It’s been about 18 months since I fell head first into the world of tabletop RPGs. I say ‘fell’, because my journey into this wonderful hobby was sudden, unexpected and thus far, has only increased in velocity… Given that I’ve been a tabletop wargamer and video game RPG fan for over a decade, and was raised on a steady diet of Lord of the Rings, Star Wars and Marvel comics, it’s a surprise in hindsight that I’d not plunged off this particular cliff of nerddom earlier in life.
And yet, up until the back end of 2017, I remained pretty much ignorant of tabletop RPGs. I knew they existed, I’d read through the sourcebooks for a selection of Fantasy Flight’s Warhammer 40k games looking for wargaming and painting inspiration, but never dipped a toe into the games themselves. I was aware of D&D as a thing, but not necessarily a thing I had any interest in, or any capacity to actually play. Too much maths, my half-formed thoughts on the hobby told me every time I considered digging a little deeper. Maths and tables and complexity and no actual fun to be had.
‘There’s two things you need to know about Mozu The Chosen…’
This all changed for me, as I imagine it did for a significant portion of the recent influx of D&D players, with two words. Say it with me, everyone… Critical Role. If you’re here, you almost certainly don’t need me to explain what that is, so instead I just want to highlight the particular game of theirs that put me on this path. It wasn’t the start of their second campaign, or the vast and dramatic finale of their first, but a marketing tie-in for the video game Middle Earth: Shadow of War that put the behemoth of nerdy entertainment that is Critical Role on my radar, and by extension threw me into the world of tabletop RPGS.
I still maintain that this Middle Earth oneshot is D&D at its absolute best. In this particular game, Matt Mercer takes CR regulars Sam Riegel, Travis Willingham and Laura Bailey, along with guest star Darin De Paul on a 3-hour rampage through the land of Mordor, a crew of aspirational Orcs dubbed The ‘Fourcs’ setting out to investigate strange magic that’s turned their allies against them. There’s puns. There’s violence. There’s a running joke about the inability of Mozu The Chosen to count to two. It’s glorious.
Watching as someone excited for Shadow of War’s release and with no knowledge of how D&D worked, I fully expected to be utterly baffled and half-watch the video, turning it off after half an hour once the novelty wore off. Instead, the very opposite occurred. Even though there were words like ‘Ki Points’ and ‘Action Surge’ and ‘Spell Slots’ being thrown around that meant absolutely nothing to me, I felt that I understood the game almost immediately. Without comprehending a word of the rules, within minutes I was fully invested in the tale of the Fourcs, elated by their success, crushed by their failures, splitting my sides over their ludicrous antics, all without knowing how or why any of it happened the way it did.
It didn’t take long from there for me to realise that I wanted in, but there was still one big hurdle. Over the years of trying to hold a Warhammer 40k group together, I’d always been the one to organise games and such, so in the back of my mind, I always knew that if I was going to move into RPGs, I’d inevitably end up as the Dungeon Master. And to be perfectly honest, from my vague knowledge of what D&D was, I assumed that role largely boiled down to doing maths and facilitating everyone else having a good time.
The tale of the Fourcs pretty much put that argument to the sword just as rapidly as my other preconceptions. At some point fairly early on in the game, I suddenly realised that Matt Mercer was having as much of a great time as the rest of the cast. It was obvious to me for the first time that tabletop gaming was as much a creative playground for the DM as it was for the players, and that pretty much shattered the last of my illusions.
Clicking on that video, I didn’t think DMing was something I had any ability or inclination for. By the time it was done, and several of the Fourcs had met their fate one way or another, it was pretty clear to me that not only was it something I could do if I set my mind to it, but that it was possibly the thing role I wanted most of all. Watching Matt Mercer’s glee as he added his own small, hilarious story to this version of a world he so obviously loved was genuinely a revelation, an eye-opening showcase of how RPGs were about so much more than dice. I saw the utterly unique way they could allow you to tell the most wonderful stories, and walked away itching to take on the DM’s mantle and try it myself.
The Road Goes Ever On And On…
It can’t have been more than a week after watching that episode before I was sending round emails to friends and friends-of-friends trying to get a group together to start up a game. We began with Green Ronin’s Dragon Age RPG, rather than D&D, because at that point the biggest appeal to me was being able to tell stories in a world I loved just as the Critical Role folks had in their Middle Earth game. That first game was messy, my balancing was all over the place, my storylines bland and my understanding of the rules lacking in the extreme. But at that point, it was too late, I was in and there was no going back.
Since then, we’ve switched over to D&D 5e and a homebrew setting, lost and gained players and my games are in a much better shape (I hope!), but those first steps into the world of tabletop RPGs, a random click on a tie-in to a video game I was waiting for, sent me headlong into a hobby that’s genuinely changed my life over the last 18 months. I now run 2 campaigns, play in 2 more, and have watched hundreds of hours of games online. It’s brought me new friends and great times, given me a totally unique creative outlet and now I’m writing about it at length on the internet…
In summary, there’s two things you need to know about Mozu The Chosen: This is (mostly) all his fault, and that’s it!
That wraps up my little trip down memory lane, which hopefully sheds some light on why with this site, as with my D&D antics in general, I’ve chosen to put storytelling front and centre. Thanks for reading, and if you do have a few hours spare, go and check out that Critical Role/Shadow of War oneshot, with any luck you’ll see what I mean about it being the perfect showcase for D&D’s potential!