The First 15

A group of people sit down around a table, eyeing one other warily. Each has come in search of adventure and will spend the next few hours finding it, or will leave with regret. Few talk, unsure of what to say to these strange new companions. It’s an introvert’s nightmare. And I, dear reader, am an introvert.

Games played through Dungeons & Dragons Organized Play, also known as the D&D Adventurers League, often begin in this dubious fashion. They take place at game stores, gaming conventions, and other public spaces – united in that initial awkward moment.

Thank God there is a game to play. Eventually the Dungeon Master calls the table together, you get to introduce your character, and you’re off and running with fantastic companions like Crouton the Human Barbarian and Daryush the Aasimar Bard. The awkwardness of those first 15 minutes is behind you, eclipsed by this new world of wonder that’s being created together at the table. Thank God there is a game to play; it almost makes that initial awkward moment disappear.

Almost.

A great rpg like D&D can cover for a multitude of social sins. It builds community and friendships. But in my experience, at an organized play game those friendships are often felt more by the characters than they are by the actual players. Your character may have saved the life of another character at the table, but 4 hours can pass and you can leave the table without even learning the name of the person playing that character.

Now there is a lot that I love about organized play. I love that I can drop in and out of a game according to my life’s hectic schedule. I love that I can take my character to a multitude of different tables and play them with a multitude of different companions. I love my experience as a DM, where I don’t have to manage other people’s schedules and have weeks where we can’t play because schedules didn’t line up. Instead I just announce that I’m running a table and every week it is full.

But those first 15 minutes… woof!

I love home games too. I recently finished DMing two simultaneous 3 1/2 year campaigns in a shared world. It was a blast. If that awkward initial situation was happening at a home game, it’s probably right at the very beginning of the campaign. In that case we could do a Session 0. A Session 0 is a time for you to get together as people, introduce new faces, and talk about what you hope to get out of the game. You can build your characters together, co-create the world, and importantly get to know your fellow players as people. A Session 0 is an awesome thing, lots of people have written about why and how to have them, but for Organized Play games the idea of a Session 0 is completely useless. There’s not enough time!

But there is 15 minutes. You might not build a lifelong friendship in that time, but you can at least start to build a sense of person-to-person community.

As a Pastor, one of my jobs is to facilitate community building, sometimes in these same tiny windows of time. As a Dungeon Master, I’ve been bringing those community creation skills to my Adventurers League games in something I call The First 15, and I think every Adventurers League DM should implement it, because that awkward initial moment? I don’t worry about those anymore.

first 15

THE FIRST 15

  • As the Dungeon Master, your first task is to welcome your players to the table. This is your table, and only you can share its hospitality. Make the first move and at least say, “Hello,” to each person as they arrive.
  • When your players are all there, invite them to go around the table and introduce themselves. Here’s where it gets important! As people introduce themselves, have them share their name and pronouns, their character’s name and the standard race/class/etc. AND ONE MORE THING.
  • In addition to simple hospitality, this one more thing is the crux of the whole First 15. It must be one more thing about the player, not the character. A simple icebreaker question can give the entire game session a different feel, and leave a much better impression in people’s minds when it’s over. Here is a list of great questions you can ask that will pull out that one more thing.
    • What are you excited about today/ tonight?
    • What is one thing you need to have a great game session?
    • What fear do you have as we begin this game?
    • On a scale of 1-10, where is your energy level right now?
    • What are you hoping for in this game?
    • What is one expectation you would like to set for the entire table?
    • What has been the best part of your day so far?
    • What is your favorite/least favorite thing about your character?
    • Besides your own PC, who is your favorite fictional character?
    • What is your favorite movie/book/tv show?
    • What power or ability does your character have that you wish you had in reed life?
    • What is your most prized personal possession?
    • What color best fits your personality?
    • What is your favorite pillar of play (Combat/Exploration/Role Play) and which pillar would you most like to improve your play in?

Asking even a single question about the person behind the PC lets people know that they matter. A question like one of these can uncover otherwise hidden expectations, anxieties, or dreams. Having a space, however brief, to share these things before starting to play can make the whole gameplay experience better. People might hear something that helps them remember someone’s name or interests.

It’s far from rocket science, but instituting the First 15 in your game is a simple first step to an even better game.

A Spoonful of Sugar helps the Healing Potion Go Down

A few months ago, my family and I went to see a movie in the theater.

Growing up, going out to see a movie was a magical experience, for a few reasons:

  1. We didn’t go to see very many movies, so when we did it was a treat!
  2. Popcorn…slathered in butter…pure decadence…
  3. The enormous screen. These were the days before 55 inch 4K ultrahigh definition televisions were even a whisper of a shadow of a dream.

Now that I’m an adult, I sometimes go to more movies in a month than I went to see in an entire year as a child.

And I can buy movie-theater butter popcorn that I can pop in my microwave.

And I’m never more than a few clicks of my smart TV’s remote away from watching tons of movies on Netflix.

But when I went with my family to that theater a few months ago, I again had a magical movie experience. No, we weren’t seeing the latest Marvel superhero movie (although those do tend to be wicked awesome!), we saw a movie from a different Disney franchise.

It was…Mary Poppins Returns!

Seriously! Sometimes we say that something, “Made me feel like a child again,” but this movie didn’t just make me feel like a child again, I actually was a child again! I was a child again, mesmerized by the fantastical mixture of live action and animation that so captured my imagination when I saw the original Mary Poppins 30ish years ago.

However, there was one thing that jumped out at me about this movie, one thing that I consciously realized that I probably wouldn’t have if I had watched this as a child. I realized that Mary Poppins was helping the Banks children process complex emotions about grief and greed through their imaginations.

I think that we adults often forget this. Kids do it all the time, playing with legos, playing with dolls, playing with pieces of paper that are actually racecar spaceships that can transform into lions.

Our imaginations are incredible tools to help us work through the ‘stuff’ in our lives. And this is one of the huge gifts of playing Dungeons and Dragons. It is a game of imagination, and not just our individual imaginations, but our communal imagination as a group comes together to create and inhabit whole new worlds. These are worlds where the fantastical is ordinary, where a well-timed joke can be as effective as the mightiest swing of a warhammer, and where players have the chance to live into a new reality.

I’m looking forward to our upcoming Pastors and Dragons: An Adventure of Spiritual Imagination retreat, where we will have the opportunity to exercise our communal imaginations for the sake of ourselves, our ministry settings, and the world. Who know what dreams and visions may come from this experience? When imagination is involved, the sky’s the limit! (Well, maybe the Elemental Plane of Air is the limit…or would it be the Ethereal Plane?…the Astral Plane?…)

Diamonds & Dragons 2.0

It’s been just over a month since I put up the rules to Diamonds & Dragons, a dungeon crawling card game that my wife and I have gotten into playing.

We still really love the game, for the simplicity, the surprise, and the light layer of story that makes for an interesting card game to play when we have a spare 10 minutes.

When I first posted the rules, we mainly played with one person as a dealer and the other as the adventuring party. But since I’ve been working on a way for us both to play, and I’m happy to say that I’ve found something pretty good.

Here are the updated rules for Diamonds & Dragons, with the additional rules for playing with 2 players. It’s a great little game and I hope you enjoy it as much as we do!

I’m working on refining the ruleset for better use with Dungeons & Dragons and other tabletop roleplaying games. In the meantime, here’s an extra page that can help you start to adapt this game for TTRPGS.