Column: Using dice to slay dragons

'D&D helped me realize there is an art in storytelling.'

Abbas Alazawi
“It has become my method of expressing my gamer imagination and frankly, I just like the sound the dice makes.”

Six heroes stand at the edge of a small hamlet in distress. The choking obsidian plumes consume the blue sky as roving bands of Kobolds and Cultists slew villagers freely and with no mercy. The six charge straight in, their destinies sealed.

As a gamer, I always had an imaginative mind, but I had no outlet to express myself through. This was because I, for lack of a better word, am abysmal at art. I never had the skill or passion to create my own drawings or stories which caused me to dread the experience of being in an art class. I had a disdain for the arts for much of my childhood. My imagination was filled with thoughts I kept to myself. I believed this would be the norm for all of my life.

But that changed during junior year of high school.

On an old messaging service, Kik, my friends and I were all going back and forth over various topics for hours on end. Then Dungeons and Dragons was brought up.

“I wish I could have gotten into it,” a friend says.

My mind quickly bubbled with an idea.

“I could run a quick game for you guys on Friday,” I replied.

I slowly learned that my definition of a “quick game” was one year and four months. Despite the slight miscalculation, I learned something else: I have a talent for storytelling.

The silence forms a stranglehold on the party as the battle comes to a close. The realization of the carnage strikes everyone’s mind. Dozens lay dead; one of them is an angelic being who was their closest friend and leader. The horns of the recently killed Cult Leader Landrossa Cyanwrath turns from their trophy into a mockery. There was nothing else left besides burying the dead and continuing toward their next target up north.

Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) is a tabletop roleplaying game where the adventure is told through a Dungeon Master (a storyteller). Imagine chess, but you play as only one piece and the Dungeon Master narrates every move you make. I put myself into the role of a Dungeon Master without any prior experience. The pressure was building before we even started. I devoted hours into watching guide videos and reading articles on how to not be a terrible Dungeon Master. Entire afternoons were spent planning what my friends would encounter and when. It seemed like I had it all down. I soon learned a hard lesson.

Abbas Alazawi
“As a gamer, I always had an imaginative mind, but I had no outlet to express myself through.”

No adventure survives contact with the party.

It began with a minor mistake by the group. The adventure book told me a group of cultists would leave soon with a batch of dragon eggs and the group was expected to follow them to their camp. Instead of pursuing the cultists, they decided to take an eight hour-long rest. This should’ve been fine, the camp was abandoned but the leaders were still there. They, however, came to the conclusion that everyone, including the cult leaders, left in a hurry. They gave chase soon after and by this point, they had gone completely off the rails.

I tried my hardest to lead them back to the path, but it was far too late. My ideas and plans for the future were in ruins. I had to make everything from there on out up from the top of my head in the heat of the moment. This is where I began to become slightly distressed as this was a position I had never been in before. I had a task to entertain people when I had nothing prepared. It became a game of improv: having to make up voices, locations and entire backstories without any prior preparation. This was a situation that could have broken me and sent my campaign to an early demise. I needed time to create a story from scratch.

So, I put the campaign on hiatus. I ran short, four-hour campaigns to keep them busy every week. These allowed me to get better at creating my own adventures, but more importantly, it bought me time as I prepared for the inevitable return to the campaign. When the return to the campaign came, there was a ball of anxiety in the air and I was worried I couldn’t keep them invested for the last stretch.

I made it work like a dream.

Names and locations were twisted references to their originals. I’ve had a passion for history since I was in elementary which motivated me to create them for several locations. The stakes kept on rising and the next thing I knew, they were in a plot that involved the fate of reality that was on the verge of getting eaten by long forgotten gods. There were hiccups of course, no one is perfect, but everyone enjoyed it and that was all that really mattered.

When the campaign came to its close, my friends were overjoyed that they made it to the end. They spent the days after theorizing what happened to certain characters and asked me about what was going on behind the scenes, the ideas I scrapped and changes I made in the heat of the moment. For me, it was an odd feeling seeing it end. It took the entirety of junior year and exactly half of senior year for it to come to a close. My life had changed tremendously by the time the campaign ended. I had plans for college, a job, new interests and passions, but D&D was one of the few things that remained the same for over a year.

The Five heroes kept their gaze locked at the malignant beacon that pulsed before them. From here it is where the forgotten gods will make their return. In between them and the safety of their world stood a mirror mockery of themselves and puppets of a treacherous divine being who once had the trust of The Five. They all raised their swords in furious anger, and began their last fight.

D&D helped me realize there is an art in storytelling. That the settings, people and stories I create could build a world in people’s imaginations. It has become my method of expressing my gamer imagination and frankly, I just like the sound the dice makes.