D&D: Co-creation at its most fantastic
Updated: Feb 3
When my friend asked me if I would like to join their Dungeons and Dragons game, I scoffed a little. I imagined people dressing up as wizards leaping about shouting out spells. Little did I know that would be me.
In the run up to the game, we had to create our characters. Myself and Tom were newbies and both of us being artists, we thought it would be fun to sculpt models of who we were to be.
We had such a laugh that we ended up modelling our whole team. We joked that even if the game was rubbish, at least we had fun making the characters.
The game began and Art, the Dungeon Master (DM) described the world we found ourself in. We pictured this motley crew gathering along a dusty road in the fantasy world of Faerun; five adventurers with their own backstories and goals. I remember feeling quite nervous, which seems silly amongst friends, but I sensed we were embarking on something new and big.
The first shock happened when we entered a tavern. Art described a warm but dingy place with a handful of occupants in the shadows. I decided to walk up to a well-dressed elf minding her own business at the bar. I had played many role-playing-video games before and knew what to do; go and talk to the locals to glean information about your quest.
“What?” she said, played coldly by Art, who as the DM would play all the other non-player characters in the game. I was stumped for words. In a video game, you would normally have a list of options to choose from. I hadn’t thought it through and stood there. It felt like a failed chat up attempt. “Right...” she turned away from me and continued her drink.
It was then that I realised a profound difference between role-playing on a computer or playing within the realms of our imagination. This time what you say and how you say it matters and the infinite possibilities of this spread out in front of me. At the time, I was developing the video game, Art’s Dream and was only too aware that for each and every interaction a player could do, it had to be planned, scripted, voice actors recorded, animations and art assets made. But with D&D, all this was spoken into existence.
That’s not to say everything is spontaneous; good D&D relies on a great DM and Art would put hours of planning into our adventure, often using the encyclopaedic canon of maps, history and culture that have built up over the game’s fifty-year history. Sometimes, much to Art’s dismay, the group would turn on its heal and head a different way, missing a whole area that he had carefully crafted.
But this is D&D, it is an adventure and world we are creating on the fly. And this led to the greatest realisation. We would battle our way through monsters, improving our stats against the probability of the dice roll, finding treasure and magical weapons so we could defeat greater foes, but really there was no winning this game; completing a challenge is merely an end to a chapter and opening of a new one.
In D&D what really matters is the journey; the story we co-create, whose vividness, drama and meaning we each are responsible for. And what makes our story great? Creating the opportunity for each and every one of us to be heroes.