I seemed to start playing Dungeons & Dragons as it began its surge in popularity. I can hardly say that I was “playing D&D before it was cool”; the game has been around for longer than I have. Nevertheless, when I was first introduced by a fellow teacher in 2015, the current edition of the game was only a year old, the massively popular Critical Role was just rolling out episode number 6 of campaign 1, and the vast majority of people I spoke to had barely even heard of D&D.
Four years later, D&D has evolved from a minor interest to a major hobby. Up until a few months ago, I was playing several times a month, most of which I was hosting. As the Dungeon Master of these games, I was either pouring over official campaign books or tinkering with my own, far-too-detailed homemade story. I enjoyed creating and playing D&D so much that it even took over the time that I usually reserved for playing video games or watching a good movie. I play other ‘Table Top Role Playing Games’ from time to time, but Dungeons & Dragons has its claws in me.
That was until six months ago, when I began to close the book on all my adventures in preparation for the arrival of my baby daughter. By Christmas, all of my groups knew that once we got to a satisfying place in the story I would bow out. My little lady was on her way and rather than string each game along until we ran out of time, I wanted to choose where the line in the sand was drawn. It was tough, because we all really wanted to play, but there’s nothing worse than a campaign that just fizzles out.
The games I was a player/character in would continue without me, but the games I ‘DMed’ would be gone for a long, long time… or so I thought.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about my early experiences with parenthood alongside the gamer in me. Despite all the naysayers claiming that my life would be unrecognisable after a baby, I am still able to be a video game geek and a dad. Similarly, I was prepared to drop Dungeons & Dragons as a hobby for a considerable length of time, as the job of being a parent consumed my free time. As with video gaming, being a parent has not taken D&D from my life.
At first, all mornings, afternoons, evenings and nights were taken over by the new life in our home. Whilst boxing up my hobbies had seemed so depressing before February, I soon forgot all about Table Top games in their entirety. When I wasn’t at work, half my time was spent marvelling at this wonderful thing we had made, whilst the other half was spent burping, wiping, changing and soothing this wonderful thing we had made. I was content, never once griping about the fantasy adventures I’d buried.
If it had been a whole year before I got back to D&D, I honestly don’t think I would have minded. I still had friend’s keeping me apprised of the games I used to play in, keeping me amused, and I still had The Adventure Zone, Critical Role and Acquisitions Incorporated to listen to in the quieter moments. I took my Need to play, boxed it up with my DM notes, and focused on the baby in hand.
It was my wife who mentioned D&D first. I remembered staring at her unblinking as she stated that she would like to start playing again. My wife does play the game – before baby she was a character in the two monthly games I played – but she’s not in any way as nerdy about it as I am. If the dice are out, she’s into it, drawn in by the competition of it all. Once we’re done playing, and I’m not chewing her ear off about campaign ideas, it’s not something she thinks about. So when she was the one that broached the subject, I nearly fell out of my seat.
Her reason was so heart-warming. You see, in all my noble exclamations of leaving fantasy games and fantasy writing alone for as long as was necessary, boasting that I would always put my daughter and her mother first, I’d missed a key element of tabletop RPGs: the social side. My wife is not really a gamer, and takes a limited interest in gaming as a conversation, but she was missing the group dynamic that comes with D&D. So was I, once I thought about it.
We had plenty of visitors in those early days. Lots of wonderful friends and family came to see the little one and hang out with us, often bringing lunch with them. My wife couldn’t travel far in those early days, so every visit was massively appreciated. And yet, there is something extra special about a group sat around a pile of dice and character sheets, fighting fictional fiends and making the weirdest decisions. Conversations about chubby cheeks and sleep patterns are lovely, but being able to plot the downfall of an evil cult and throw spells at elemental monsters provides an excellent diversion from baby talk.
So after a two month hiatus, we began to reopen the doors to the fantasy realm of D&D. Two important factors made this easy to accomplish. Firstly, I had already hosted some of my games at my home. I know other gamer-turned-parents that have to journey to their games, and find the transition difficult, so having players used to coming to me made things easier.
Secondly, my style of hosting a Table Top Role Playing Game had done away with the ‘table top’ element. Rather than sit around a long dining table, I sit at a fold-out desk, with my laptop hooked up to the TV so I can display maps and monsters, and the players roll their dice on coffee tables and get cosy on the sofas. The dining table becomes the place where all the snacks, and usually a cooked meal, are left for people to help themselves. It’s a lazier, comfier way of playing.
This layout has leant itself to gaming with a newborn. My daughter lies on her play mat or sits in her rocker in the middle and watches the funny people around her laugh and chatter as they roll funny shaped colourful toys with numbers on them. If she gets restless, either I or one of our friends can give her attention and still be ‘in the game’. If I or my wife need to change a nappy or feed her, we can get up and move around without upsetting a game table. My daughter likes to sit or stand on my lap and look out on the world; having her sat with me whilst I roll dice and look up monster stats might be one of my most favourite moments as a Geek-Dad so far.
By the way, I’ve already checked; you can get oversized, squidgy polyhedral dice. There 3 years and up though, so we’ve got to wait a while.
My wife also pushed me to return to the game I used to play on Sunday evenings. She quite rightly pointed out that no parent should ever try to go without doing something they enjoy, otherwise we’d burn out. If that was the only time I wasn’t around for the little lady, a few minutes down the road, my wife could cope. So, every Sunday for the last two months, I’ve popped out at 6pm to play. My wife is generally happy to see me go at that point; I hesitantly ask “are you sure you’re okay with me going?” so many time that she’s practically pushing me out the door. I’ve only missed two games, when my daughter was being more than a handful, and each time I get to go feels like a special treat.
I’m not playing as much D&D as I did, nor am I writing as often. I’m mainly sticking to the official campaign books, making notes as I need to (currently playing Princes of the Apocalypse and Tomb of Annihilation, for who are curious). My behemoth of a ‘home-brewed’ campaign has gone on hold. I used to run it weekly with two different groups. It’s a shame that something I worked so hard on is going untouched, but it takes so much more to prepare for a homemade game.
The two groups that I used to play with weekly have yet to return. To compromise, one of those groups, made up of local friends, was amalgamated into one of the monthly games I’ve started back up. Which means that group is a whopping 8 players! It’s a hectic room, but everyone knows each other and they’re all happy they’re getting their gaming fix.
The one weekly game that I have not salvaged is made up of friends that I grew up with. When I became a teacher, I moved two hours south of my home town, and Dungeons & Dragons has become my way of regularly meeting online with friends from that part of the world. As of two weeks ago, we managed a solitary game, but whether we can keep up a regular evening catch-up remains to be seen.
Maybe you have had similar experiences? Are you a parent and a table top gamer? Have you been able to find the balance? You may have fared even better than I did. If you haven’t been able to play, what’s stopping you? Leave a comment below.
Thank You for Reading.
By Rufus Scott