

“Roll for initiative,” my brother said. Two of us rattled off our numbers with no trouble, and another two needed gentle reminders of where their initiative bonus was on their character sheets. Three of our rather large adventuring party were brand new to the game, and we helped them calculate their initiative before my brother set up our turn order on his DM screen.

It was the Sunday night before Memorial Day, I wasn’t working, and eight of us were gathered around our huge extendable/retractable table to play and/or learn Dungeons and Dragons.

For those not in the know, eight people sitting at a table to play D&D is a ridiculous number of people. This means that one of those eight is the DM, or dungeon master, and they guide the party along as they experience the trials and tribulations relevant to the overarching story. They set up combat encounters, ability checks, and anything else necessary to progress the story. If you, as a player, decide to do something a little wacky, the DM’s duty is to adapt to your action and come up with a suitable outcome. The best DMs are flexible and creative, and even though I’ve only played tabletop role-playing games with two people at the helm, I can tell my brother is a skilled DM.

On this night, he has to be, because he’s introducing the game to three of our friends, and for another two of our friends, it’s only their second session. My stepbrother and I are the only people in our adventuring party who have extended prior experience with the game, so we help our brother create characters for the new players.

It may be easier to follow along if I set up a short list of players and their characters. Without further ado:

Alex, aka my brother: DM and general D&D wizard

Chris, aka me: Reynard, level 1 rogue

Kit, aka my stepbrother: Raath, level 1 fighter

Jack, aka a great childhood friend of ours: Morthos, level 1 warlock

Alyssa, aka Jack’s girlfriend and our friend: Naivara, level 1 sorcerer

Cody, aka another childhood friend of ours: Danger Dan, level 1 fighter

Luigi, aka our friend: Leeroy Jenkins, level 1 paladin

Savannah, aka Luigi’s girlfriend and our friend: Sage, level 1 wizard

Keep in mind that I may have gotten some things wrong; I can’t quite remember which class Raath actually was, since level 1 can make many characters who don’t wield magic seem almost samey, but I do believe Raath was a fighter. If I find out the truth later, I’ll amend this post.

Anyway, the final three people on that list were brand new to the game. We had plans to meet around 8 o’clock since I was working until 7 and everyone else had plans of some kind until the late evening. As it turns out, I got home around 8:15 to find Kit and Alex extending the table to accommodate our huge party, and everyone else filtered in until Luigi and Savannah capped off our party around 9 o’clock. By this point, Cody’s character was mostly finished, and Kit and Alex rushed like mad to make characters for Luigi and Savannah.

Let me say it here: if you’re planning to be committed to a D&D group, it helps to at least skim the player’s handbook, and think for at least a little while about the sort of character you want to inhabit every session. In this instance, extenuating circumstances pushed us to rush things a bit; Jack and Alyssa were only visiting town for a few nights, there was only time to play one session, and the likelihood of all eight of us getting together again to continue this campaign is rather slim. This being said, it’s not as though Luigi, Savannah, and Cody have to dump their characters completely in the future, or stick to them – the options in D&D are many, and depending on the make-up of any future groups, these characters can be edited, altered, and/or completely ignored to fit the preferences of the players and the needs of the story. Contrary to popular belief, Dungeons and Dragons is a flexible game, and it may bend to the will of its players.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes. We sort of rushed the three brand new characters out of necessity, and if any of those players was disappointed in the outcome, I can understand their feelings. Still, we had set up a group that could jump into a pre-established quest we were already going through, and I think my brother handled it with finesse.

So I stood behind Naivara as goblins started shooting arrows at Raath, and I calculated my chances of getting through this cave alive. I had, moments before (in-game, although many months had passed since that previous D&D session), been washed out of the cave by a cascade of water let loose by the crafty goblin bastards. I took a lot of damage during that underwater tumble. I only had 3 of my 9 (lol squishy rogue) hit points remaining. I was justifiably afraid for my life.

Luckily for me, Naivara is a clever sorcerer, and she had a plan. She launched a firebolt at the distant bridge, and the damn thing caught fire. Six goblins also caught fire. The whole plan was a success, and I felt a little less fear knowing that my companions could thin our enemy’s numbers while we pushed on.

As goblins shrieked in pain and fear, Morthos walked forward to explore more of the cave, and Raath attempted to climb the rocky incline. He was unsuccessful, and slid back down to his original spot.

