Playing Dungeons and Dragons is like entering an entirely different world. Well, I guess technically you are. One that’s filled with scaly monsters and undead armies and curse-spitting demons. It’s also filled with a ton of inside jokes. When a non-D&D player tries to talk to a group of players, at times it’s like they’re speaking an entirely different language. Elvish or Dwarven or maybe Draconic.
Every major game/fandom has its own little world, and Dungeons and Dragons has been around long enough that its population is hitting insane numbers. Over the years, thousands of adventures have been played, mistakes made, and jokes said. Some should never be repeated, ever. But some are too good not to share. We’ve found fifteen of the best.
15. D&D Parties Are Truly Unique
Clerics, warlords, and bards usually have the lamest powers, at least compared to the damage-dealing strikers, the insane wizards, and sheer walls of stubbornness that are defenders. They are also, arguably, the most important member of the team. Healers are often the only things keeping all the other characters going, and if the healer’s out, it’s time to high-tail it out of there.
One time, I was playing a human cleric (4e) named Jenn who was all healing all the time because everyone else in the party was brand new at playing D&D while I was one of the few experienced players. And what do they do during one battle when Jenn gets knocked unconscious by a bunch of zombies? Why, they let her drool on the floor making death- saving-throw after death-saving-throw while they start dropping one by one because their healer isn’t around to keep them above 0 hit points. It wasn’t until I rolled a 20 on a death saving throw and ended up resuscitating myself that we managed to make it through in one piece. Ungrateful jerks.
14. That’s Not Ridiculous
Sometimes, Monty Python hits the nail right on the head. Sometimes you even want to be bloodied because that activates cool powers. Or even hit zero, because then something even cooler happens, like you get to turn into a dragon (a couple of 4e epic destinies included that nifty little trick).
If you dig through some of the more obscure rule books, you can even find feats and abilities that allow the character to stay conscious and continue fighting even after they’ve gone below zero hit points. For example, I had a paladin whose race was a kalashtar, essentially a human with the piece of an ancient monk’s soul in her, giving her telepathy and a couple of other cool stuff. One of the kalashtar feats in epic tier allows the character to stay conscious for one round after they’ve gone below zero hit points. If there’s one way to tick off the bad guys, it’s staying up and running after you should’ve hit the floor.
13. Time Is Not A Concept
Three hours is a conservative number. That’s if there are only three players and a moderately difficult monster, or very small army, like a dozen or so kobolds. If you have more than three players, then good luck getting your schedules to line up. And think long and hard before giving an open invitation to the neighborhood kids for D&D sessions, because you’re going to end up with a dozen players. If you have a small party, but they’re about to face a major villain or a battle that’s supposed to carry them to the next tier, you’d better block off the entire afternoon, because those five minutes are going to be looooong. Sometimes it takes more than one session! When my dad was the Dungeon Master, he would sometimes give us a fort or city to protect us in a massive battle. The entire dining room table would be covered in little plastic figurines. Needless to say that took over our entire weekend.
12. All DMs Are Evil, And You Know It
Some Dungeon Masters are nice. They focus on giving the other players a rewarding experience, on providing a balance between simple skull-bashing and complicated skill-based tests. You still run the risk of a total party kill. At the very least a character or two is going to die every now and then. But, so long as you don’t do anything too stupid (or you have a surplus of healing potions if you do), you don’t have too much to worry about.
Other DMs, on the other hand, are pure evil. They’ve sold their souls to Satan (if they had souls in the first place). Their goal is to kill the characters. Which makes them impossible to work with, because while they control the bad guys (whose goals are, in all fairness, to kill the characters), they also control everything else. The entire setting, the weather, the shopkeepers and farmers and other NPCs that affect the storyline. They are God. You do not want God to look like that raccoon ever.
