Dungeons And Dragons is like a Thanksgiving Dinner
Photo Credit: Wizards of the Coast
I’ve been playing Dungeons and Dragons for nearly 15 years now and throughout those years I’ve gone from a newbie in the 3.5 edition, to a Dungeon Master in 4th edition. It all started in my college years and went away for awhile as I became an adult and went through job changes and different living arrangements. Campaigns never really lasted long enough to come to much of a fruition. Last year in mid January I started up a new home brew campaign with some friends from around the country using the Roll20 tabletop web app and for nearly every single Monday since then we’ve played. With Thanksgiving just around the corner I spent some time reflecting on how thankful I am for a group of players who had the time to commit to this game and to a job that allows me the stability to perform my duties as a Dungeon Master. It also got me thinking that a good game of Dungeons and Dragons whether a full length campaign or a one-shot is a lot like a Thanksgiving meal. You really need to make sure you have the right ingredients.
Everyone’s Thanksgiving is going to look a little different based on your background or unique family traditions. Every dinner can be broken down into at least five categories that must be fulfilled in some way or another. The first is snacks and appetizers, it takes a long time for some of that food (looking at you Turkey) to get done cooking. There are plenty of us that have the patience to wait and bask in the delicious glory of finally being able to consume our favorite dish. However, not everyone has the Constitution to make those checks, usually children but we all have that one cousin who needs to always be eating. Similarly in Dungeons and Dragons you need something that wets the appetite of all different players as you get things started, this could be anything from roleplaying with NPCs, to giving your more mischievous characters something to steal or swindle. Your barbarians or warriors will feel sated by having a chance to flex their muscles and intimidate someone even if they don’t have to pull their weapon yet. This part of the campaign is about getting them excited and keeping them ready for what’s about to come.
The next part goes hand in hand with both the appetizers and everything that comes after and that’s beverages. I believe that NPCs represent the drinks of the Dungeons and Dragons world, you need a wide array to satisfy everyone. You’ll of course have your quick, faceless villagers or guards who are just there to point someone in the right director, a simple tall glass of water. You’ll need your grizzled veterans or sagacious barkeep to giving more pertinent info or the unheeded word of warning. Each of these characters are probably already into their third or fourth flagon of alcohol. Dungeons and Dragons is all about having fun, so don’t forget to pepper in the spry and bouncing halfling bard, or the wise-cracking half-elf Wizard with a flair for the dramatic, your fizzy pops and sodas. These characters keep the world and the campaign alive and should never feel empty at any point in the adventure. They’re going to be your road map to the next section.
The main course and all the food it encompasses is going to be the majority of your campaign, of course. This is where you really need to satisfy all of your guests. You have to make sure you have something for everyone and remember that every player is different. You need to take account of whether or not anyone has any allergies or if there’s anything that a player absolutely will not touch. Have alternatives ready in case a puzzle is just too hard to swallow. You’ll have combat but you don’t want it to be dry and all feel the same, zombies and skeletons are a great go-to and an age old classic, but spice it up with a Remorhaz that managed to burrow its way into the ancient undead ruins. Finally, you need to make sure that after everything else you do have something big, juicy and plump waiting at the end, a real classic that reminds everyone at the tables that they are riding a fine line between dead adventurers or soon-to-be legends. Anything from a Dragon to a Beholder, a Lich or an Aboleth, something that at first strikes fear into their hearts. Something that makes them question whether or not they should continue, but ultimately they let loose one more notch in their belt and go for the glory.
You would think after surmounting something as epic as that, you’d be done but not this time. As the adventures sit there high and fat basking in the glory of their victory the dessert comes, or as table top players know it…the loot. If you’ve ever eaten a truly great meal the very idea of dessert doesn’t quite sit well, but on Thanksgiving if it’s real dessert just one look at you find the extra room in your bag of holding for just a little more. It’s not just about gold here, it’s about those sweet, sweet magic items. +2 swords, shields and armor are just the toppings on the pies. My grandma has a tradition of making one pie for ever grandkid and they get to choose what flavor they want. Have something really special in that dragon horde for each character that pertains to either their backstory or their specific class.
Finally, the leftovers…this is an important part of any Thanksgiving feast because it’s going to feed you for days to come. Likewise, in Dungeons and Dragons there should be some faint clues, the odd bread crumb that hints to the players that their story doesn’t end here. There is always something far more sinister waiting in the shadows and as heroes is their job to seek it out.