Meanwhile, our three new players found themselves chained to a rock in a dark cave, with nothing in their possession but the clothes on their backs and a stick. That stick, it turns out, was actually a wizard’s staff, and those foolish goblins let the wizard walk in with a vengeance. Before she could wreak revenge, however, her hands had to be free, and this is where Danger Dan rocks the room. Quite literally – Danger Dan found a rock, hefted it in his chained hands, and utterly smashed the manacles chaining Sage’s hands together. With her freed hands, Sage cast Mage Hand and picked up the keys that were hanging on the wall close by. She succeeded in freeing everyone except the mysterious human next to them, until Leeroy Jenkins accidentally tossed the keys far away. He couldn’t see, you see; every character but Leeroy and Reynard had Darkvision, and could see in the cave’s darkness. Naivara cast Dancing Lights on Reynard so he could see a bit, but poor Leeroy was blind. When asked to pass the keys, Leeroy heard echoes, thought the person was far away, and threw the keys away.

This created a small setback, but Sage only needed to cast Mage Hand again to retrieve the keys and finish freeing everyone. This group of four (three players plus one NPC controlled by the DM) proceeded down some stairs to a storage room that contained their weapons; this was fortuitous, as the groups of goblins that escaped the carnage of the burning bridge were making their way back to the prisoners’ area. A fight was in the making.

Cut back to Reynard, who has watched Raath attempt a climb only to slip and fail. Reynard is dexterous and acrobatic – he knows he can make it up this incline. So he steps past Raath, says “Let me show you how it’s done,” and wall jumps up the rocky rubble with a flourish. Bolstered by this show of confidence, Raath attempts the climb again – only to fail a second time. (Let it be said here that Kit’s history with dice rolling is a grim one, and he tends toward bad rolls, as he puts it.) Still, Naivara wishes to stick with someone from her group, so she follows Reynard. Ever the helpful sort, Raath uses the Assist action to help Naivara climb the rocks. She makes it up to Reynard easily, and vows to help him climb the next incline.

If only things were that simple. Naivara clasps her hands together to make a foothold, and Reynard steps into her grasp only to find that helping climbers is harder than it looks. Naivara’s hands slip, and Reynard stumbles forward to hit his head on a rock. He loses 1 hit point to bludgeoning damage, and in his concussed state, he attempts to tie his silk rope to a hold and pass it to Raath. One failed survivalist check later, and Reynard has tried to set his rope under a rock before tossing it to Raath, and when Raath pulls on the rope, it flies from under the rock and falls down in a heap at his feet. Let this be a lesson: don’t try to tie down ropes while you’re concussed. Things just go wrong from there.

So Reynard vows to assist Naivara in climbing the incline he just failed to climb, to make up for his tomfoolery. Reynard clasps his hands together to make a foothold, and Naivara steps into his grasp only to find that helping climbers is harder than it looks. Reynard’s hands slip, and Naivara stumbles forward to hit her head on a rock. She loses 1 hit point to bludgeoning damage, and at this point both she and Reynard think on how to climb this stupid rock face. That’s when Naivara remembers: she has pitons and ropes in her pack. After some head-slapping and grumbling, Reynard and Naivara manage to make a pretty solid rope system that extends from the top of the rocky incline to the bank of the underground river. Naivara climbs her rope system to find …

Danger Dan, Leeroy Jenkins, and Sage all preparing for a fight. Goblins are making their way down the passage that starts at the burning bridge, and Sage doesn’t want to meet them face to face. So she casts Sleep, and the foremost two groups of goblins zonk out in the middle of the passage. The third is stopped in their tracks by their friends sleeping on the ground, and they spend precious time waking up their companions. But it’s too late! Leeroy Jenkins is a dragonborn, and he can spit acid breath. This he does, and all three groups of goblins melt into a gooey, messy puddle as Leeroy basks in his success and Naivara talks to the NPC (who happens to know the same person our whole group is trying to locate).

No one knows where the dude is, but it’s possible that the boss of the goblins knows where he is, so we all band together to take down Clarg, the mysterious jerk who’s been yelling at us from his hiding spot far off in the depths of the cave. Morthos and Raath have gone ahead to find a set of stairs leading to a big room from which Clarg’s voice emanates, and they’ve decided to wait for the advantage of numbers before tangling with the boss. As Reynard makes his way to Morthos and Raath, he notices two goblins hiding behind rocks. He tells his friends about the goblins, but it’s too little, too late!

