This is a short post for people who are kind of interested in trying D&D but aren’t sure if they’d really like it. It’s hard to explain what makes this game so great, so I’m going to give an example of a great in-game moment that captures the unpredictable fun of D&D. Hopefully veterans will recognize this sort of story, though, and enjoy this post as well.
I recently started a new campaign as a player character, rather than a DM (who runs the game). I’ve been mostly DM-ing for awhile, so I was looking forward to playing from the other side. My character is an Aasimar Paladin, Roland. Paladins are the stereotypical holy knights from literature, like Sir Percival. Aasimars are a D&D creation, the offspring of a celestial being and a human. So he’s basically a really holy warrior.
My group and I were exploring a castle that had sunk into the earth (the Sunless Citadel adventure from Tales of the Yawning Portal). At one point we found a room containing five sarcophagi. Paladins can sense undead, so I determined there were skeletons in each of them. We readied ourselves for a fight, and opened one.
The other four opened as well, and the skeletons stumbled out. My character particularly hates undead—undead cultists killed a unit of his knightly order—and excitedly rushed into battle. But he rolled a low initiative. Initiative rolls determine who goes first in combat, so low rolls means you have to wait for others.
The group’s ranger went first, killing one in a volley of arrows. The wizard went next, damaging a skeleton with a fire bolt. After a few more turns Roland finally got to attack…and missed. The group’s rogue killed another skeleton in a flurry of dagger stabs, while the dwarf barbarian hacked another to bits with his axe. Roland swung…and missed again.
Soon there was only one skeleton left, and Roland began to despair he would have a chance to demonstrate his martial prowess. The dwarf barbarian swung and damage the skeleton, but it was still up. Then it was Roland’s turn.
He attacked, and hit! But he didn’t just hit the skeleton. I rolled a 20 on the attack dice and a maximum on damage (8). A natural 20 on attack is a critical hit, which means damage is doubled. And the skeletons were vulnerable to the war hammer I wielded (they’re more hurt by bludgeoning damage) so the damage was doubled again. It ended up with 22 points of damage.
Roland shouted a challenge, swung…and the skeleton exploded into dust.
And that’s why I love D&D.
It’s always hard to predict what will happen, as a powerful warrior can miss with every attack in combat. But just when all seems lost, you land a good blow, and have a satisfying encounter like this one.
Sometimes it can be pretty dramatic, such as a recent adventure I ran in which the entire group except the fighter was knocked unconscious in a fight with the hobgoblin boss. The fighter charged the hobgoblin and fought him on one on, killing the enemy with a lucky blow.
Everyone has stories like this, stories you can’t quite replicate in computer games or more structured tabletop games. And that’s why I love D&D.