What It Was Like To Play D&D For The First Time

Illustration for article titled What It Was Like To Play D&D For The First Time
Image: Wizards of the Coast

I recently played Dungeons & Dragons for the first time ever, and it sure was fun. We talk about that and much more on this week’s Kotaku Splitscreen.


First, Kirk and I talk about cults and audio tricks (clearly it’s Laurel), then get into the news of the week on Boss Key shutting down, a Destiny 2 secret entering real life, and legalized gambling. Then Kotaku’s Cecilia D’Anastasio joins the show (37:13) to talk about the Dungeons & Dragons one-shot she ran for us, her experiences DMing, and why she’s writing a D&D campaign about Guy Fieri. Finally, Kirk and I talk Destiny 2 and Pillars of Eternity 2.

Get the MP3 right here, or read an excerpt below:

Jason: It was only two weeks ago that the three of us were all playing in the same Dungeons and Dragons campaign, where you, Cecilia, were DMing for us... Why don’t we start by talking about that mini-campaign that we played? It was you, me, Kirk, and a couple of our other friends. Tell us about the campaign—tell our listeners what it actually was.

Cecilia: ...I was going to run this very PG game about strawberries, but the game I actually had available to me was, as you may recall, maybe PG13/R... I’m a big Classics geek, I love ancient Greek and Roman history, so this took place in kind of a Roman forum setting, where players are investigating this cult that worships the spider goddess Lolth. What they appreciate about her is how weaving spiderwebs is similar to the art of rhetoric.

They encounter a poet in the forum who’s reading a pretty bad poem that’s also a real poem...

Jason: This was all written by you, we should make it clear.

Cecilia: Yes, it was all written by me... The players go to this great palace at the poet’s behest, and they encounter this incredible benefactor who’s a marble baron, and he has all this money. A bunch of antics go down at the palace, there are singing sirens, there’s a sheep who was previously a human.


Jason: Someone’s genitals may or may not get chopped off.

Cecilia: No spoilers!

Jason: So just to zoom out for a second, I think most people understand that D&D is tabletop roleplaying, you’re inventing this campaign and playing by these rulesets that are officially created by the creators of Dungeons and Dragons. You had a really good description of it when you were walking us through at the beginning of the campaign. You called it collaborative storytelling. So when you are the Dungeon Master, hosting a D&D campaign, that’s how you think of it?


Cecilia: Yes. That’s how I think of it when I’m teaching new people how to play the game, because that’s the easiest pitch. That’s the easiest way to whet people’s [appetites] and try to get them thinking about the characters they want to be and the arcs they want to experience for those characters. However, I love the experience of storytelling in Dungeons and Dragons, but there are really, really cool puzzles that can take place when you get super involved in the rules, like really interesting spatial problems that you need to solve that I didn’t introduce you guys to.

Jason: Like what?

Cecilia: Like, say you’re in a 20-foot-tall room and there’s a trap cutting off half of it, but maybe one of you has a spell where you can climb a ceiling, but there’s some sort of impediment, movement on the ceiling. Some people are really really into the minutiae of this stuff. There are rules for how fast you can move, how high you can move, things like that.


Jason: Yeah, one of the things that was very complicated for us was character creation, because there are so many variables that you have to deal with... Kirk started a little later than us.

Kirk: I was not prepared... I didn’t really spend any time [before the session] creating my character. There’s a lot to digest and work with there. It’s interesting what you’re talking about, Cecilia, that everyone has to really understand the rules in order to do that kind of puzzle. I felt like, especially toward the end because it was a long session for us and everyone was tired, it seemed like we were playing a little fast and loose. You were allowing us to play fast and loose with positioning, and spatial stuff.


It’s almost like you have a world that exists within everyone’s minds, and so for everyone to understand the full extent to which they can interact with that world, they need to understand basically every law of physics and possibility governing the entire world. Cecilia, do you think a group where everyone is super familiar with the rules of Dungeons and Dragons, would they do a better job of playing the game? Do they have more opportunities available to them?

Cecilia: No, I definitely disagree with that characterization. I think one of the things I told you guys is that, what you have to do is envision what your character would do in this situation given their limitations, their ability scores. If I have a strength of 8 I’m not going to be able to push this big boulder out of the way, but if I have a strength of 18 I might try. Whatever’s within the scope of limitations for your character is something that I think would be worth trying, and worth wrapping some sort of rule-set around.


For much more, listen to the full podcast. As always, you can find Splitscreen on Apple Podcasts and Google Play. Leave us a review if you like what you hear, and reach us at splitscreen@kotaku.com with any and all questions, requests, and suggestions.


To me, D&D at it’s best is collaborative story telling. But this is entirely up to the players and the dm.

I’ve played games with DMs who wish to tell their story and heavily restrict player freedoms beyond strict mechanics, i’ve also played with players that prefer this playstyle. Sticking to strict mechanical play, not wishing to improvise or put themselves metaphorically in a characters mindset. And i’ve seen the exact opposite DMs who throw any predisposed plan to the wind by player whim and simply improvise the entire experience. This can be fun if you have a DM who’s quick witted but can get nonsensical/unwieldy fairly quick depending on the players.

I think D&D is at it’s best when it’s hybrid of the two. A DM with an overarching plan but open to player decisions to change the path within reason, still able to wheel them in if things go off the rails a bit, but not hard preventive rulings. D&D is a shared experience, DM and player alike should have experiences to share through out a campaign.