About fifteen months ago, Igor strode through the front door of the Mead Hall with his hair blowing in the wind and the box set of ‘The Lost Mine of Phandelver’ under his arm.
“We should play this!” he said.
Loki looked up from his comic book, took his feet off the table and smoothed his beard.
“What is it?” he asked, raising his eyebrow inquisitively.
“Dungeons & Dragons!” boomed Igor. “You should both come and join me and Mrs Igor in a game. Our dwelling, 4pm, yeah?”
So it was that the Vikings and their families gathered around a table piled high with snacks, dice in hand, pencils at the ready, and each wielding a brand new level 1 character sheet as Dungeon Master Igor set the scene for their first adventure.
Loki was a halfling rogue; Mrs Igor was a high-elf wizard; Son of Igor and Ragnhild were human fighters, and Mr Ragnhild was a dwarf cleric.
Their first battle was hilarious. Ambushed by a group of goblins while escorting a cart of supplies to Phandalin, the adventurers swung and missed with swords and javelins, shot themselves with arrows and fell over quite a lot. The goblins themselves didn’t fare much better as some of them dropped their weapons in shock while others were too busy laughing at the bunch of buffoons in front of them to be able to get any hits in.
Farther down the path they set off every trap going and, not realising they could be stealthy, alerted every single enemy to their presence almost immediately. The wizard even managed to accidentally set fire to the fighter at one point, who ran around screaming and waving his arms like Kermit the Frog until someone put him out. Since then, the wizard will always be known to utter the immortal phrase before casting a spell during battles; “Now, is there anyone in front of me?”
They emerged at the end of ‘The Lost Mine of Phandelver’ as level 4 characters with experience, knowledge and a cartload of treasure under their belts, all eager for their next adventure.
And thus began the Nerdic Vikings’ ongoing love affair with the game that is Dungeons & Dragons.
Before starting our next epic, ‘Tomb of Annihilation’ during which Loki took over as Dungeon Master and Igor became a wood elf ranger, we all had the opportunity to create new characters if we wanted. And this is where the obsession really kicked off; it wasn’t long before we all had our own character miniatures, special dice, props, and spell and ability cards to keep track of what we could do.
Seeing as my fighter, Spud, had been put in jail at the end of ‘The Lost Mine of Phandelver’ for trying to sell a fake emerald, I decided to create a new character. She was his sister, and I named her Sheogorath after the ‘Elder Scrolls’ Daedric Prince of Madness, because she had gone slightly bonkers following a traumatic three-year enslavement by the Cult of Asmodeus and a two-year period of living on her own in the wilderness. She had an imaginary friend in the form of a talking squirrel and was compelled to write about her daily life (in no more than 140 characters) on scraps of parchment which she then gave to birds that she summoned using special whistles. The birds didn’t take the notes anywhere and either ate them, dropped them or used them as nesting material.
However, as the ‘Tomb of Annihilation’ adventure progressed Sheogorath began to change, and this brings me to what I love most about Dungeons & Dragons.
In today’s computer games, you are sometimes given the option to create a character for yourself – that’s good, but you are still restricted to the parameters set by the game. In D&D, those restrictions don’t exist, and you’re free to let your imagination run completely wild to create a unique character that is yours and yours alone, a character with their own personality that can evolve and grow as you play them.
Sheogorath has evolved a few times since I started playing as her. After she nearly had her brain devoured by a mind flayer and only escaped by the skin of her teeth, she decided that her daily ‘tweets’ weren’t providing her with enough protection and instead she would make offerings each morning to a God. The God she chose was Wrench. Now, I realise that Wrench isn’t a part of D&D lore, but I was heavily into playing ‘WatchDogs 2’ at the time and the character of Wrench was my spirit animal, so Sheogorath created a Wrench doll for herself and continues to worship it each day by offering libations of beer and carving his symbol of ‘X X’ into the ground.
But the biggest change that happened was down to the fact that fighters can be perceived as… well, boring after a while.
Here’s the thing. Fighters are great for using brute-force, weapons and archery, but when all your friends are using various kick-ass magic spells and you’re saying “I swing at it with my sword” over and over again, it’s easy to become a little disillusioned with your character. I went through this phase and had a very long private discussion with Loki about multi-classing Sheogorath as a fighter/druid, just so she would have a bit of variety in her attacks, investigations and defences. Except that during our next game, Igor hinted that he was going to multi-class his character as a ranger/druid, so I ditched the idea, not wanting both of us to be the same class.
And if I’m honest, this was the making of Sheogorath. I realised that I was trying to take the easy way out, and that if I wanted my character to stay true to her fighter heritage I would have to work at it and research it instead. I started watching Critical Role on YouTube to get ideas. I looked up other moves, like grappling, shoving and punching that she could do. I paid closer attention to her Battle Master manoeuvres and made cards to remind myself to use them. And when we all gained a level that allowed us to add skill points or pick a feat, Loki gave his permission for me to choose a Homebrew feat called ‘Friend of the Wild’ that effectively gave me a pet. The pet he chose for me was an Almiraj (a large rabbit with a foot-long unicorn horn) and it’s perfect. He’s called Stabbybunny. Igor’s character thinks he would make a good pie, but that’s another story.
Because of this, I now think much more imaginatively about what Sheogorath’s options are during a fight. Recently she’s grappled an enemy and forced them to drink Dancing Monkey Fruit juice, kicked another couple of bad guys in the nether regions, and skewered two enemies on her sword while still trying to battle a third.
And last week after chatting on Twitter to Shawn Baichoo (the lovely actor who plays Wrench in ‘WatchDogs 2’) about Dungeons & Dragons, he gifted Sheogorath a +4 Molotov Cocktail of Ever-Burning, as her Wrench-God. That made my day, and Loki has promised to allow it because he’s good like that.
D&D might have a bit of a geeky reputation and require you to get together with actual people, but if you get the chance to play it, take it! There’s nothing quite like sitting around a table with good friends, having a laugh, and adventuring through new lands with just a set of dice, a pencil, and your imagination to create a story where you battle monsters and attempt to talk your way out of dangerous situations even though all of you except one have terrible charisma.
And last of all, don’t be afraid to choose to be a fighter because you think they might be boring – they can be just as rewarding as magic users, trust me!