So…we’re in social distancing mode. Over here, I’ve got some of the symptoms of COVID-19, although not enough to take any kind of test, and therefore am home bound until they clear up. (I’ll be fine, don’t worry!) Which is going to be great for my writing, not so much for my existential dread over a spreading pandemic. But this is not a post about fear! There’s enough of that going around. Instead, this is about something you can do while stuck at home. It’s a social activity but it can be done via the internet, so it’s a safe social activity to be done while still practicing social distancing.
I don’t know why I’m being coy about this. Dungeons and Dragons, or other tabletop RPGs. That’s what I’m talking about.
If you’re not familiar with Dungeons and Dragons, which has gradually become ubiquitous in the popular culture but isn’t , it can best be described as playing pretend, but for adults. One player takes on the role of the Dungeon Master who does not, in fact, wear leather and carry a whip. Instead, they are the mediator and kitten wrangler of the game, in control of the setting, antagonists, and friendly non player characters you might encounter in your adventure. The rest of the players take on the role of various characters, adventurers who go on a quest that is promptly sidetracked by shenanigans. Some people rebel against shenanigans, but they’re half the fun in my opinion, both as a Dungeon Master (hereafter referred to as the DM) and a player.
It’s also one of the most fun things you can do with friends. It has the excitement of listening to a story or watching a movie together, but with the interactivity of playing a video game together – and it’s cooperative, not competitive, so much less likely to lead to arguments.
Here’s all the reasons why you should try it while staying at home:
1) It mitigates the difficulties of online hangouts
Online hangouts can be difficult sometimes. Without the physical cues we get in person, it’s easy for conversations to run over each other, side conversations become near impossible if everyone’s in the same digital room, and people with a high latency or who are less assertive in conversation can find themselves unable to do much more than listen.
Dungeons and Dragons helps mitigate that. Since it’s built in with a social moderator, the DM, they can make sure that everyone gets a turn to speak. Often, however, that’s not even needed. The built in turn based structure to Dungeons and Dragons combat really helps put everyone in the right mindset, and I’ve seen groups be very conscientious about giving each other turns to speak. Even if you get that one person that dominates the conversation, a good group will be able to make sure everyone gets a turn.
2) It’s something to do
Hanging out with friends and chatting and catching up is great. However, most of the time, what are people talking about? Their work, their families, their lives. With life kind of being on pause right now, those conversations are…difficult. Best case, everyone will default to talking about the coronavirus because it’s kind of a big thing on everyone’s mind, and…I don’t know about you, but there’s only so much I can handle before it becomes too great a weight.
But a lot of normal hangout activities don’t work well online. Sure, there’s ways to watch Netflix together, but it’s not the same as being able to look over and share a laugh or a gasp. Sure, online video games are a thing, but not everyone has the same games or systems – and everyone’s tightening belts right now. Board games? Again, there are ways to do it, but it doesn’t have the same appeal.
Dungeons and Dragons, however, works pretty much perfectly online. Sure, real world sessions don’t have lag or disconnection issues, and nothing’s quite the same as everyone being in the same place. On the flip side, no one is getting sick over the internet, and somethings that are important to DND, like maps and battle grids and positioning, are actually easier online because you can just move digital pieces around without anyone having to leave the comfort of their PC. Online dice rollers also aren’t as satisfying as rolling a physical dice, but if you are like me and are bad at adding up numbers in your head, being able to roll d20+7 or 4d6+4 and have a computer tell you the total, it’s a lot easier.
Um…oh yeah. A d20 is a dice with 20 sided die. 4d6 means roll four dice, each with six sides. In general DnD parlance, any time you hear a number followed by “d#”, it means roll that many dice with that many sides. The bonus at the end is added to the total, not to each dice. So 4d6+4 means “Four six sided dice, add them up, then add another four.” It can seem complex, but the lingo gets picked up easily, and the book breaks it down for you.
3) It’s escapism at its best.
And this is the number one reason I recommend Dungeons and Dragons during these stressful times. Everyone is being impacted by the coronavirus, and we’re all acutely aware that normality is something that has been put on hold. Even watching TV online together or playing video games, I’ve found it hard to escape that thought. The future is uncertain, and people are scared, and when you don’t have a reason not to, it’s hard not to refresh the news, braced for whatever bad thing is coming next.
Dungeons and Dragons, however, due to being a form of cooperative escapism, is one of the best ways to forget your worries. You need to put the phone down and pay attention so you know what’s going on, you are engaged with your friends, and none of you are talking about the real world fears. Instead you’re talking about dragons and elves and liches and zombies and squid people that eat brains and giant floating orbs of doom with too many eyes and how badly the bard really wants to seduce the innkeeper and the innkeeper’s spouse into a threesome and whether or not the monk or the barbarian can punch down a solid wood door.
If there is a better distraction from the real world that can be done with friends, I don’t know what it is.
Small advice to Dungeon Masters running a quarantine session though? Stay away from monsters that have a disease effect, or replace it with something else. If everyone is playing online to avoid thinking about the real world pandemic, might be a good idea to avoid it in game. Although if you have a story where the heroes stop a plague being spread by an evil god or something…the group might appreciate a chance to solve something similar to the real world problem, but with swords and axes and magic as opposed to staying indoors. Run it by your group, see if they’d be okay with it.
And, no matter what, have fun.
Resources for online play:
DnD 5e System Reference Document – The basic rules for Dungeons and Dragons, everything that Wizards of the Coast has made available for players. It doesn’t have all the rules, but it’s free to use, so you don’t have to buy the books to use it.
Eberron Campaign Setting – (Note: Amazon affiliate link) – Contains a brand new class, the Artificer, several races, and a pre-planned adventure in the world of Eberron for Dungeon Masters that prefer something pre-planned. Probably my favorite book out for Dungeons and Dragons.
Fantasy Grounds (Affiliate Link), Roll 20 (Non-Affilate Link, free program), Tabletop Simulator (Affiliate Link) – While it’s possible to play DnD online with skype, discord, or other voice programs, these programs give you the tools you need to run a session without having to have multiple tools going at once. They’re all solid, so look over and see what works best for you. If you’re new to it and not sure how much money you want to spend, go with Roll 20 since it’s free, so you won’t lose anything if it doesn’t turn out to be right for you.
Want a solo activity while homebound? Myself and several other authors have made our entire catalogs free until 3/21 to help alleviate quarantine boredom, and they’re all available here. You can also check out a bunch of free stories online – I have mine at smallworlds.blog and my personal subreddit at r/hydrael_writes, and there are over a hundred authors doing free web fiction as well on r/redditserials!
The front page to smallworlds.blog and the sidebar for my reddit stuff is out of date. Active stories that are fully online right now are Dragon’s Scion, Tamer of the Beasts, and A Staff of Crystal and Bone. Books 3-5 of Small Worlds can also be found there, although if you’ve read the published books, I’d suggest waiting for the final versions to be published, since there are some points of deviation.