I’ll be the first to admit that, right from the offset, this is probably the most first-worldliest of first-world problems. That said, it’s something that I felt important to write about; how running my very own D&D stories has brought more engagement, entertainment and joy than any other MMORPG experience I’ve had thus far.
Yes, even my much-beloved City of Heroes.
Admittedly, maybe it was always meant to be this way. I first started roleplaying through various forums based on either established IP like Final Fantasy or MechWarrior or based on unique settings for a number of years. Then I discovered that RP in MMOs was a thing which saw my interest in the genre re-energize. Now, after feeling like I’ve ridden that horse into the dirt, I’m beginning to find that forming my very own world for friends to enjoy is more impactful and meaningful – a sort of apotheosis of my RP’ing activities above and beyond what I’ve done before.
Granted, I’m operating within some established rules and even taking inspiration or materials from the sources of D&D editions past, but by and large being the arbiter of an entire game world and seeing and reacting to other people is one of the most rewarding storytelling experiences I’ve had. Sure, that’s still something I can enjoy in MMO RP, but this whole thing feels dramatically different.
Part of that is because I’m with some good friends. Of course, that’s not to insinuate that I haven’t made friends with people digitally or through MMO gaming activities before, but I’ve also got to admit that there’s a more personal and direct connection running D&D things than I’ve ever felt in my MMO RP life. Maybe, though, that’s a symptom of being part of a guild and its stories instead of running one myself.
Another aspect is the creativity that feels required in running a D&D campaign. While I do get a great deal of enjoyment in digging into the lore of an MMO’s world and seeing whether a character concept I create would fit neatly into established paradigms, my creative muscles are absolutely straining when I’m thinking about D&D stuff, be it planning adventures in advance or reacting to something on-the-fly because my players come up with something I never anticipated.
This is helped pretty significantly by the myriad tools at my disposal. I’m a sucker for a hobby that has a lot of fun toys and gadgets involved with it, and D&D is an absolute sinkhole in that regard. There’s websites, digital tools, paint programs to create maps, digital tabletop sites, and resources to play on and get creative with to name a few. Then there’s the content others have created – videos, blogs, ideas, chats and the like – that seem to both draw me in deeper as well as fire my own imagination.
As if that wasn’t enough, there’s all of the gorgeous physical goodies associated with D&D. Call me a rampant consumerist, but the neat shit people make or craft or sell, either expressly or unintentionally for tabletop RPGs, is kind of all-engrossing. From source books to stationary, rolling trays to dice bags and dice, there’s a wonderful assembly of toys.
What’s also probably helping is the fact that this is becoming something of an institution for myself and my friends. It’s turning into a weekly cycle; an escape from several days’ worth of drudgery for myself and my players. Every now and again, we’re finding ourselves dipping into that world mentally in the lead-up to our game night until Thursday rolls around and we’re ready to go. It’s basically that old “distance make the heart grow fonder” chestnut.
That all said, I’ll be the first to admit that this is being tempered by my own level of caution as well as the understanding that I’m still in something of a honeymoon phase with pen-and-paper gaming. I’m basically doing my best to avoid the burnout I feel when I dive into an MMO too deeply, just in case the pressures of DM’ing become too much.
As it stands right now, though, I’m not feeling any pressure whatsoever. Partially because I’m delighted to have such a unique creative outlet, partially because I’m pacing myself.
Ultimately, though, I think it comes down to D&D being a gaming experience about the experience than a sort of end game goal. My players are motivated to earn levels and neat skills, sure, but we’re all coming together to live out a heroic adventure unburdened by the weights of gear score, stat restrictions or other demands inherent in PvE MMORPGs.
Maybe there are some sandbox games that will get close to that sense of freedom, but I’m unconvinced that there are many out there. Couple that with the fact that many MMO worlds are populated by significantly more people who often seem to be motivated more by efficiency towards a win condition than passion, and you’ve got an apples to oranges situation goin’ on.
The party in my D&D world is led by a genuine sense of adventure, guided gently by my hand and using tactics or thought processes that would otherwise be restricted by tech, balance concerns or just plain lack of budget to plan for every creative eventuality. They are slowly becoming the chosen ones instead of being told in a winking way that they’re a hero of destiny just like everyone else around them has.
Am I going to feel this way forever? I don’t think so. I’m sure there will be a point where things in D&D will hit a sort of “leveling off point”, perhaps when my party hits the higher levels. Or there will be an MMORPG that truly sinks its hooks deep into me that lets me really be as creative in its world as I am in my own.
Still, it’s getting harder and harder to double-click those MMO launcher programs to update to the latest patch, while it’s getting easier and easier to look at my own created map, plot the possibilities, and eagerly await what my world’s heroes will do.