11. Not A Lot Of Dungeons. Or Dragons
This is weirdly true. For a game called Dungeons and Dragons, there are very few dungeons or dragons that the average party comes across. There might be a cave you have to go into to flush out a goblin nest, or the basement of a castle. If you’re in a campaign against the undead or dark elves, then yes, you’re going to be in a lot of tombs and caverns. But otherwise the majority of the action takes place in forests, mountaintops, or in cities. If you’re lucky, you get to take a (very violent) vacation to other dimensions like the Abyss or Feywild. As for the bad guys…after twenty, thirty, or however many levels you go through (depending on the edition), chances are you’ll be able to count on one hand how many dragons you come across. Even the head honchos tend to be distinctly non-dragon-like. One of my parties finished off their adventures by facing the goddess Lolth, Queen of Spiders. So, if you want dungeons and dragons, you should probably look elsewhere.
10. Pfft, Common Sense
If any of the characters had any amount of common sense, then they wouldn’t be gallivanting across the wilderness fighting monsters and bad guys in the first place. So we’ve already let go of the sanity in our characters a bit. Then, they have to agree to do their gallivanting with a bunch of other adventurers who’ve shown at least the same amount of lack of common sense as them, rather than more (crazy people need sane people to keep them grounded, rather than more crazy people). And then, they all have to agree to go on major life-threatening missions against corrupt princes and beholders and whatever else the Dungeon Master throws at you. So by the time you have to decide whether or not to pull the lever and the DM asks “are you sure?” there isn’t enough common sense left in the group to think “Well…”
9. They Just Don’t Care
Sometimes, the real threat isn’t the massive dragon trying to turn you into mincemeat. Sometimes, the real threat is the wizard or sorcerer behind you who’s casting an area spell. If it’s a power that targets all creatures rather than all enemies, then you’d better hope your character has a good reflex or fortitude.
If that spell-caster is good-alignment, then it probably only happens once or twice, and usually by accident or regretfully. (“Whoops! Sorry,” is a phrase spoken by spell-casters a little too often for comfort.) But if that spell-caster is neutral or evil, then you’re going to want to stay behind them during fights, even if you’re a defender. Once, my characters were working with a neutral-aligned drow sorceress. Excluding the odd lightning bolt that zapped my brother’s character’s butt, everything was fine. Until we paired up with a party of eladrin (high elves). That, uh…that did not go well.
8. The Real Threat Of An Adventurer
Okay, first of all…what? Seriously, what? Where did the freaking lion come from? I need to know so that I can get one. Preferably one that’s already trained to not devour people unless I deem them fit for lion chow. You know that nobody’s going to try to mug this woman, or mess with her in any way. The same works in the Dungeons and Dragons universe. The two classes that tend to get animal companions, rangers and druids, usually aren’t much to look at. They’re skinny elves, little halflings, or some other being that’s not nearly as tall and muscly as the fighters or the bad guy’s henchmen. But you give that halfling ranger a wolf twice its height, or that fragile-looking elf a massive jaguar? Yeah, the only people who’re going to be messing around with those characters are the big bad guys you came here to fight.
7. Shapeshifters Don’t Wanna Shift
Let’s face it: the wild shape is way better than any of those puny humanoid shapes. You get bonuses to your defenses, sometimes you get bonuses to your attack and/or damage rolls, and more often than not – you get access to a really cool power. And of course, there’s the simple fact that you are a bear, a wolf, a dragon, or whatever awesome creature you get to turn into.
Unfortunately, life doesn’t work like that. Not even life in the magical world of Dungeons and Dragons. If you’re an elven druid, then you need to spend some time as an elf. The innkeeper isn’t going to let a massive bear guzzle all the fine ale and scare the rest of his customers away. And forget about your party doing any kind of diplomacy checks.
6. Not Even A Bag Of Holding
I sometimes wonder about the way physics works in the D&D universe. Even with the fact that there are impossible creatures like dragons and beholders and people who can conjure fireballs (or in the case of genasi and elementals, are fireballs), there are some basic rules of physics that just make sense. For example, if you push a creature, that creature has to end up away from you rather than closer. Yet somehow, bags and weight don’t seem to apply (unless you have a Bag of Holding, the greatest invention of all time). You want me to carry ninety-nine pounds? No problem! I’ll go my full speed and fight a dozen orcs with ease. A hundred pounds? Well, that’s going to significantly slow me down. And then there’s the bag itself. Where do they hide it? Under their helmet?
