Well, Damn: In-Person Sessions Still Rock

As I slowly regain normal brain functioning after a my Saturday eight-hour, in-person, tabletop role playing session of dungeons and dragons after eighteen months of playing solely online, I feel it is my duty to report that playing with real people at a real table with real dice, real dice trays, real minis and real maps is even more amazing than I remembered. And not only is it amazing, it’s far more superior to any remote, make-do methods of play than I could have imagined.

I find it impossible to exaggerate how incredibly exciting and effective role playing games are in a live setting. It was like falling in love all over again. Excuse my expressing the following as if this is a new phenomenon not already enjoyed by millions of tabletop enthusiasts, but the energy, chemistry, and ease of communication absolutely annihilates the online experience by several orders of magnitude. I mean in no way to diminish the downright necessity of virtual table top technology and all the digital tools that I waxed poetic about in my last post. Online sessions will continue to dominate my games as only one of my four groups are even close enough to meet. Without online play, I would be seventy-five percent poorer in terms of playing D&D. In fact, my in-person sessions will still only complement my sessions with this group, but my fears that hand-drawn battle maps and lack of interactive character sheets would mean live sessions were now something of a step down weren’t just unfounded, they were entirely off base.

It seems that in-person D&D sessions aren’t simply the vinyl equivalent to the on-demand streaming of virtual tabletop platforms. To the contrary, I posit that it is the standard, has always been the standard and will remain the standard. Chief among the mountain of evidence to support that claim is the increased interaction among the group. I’m not just talking about role play, I’m also talking about the cheers and jeers and exclamations of joy that seem almost inappropriate when staring at each other’s little heads on a screen. Also, no mic peaking or irritating slight delay means the art of noise is spontaneously adjusted with real-time monitoring. Another perk kicks in long before the game is underway: scheduled time. Gathering to play D&D means you have blocked out a chunk of time that is yours to spend playing the game. No interruptions, no Wifi issues, no sudden needing of the computer for work by a roommate or spouse, no ear-splitting dog barks at every little noise; there is only D&D, which compounds the exhilaration. Also, as a game master no longer required to stuff ear buds into his ears that remain tethered to an interface, I felt cut loose from my chains. It may have just been my imagination, but I felt my mind was more free to improvise and create. Practically, I was shocked at how much easier it was to run a game where everyone was free to participate beyond listening and muttering character decisions. Things flowed effortlessly driven by authentic feelings of joy. It was wild. How interesting and sort of horrifying our ability to slowly acclimate away from that which makes us happy. I’m going to remember that the next time I say for the millionth time how much I miss the way things used to be.

Of course, there came an elation of being together again that didn’t require a game. We were friends in the same room without restriction, and I suspect it’s very rare to live in what I described as a state of contemporary nostalgia. It lent proceedings a free-for-all momentum, where talking in D&D led to talking about D&D to talking about films, series, all things pop culture and—as Gobz Stands were seamlessly and beautifully introduced into our combat encounters—this little TTRPG candy company of mine. It was a spiral of tangents all somehow related and somehow leading back to the dice. Some of my favorite conversations revolved around plans for our games that had to be put on hold involving minis ordered and never used, a 3-D boat map also never used, and dusty dice with which acquaintances were being remade. We were better at the game than the last time we sat at the table, but we were made aware of an ache we only intellectually understood. We quickly learned that, once the shackles come off, only then do you realize how wonderful it feels to walk unbound.

To top everything off, I was given the mini pictured above as reward for my services. I’ve been paid in cash, alcohol, gift cards and cheese dip but I must say the thoughtful gesture of creating a mini made to look like me (and my grays, Iris and Wolfgang!) lords over them all. Everything about it is perfect, especially the pose; there is so much power and freedom on display, and that’s exactly how I feel when I run a game. It also feels like the real me in another way, which I told one of my players upon receiving it. I’ve been a lot of hobby and profession-related things in my life. I’ve been a writer, an athlete, a filmmaker, a musician, an actor, a teacher, and, of course, a dungeon master. What I’m most proud of, however, is being a nerd. The term connotes many things and for each of us they may be very different, but where I feel they are the same is how they connect all the things that we are in an unabashed passion for escaping into one’s imagination, or a game, or some combination of the two, and sharing the magic that is created with others.

If you haven’t been yet, wait until you get back to that table. It’s going to blow your damn mind.

– Norton

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