D&D — Dungeons & Dragons as Escapism

I’ve been playing Dungeons & Dragons for a while now. Technically, at least eight years, but I’ve only been serious about the hobby for the last two or so. I would attribute two things to this. The first is Critical Role, which I think is self-explanatory. If you play D&D you probably know what that is. The second was a surprising amount of interest when I offhandedly commented the possibility of running a campaign with my improv friends. Those two things put together suddenly made D&D a much bigger part of my life, and it wasn’t until then that I realized the untapped potential the game had for me.

Before I got serious, D&D was a hobby; an incredibly complex board game in which you made your character and then cast the spells you picked out on the monsters the DM picked out. But then I realized that it didn’t have to be simply a video game. It could be a stage. It isn’t just about numbers and statistics and jokes. It could be a place to become somebody new and then behave as they do. You work in a headspace not your own in a world so different from the one you live. It isn’t the natural 1s or 20s that interest me anymore, it’s the choices the players make at the table because of a world we all created together.

I had a dream recently where I ran down a steep hill and turned into a bird, gaining speed as I swooped down and feeling the air press against my wings as I soared upwards and over everything else. I have never flown in any of my dreams. The closest I’ve gotten was jumping like The Hulk or being thrown from point A to B. But the feeling of flying was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, and I am under no illusions: it is because my current D&D character is a druid that can shapeshift.

I don’t play to win anymore. In fact, the concept of “winning” D&D seems silly to me. Even if you and your friends are playing through a story that has a definitive beginning and ending, you can’t really “win” in the same way you don’t “win” when watching your favorite movie. It’s just an experience.

So nowadays, when I make decisions in this imaginary world, I don’t think “what is the optimal play”. I don’t even think “what is the optimal play given the information my character has”. Instead, I think “what would Taldarrin do in this circumstance?” For me, I get the most out of the experience by making the situation as believable as possible.

For example, at level 2, Circle of the Moon druids are basically the most powerful class in the game. Among other things, they can turn into a brown bear, which could probably fight off 3 other level 2 characters at the same time. Taldarrin has only ever turned into a brown bear once, and this was for intimidation, not power. He used to turn into a giant spider a lot, but every time he has, he’s rolled very poorly. So canonically, Taldarrin simply does not understand how to accommodate for all those eyes and legs, and thus doesn’t turn into that anymore. I think that makes for much better story telling than “when we fight I always turn into a bear, and if I roll badly it’s just a bad day. I’ll turn into a bear tomorrow”.

I don’t begrudge other playstyles. D&D is amazingly versatile, and any way anyone likes to play is certainly valid. I’m merely stating that I got a lot more out of it when I moved it from “video game” to “acting” in my head. I think all of us like being somebody else every once in a while, and Dungeons & Dragons is a great way to do that.

Review — Tsuro

Tsuro has always been one of my favorite board games. It’s so simple it requires basically no explanation, but there can still be a lot of skill incorporated into the game. It remains an old favorite of mine partly because I don’t own it, and thus I don’t get to play it often, but recently I bought it on my phone for $1. It is literally the game but on a screen (plus achievements, which I’m never upset about), and the only feature I think the app is missing is the ability to move the camera. The angle it gives you isn’t the best.

But anyway, I’ll talk a bit about what this game is before I really review it. Up to eight players set their pieces (called “Stones”) on the edges of an empty grid (the board). They each draw three tiles from the deck, and these tiles are just lines. There are two endpoints on each side of these squares, and when you place it on the board, the players’ Stones go along the path until it ends, and a new tile is placed on the grid (on their turn or another player’s). The most common win condition is “Last Stone Standing”.

That’s the whole game, but here’s where the strategy comes in. Each tile has four lines and eight endpoints. A placed tile will always affect every Stone whose path it adds to. You can try to avoid the rest of the players by skirting around the edge of the board, or you can actively seek them out and try to get their path to go off the board, or send them crashing into other players.

Since there are dozens of different tiles, and they’re all unique, this game has almost infinite replayability, and by it’s nature, it gets harder and harder to stay alive the longer the game goes on. This means you can mess with people early on, only to be thrown halfway across the board in one turn. It’s simple enough for everyone to enjoy, and skill almost doesn’t matter.

If I have any critiques for this game, it’s that a lot of it is luck based. There will be many circumstances where you will be forced to rely on drawing a specific kind of tile, and when you don’t get it, you just lose. More experienced players will win more often, of course, but this is one of those games that even beginners have an almost equal chance to win, regardless of what happens. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t inherently bad, but it’s not always what you want in a board game.

The other thing is also a double edged sword, and that is it’s simplicity. Many learned and veteran board game aficionados (go redundancy) will prefer games with a more complicated nature. Tsuro is not only easy to set up, but one game can also end in ten minutes, which is far sooner than most tabletops. It’s great for getting beginners into what board games can be like, but it’s not something you can really spend the whole night playing.