Dungeons and Dragons is both original and not. It’s original in the fact that you have unheard-of races like dragonborn, kalashtar, and githzerai, with entire histories and backstories that intertwine with other races and nations in complicated and realistic ways. And then there’s the way the game itself is played. It’s total imaginative immersion, and can be played with dozens of figurines and stacks of handbooks and maps, or pencil and paper. On the other hand, it’s really not that original. Nine out of ten times, you know whether a creature is good or evil just by looking at it. Elven village? Clearly full of saintly innocents. Goblin nest? Burn it. It incorporates every stereotype and cliche in epic fantasy worlds and stretches it across every realm and dimension. It does make it easier to identify who the party has to fight and who it has to save…but isn’t that method a little dangerous when it spills into the real world? Example: the pale-skinned elves are almost always the good guys while the dark-skinned elves (a.k.a. drow) are almost always the bad guys. Hmmm…
4. Chaos Theory
Ah, the Deck of Many Things. That’s an artifact that never fails to spice things up. For those who don’t know, the Deck of Many Things is a deck of magical cards, usually scattered across the realm, prompting the party to go collect all the cards. The more cards you get, the more powerful the deck is. Every card does something different, from summoning a demon to stunning a creature. But here’s the catch: you have to draw the cards at random, and you usually don’t get to choose the target. So you could either zap a couple of enemies to another dimension for a couple of rounds or you could spray flames on your own allies. The Deck does its own thing. It’s neither benevolent nor malicious, it just wants to keep itself assembled and not destroyed.
3. Not As Easy As It Looks…
With 5th Edition, the good Wizards of the Coast simplified several rules and shaved off a lot of the excess. That’s because 4th Edition was just nuts. There were over a dozen classes: your standard paladin, cleric, wizard, rogue, et cetera. And then there was avenger, warden, assassin, psion, alchemist, and on and on. Once you’ve made the impossible choice of what type of class you wanted, then you have to decide what race, and there are a gazillion of those, too! Not just elf, dwarf, and dragonborn, oh no. There are minotaurs, kalashtar, changelings, revenants, and a bunch of others.
Then we get to the battles! It’s pretty easy the first few levels, but once you start stacking up powers and artifacts, then you have to decide every round whether to use one of your two at-will powers, five or more encounter powers, three or more daily powers, or any number of other actions needed to be taken in any round depending on the battle. Have fun!
2. What The…?
Okay, what? Just…what? How does any creature ever manage that? And please tell me that seal lived long enough after this encounter to reproduce. Or maybe not. If that kind of gene spreads across the ocean, we’ll end up with a million genetically advanced seals and they’ll probably wage war on humanity and take over the world.
It is nice when you can do a dexterity-based AC. The whole point of Armor Class is to determine how hard it is to hit a person, and it’s traditionally based on things like constitution or strength, plus the type of armor you’re wearing. Which is great for wall-like dwarves who cover every square inch of skin in plate armor and won’t budge in a hurricane. The leather-wearing halfling? Of course their AC’s based on dexterity! If an archer’s shooting at them, they’re going to duck!
1. The Hard Truth About Dungeons & Dragons
It doesn’t matter how experienced the players are or tough the characters are. Every adventure begins solemnly, seriously, and confidently. There’s a monster in a cave threatening the village? We’re on it. Need to prepare the city for an orc attack? We’ve got your back. A bunch of villagers have gone missing and the only clue leads to the haunted valley? We’ll be back in time for lunch.
And then you get to the actual fight and you realize, “Oh, crap! My character might actually die!” Because that monster sprays acid and attacks reflex, which is of course your weakest defense. And the orc army has about fifty more orcs than you were expecting. Or the haunted valley turned out to have ghosts and zombies and a crazy wizard vampire who can control your paladin’s mind. As they say in Monty Python: “Run away! Run away!”
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