Sunday, February 6, 2011

DnD: Through the Eyes of a Newb

The game group that was meeting at my house went on hiatus several months ago. I recently emailed them about getting back together. In order improve the experience for everyone, I sent them a brief survey of seven questions. Their responses follow. First, however, some demographic information about the players, all of whom were totally new to role-playing when I asked them to try out 4e with me (I, in turn, was totally new to being a DM). I will be using their PC names to identify them.
  • Eponine (Half Elf Paladin, female) - female, married to Lucan IRL, 1 yo son, homemaker/babysitter/violinist, 25
  • Erianya (Eladrin Wizard, female) - my lovely wife, School Psychologist, 31 (still looks mid-20's), 5 yo son & 3 yo daughter
  • Lucan (Elven Cleric, male) - married to Eponine IRL, 1 yo son, Public Defender, 38
  • Telfryn (Elven Ranger, male) - married, Statistics Professor, mid(?)50's, 1 son & 1 daughter - both grown. I referred to him as Teflon.
NOTE: Each player was informed beforehand that their responses would likely wind up on my blog.

1) What aspect of our role-playing sessions did you enjoy the most?

Erianya: I liked the dinner, getting together with friends, and the first half hour- so the set up. I liked seeing what [the DM] came up with and the creativity of it. Once there was a box with a logical problem to solve and I figured it out very quickly. I liked that.

Eponine: I enjoyed creating a character and witnessing others' creativity. The collaborative story-telling as well the exploring of the world you set up for us. I also really enjoyed the discovery of our unique roles within the group. I enjoyed being the strong defender. :-) I really enjoyed beginning to learn about the world of D&D -- it was fun how it opened up conversations with some neighbors and many of my college friends (I guess that says a lot about my friends). Thanks for sharing it with us.

Lucan: I agree with Telfryn and Erianya in that the getting together was the main thing. As for the game, I thought the unstructured, open nature of role playing games was challenging. I enjoyed the story-telling aspects of the game, too -- especially [the DM's] work creating the environment. Really the "cooperative story-telling" aspects were quite fun and a very interesting experience to reflect on.

Telfryn: The time together.

2) What aspect of our role-playing sessions did you enjoy the least?

Erianya: I didn't like being bored while everyone else was playing and I wasn't. I didn't like being expected to pay attention when I wasn't playing. I didn't like being expected to have done homework or know what is going on. I liked it better when I'm told "these are rules, here's your game piece, this is what you do, figure out a strategy on your own", rather than "figure out who you are by reading volumes of boring books, figure out what you do by sorting through volumes of boring books, and figure out the rules by reading volumes of boring books." I didn't really like fighting things either, and we did that a lot. The D&D world is vast and complicated. If you are interested in it, could be absorbing and exciting. However, as someone with no interest in those details- I want someone to tell me the minimum I have to learn in order to play, and then be expected to know that minimum- not more- and for that to be okay.

Eponine: The battles seemed to go on for a long time, and at times seemed monotonous and futile.

Lucan: Our mutual lack of experience made the game tedious at times. I suppose that is partly because we were not experienced enough acting in character to be able to know what they would do automatically. We were probably doing too much meta-thinking or at least we were too self-conscious.

Telfryn: The fact that the ads kept popping up on the digital board.

3) What changes would you recommend to make our D&D sessions more fun?

Erianya: Play other games, but we can still be in our character? Keep the sessions to 30 minutes? Here's a good one: When we fight, do speed rounds. Instead of everyone having a turn- set the timer for 2 minutes and everyone silently figures out our attack and then 30 seconds each person to describe the attack. Then the monsters have 2 minutes to decide how to attack all of us. Then we have 2 minutes to decide and 30 seconds to tell and so on. This will get us out of the boring fighting and back into the story. Maybe then I can more easily tolerate more than 30 minutes of play.

Eponine: As others have said - I would recommend shortening the fighting encounters.

Lucan: Shorter and more focused encounters would help probably. I liked using the table. Perhaps we could work the Wii Fit tasks into it, too. There could be adventures where you have to try to complete some Wii thing like flying to an island or something. I realize that is totally ridiculous from a D&D perspective ;-) The problem with D&D for me is that I am not able to really commit to inhabiting the imaginary world seriously enough to make the action happen spontaneously. I also enjoyed playing some of the other games that y'all have and new games that you would find from time to time -- Settlers of Catan comes to mind. And I don't think that we have to play a game -- I am open to other options, both indoors and out, for our time together. Outdoor activities like cook-outs in the park, drive-in movies, etc. all come to mind for the spring and summer. Of course, I also now have to think about [kid]-friendly activities.

Telfryn: I thought they were great fun, but it seemed like we got awfully bogged down sometimes talking things over and not staying focused.

4) Are there different settings/genres/styles of role-playing that you would prefer to D&D's standard hack-n-slash fantasy setting (please elaborate beyond a simple 'yes' or 'no')?

Erianya: Do not understand the question- but hack and slash does not sound like me.

Eponine: Yes, I am sure there are different settings/genres/styles that I would prefer to hack-n-slash fantasy. Like Lucan, I preferred the exploring part of the game, I don't know what genre would be more like that.

Lucan: I thought the exploring part of the game was more fun than the fighting part. Perhaps the fighting could be modified to go more quickly -- more real time. I like Erianya's suggestion. Also, see my comments on question 3.

Telfryn: Not sure, because I don't know what is out there. I am partial to "puzzle" games (al la "Raven" from several years ago), where there was a puzzle that we had to figure out. However, that doesn't lend itself to the sort of invent-as-you-go flavor of D&D. So...I'm happy with the genre we used.

5) Would having a more experienced role-player in the group make you more or less interested in playing?

Erianya: MUCH MUCH less interested. A more experienced role player would expect us to follow a certain set of complicated rules that I'm uninterested in learning. They would be annoyed with us and I'd be anxious over the fact that I was annoying them and then annoyed with them for being sticklers overs rules I don't care about. It seems too dangerous.

Eponine: Less.

Lucan: I agree with Telfryn and Erianya. I don't think we could handle them or they could handle us.

Telfryn: Having a more experienced role player might help us all learn more, but honestly, the real fun for me is in being together...less so than becoming really proficient in D&D. Not sure an experienced player on our team would be happy with our rather messy way of playing.

6) Did using the digital table make your role-playing experience more or less engaging?

Erianya: The digital table was useful and aesthetically pleasing.

Eponine: More. The table was really cool --- except for the pop up ad of course.

Lucan: Aside from the technical difficulties, I thought the table was a great addition.

Telfryn: I liked the digital table . . . with that birds-eye-view. Helped me visualize things (if we can just keep those pesky ads from popping up!).

7) Time and distance are big issues for our group, do you have any suggestions for overcoming these obstacles?

Erianya: I heard you can purchase a helicopter that you put together yourself for only 100,000. I can't verify this- it was just a facebook post.

Eponine: See Lucan's answer

Lucan: Well, with [our young son] this will only be more difficult in the near future -- particularly the time. I suspect that the game will have to allow for Eponine or I to come and go somehow. The distance isn't a huge obstacle. Obviously, it's not like we lived in the same neighborhood so our get-togethers have to be more planned than spontaneous, but the drive is not burdensome. Y'all's new house is certainly the most convenient in terms of space for kids and adults. Our house is pretty loud and chaotic with all that going on in what is essentially the same room.

Telfryn: Don't know how to over come the time/distance issue. Lucan and Eponine have the biggest hurdle. I'll defer to their ideas and

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