A goblin peeks out and fires a shot at Raath, who takes enough damage to be knocked unconscious. Morthos is the closest to Raath, so he decides to run forward and attack one of the goblins who threatens his friend. His magic attack goes wide, though, and the next best option is to get up close and personal while Leeroy makes his way to rescue Raath. Reynard runs forward despite his deep wounds, and tries to stab the goblin behind the rock. His swing misses, however, and he runs back to a cave passage to stay safe. The goblin’s attack of opportunity misses, and Reynard sits in silence and fear as Leeroy and the rest of the group press forward to save Raath.

Leeroy finally makes it to our downed comrade, and he Lays on Hands to heal Raath. With 1 hp to stabilize himself, Raath is back up, though he is still hurting. At this point, Morthos has finally incinerated one of the pesky goblins, and the other goblin runs back to Clarg’s hiding place in fear. Naivara follows and kills the goblin before it can make it to safety, and she presses on with bravery to get a better look at Clarg’s lair. She summons a mirror to get a better look at the cave, and in the reflection she sees a giant wolf sleeping on dirty skins and furs. So we know about the big wolf, and through deduction, we all know that Clarg is probably on the other side of the cave. Feeling confident, Morthos runs past Naivara …

Only to get whacked in the face by Clarg. It turns out Clarg was hiding just beyond the staircase, out of sight of the group and the mirror that Naivara summoned. Morthos is injured, but not fatally, and as a Tiefling, he can respond with a hellish rebuke. I wait with bated breath as Alex rolls the dice to see if Clarg succeeds in a saving throw, and my excitement is rewarded. “And Clarg dies,” my brother says with a shake of his head. “His AC is 18 and a long fight would have ensued if you’d attacked him normally, but Hellish Rebuke requires a saving throw. That’s a lower threshold, and he died because of it. Jack pretty much looked at him, said ‘DIE!,’ and lit him on fire.”

My hands are in the air and I’m cheering at this point, because we all feared this encounter. Level 1 is difficult, and we’re all pretty weak. I only have 2 hp remaining. Then our celebration is cut short as Alex reminds us “The big wolf woke up, and he’s pissed.”

Oh shit. Morthos is right there, ten feet away from the wolf, but his turn already passed and he was damaged by Clarg. The next person to go is me. With only 2 hp left, it’s possible that any fuck-ups on my part will be followed by a character death. MY character’s death. I don’t want that. If Reynard dies, I could say that this is an alternate universe, and in another universe he’s level 9 and filthy rich after slaying a dragon with his companions. Yet I don’t want this to be the case; I want him to live in ONE universe. Still, Reynard has this thing: even though he’s a thief and a gambler and generally a trickster, he cares deeply about his companions. So he runs up those stairs to attack and distract the wolf, no matter the consequences. “I want to throw a dagger at the wolf. Do I have line of sight?,” I ask. “Yes, you can make that attempt,” my brother responds. I roll my D20. It’s a pretty damn high number – 18.

“Yes, you hit the wolf,” my brother continues, “Roll for damage.”

I roll a total of 6. Not a great number, so I fear the worst – I fear that I only wounded the wolf, and it’s about to get more angry.

“Yep, it’s dead.” My brother has just given us all cause to celebrate – all our enemies are slain, and my grievously wounded character will live to meet up with a whole different group of people and undertake a quest to slay a blue dragon. Reynard lives, Raath lives, we all live and we all reap the benefits. Jack and Alyssa wish they could play with us weekly. Luigi and Savannah had a good time, though they’re super tired at the end of it. Cody is sad that he didn’t get to squish enemy heads with his warhammers, but he’s excited to get another chance someday.

The new players seem to like the game, and the veterans have made it through a deadly introductory dungeon by the skin of their teeth. With 1 and 2 hit points remaining, respectively, Raath and Reynard were the hardest hit. They were also the two characters controlled by people who had played the game before. I don’t know what that means, but I do know this: I hadn’t really experienced the rogue life from level 1 before. After this awesome session, I can say that I managed to guide a rogue from level 1 to level 2. I got to my bonus actions. I earned my rogue abilities, at last.

I don’t know when I’ll get to play Reynard again, or when I’ll get to spend quality time with Jack and Alyssa again, but I hope that it’s soon. I love D&D, and I miss my friends already. Here’s to good times with good people! Keep on taking chances and rolling the proverbial dice, my friends.

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