DMing For a Better World

“YOU KNOW WHAT, LET’S MAKE A DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS PODCAST,” I announced, tipsy at a corporate happy hour at the rundown Irish pub, Jack Doyle’s. The job I was working, which gave me two whiskey gingers for my trouble, was a drag, but at least I worked with two guys who loved D&D just as much as I did. And I had a friend who I had roped into another game, so why not? Sure, I had never run a full-fledged campaign before, or never ran my own podcast, or even really knew what I was doing. But it sounded fun and I really wanted to put a Danny-Zuko-style talking gargoyle on a microphone.

I've been the DM for Join the Party for over a year now. And I made that gargoyle. I also built government structures, magic items, disappearing stars in the sky, royal weddings, grizzled druid pirates, mythological behemoths, a tournament styled after the Bachelorette, and so much more. More than 100 hours of gameplay later, I am so proud of this project. But I am most proud because I tried to create a better world that currently exists.

It snuck up on me too. As I planned my first episode, I pulled from schlocky heist movies, staging the first drama at a royal wedding. Hmm, what if the two people getting married were two princes, I thought. Sounds good. And then our rogue showed signs of being a queer disaster, so I made confident older women as NPCs, with hilarious results. And then the government system doesn’t seem as rock solid as we once thought. And we humanize the supposedly “evil” prince who just wants his husband back. And I turn around and I’ve built an entire Bachelorette-style tournament that allowed heroes of all shapes, sizes, and sexualities to compete on international television.

This was just the game that I wanted my players to experience and the podcast I wanted to put out into the world. But something inside me, something I didn’t know was at work, wanted to make something that was an antidote to the real world.  You can hold government officials responsible and beat up terrorist doofuses, figure out when someone in power is lying and love whoever you want without anyone blinking an eye.

2018 is a trash fire. Surprise. I’ll spare everyone the gory details since you live here too, but I wasn’t ready to see Nazis anywhere outside of retro Captain America comics. I think the need to escape from this year is part of the reason why D&D is on the rise. Communities who feel like they have no power - the twentysomething who is insanely underemployed, the marginalized communities who want to see themselves represented in their media, everyone who feels like they can’t do anything to fix 2018 - can solve problems. They can live an adventuring lifestyle, make new friends, discuss tough but clear-cut choices, and maybe be a hero. It's a lot easier to deal with evil robber barons and cultists than evil CEOs and white supremacists.

Maybe escape is the wrong word. It’s just a break from the constant everything. It’s a recharge. A respite. A momentary portal that will break if you think about it too much. And we deserve that, even if we don’t explicitly know it. As a DM, I know if I am kind to myself, I am kind to my players as well. And, with a D&D pod, my listeners can feel that kindness too.


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