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  • Writer's pictureChristopher Phillips

In the Mud

Dungeons and Dragons play table with lights, miniatures and map with phone and laptop for Zoom session
D&D Zoom session, just like being there!

I was alone quite a bit as a pre-teen and teenageer, my father worked early and my mother worked the second shift, so there were a couple hours each day that I would have to entertain myself. My siblings are four in number and are evenly spaced over nine years, then there was another nine years and oops! There I was. By the time I was ten, I was the only child in the house, all my sibs having moved on with their lives. We lived miles away from any kids I had much in common with and until I could drive, I was pretty isolated. This was how I began with Dungeons and Dragons, comic books, reading fantasy and sci-fi as well as a number of other solitary activities. Okay, D&D is the opposite of a solitary activity, but I made it work somehow.

This was how I learned to juggle. I was given the Kultz book with the juggling cubes and followed the instructions, so easy to follow. I spent hours and hours picking them up off the floor but with practice, one by one I was eventually able to keep three in the air. The lessons from juggling carry with me to this day - patience, practice and keeping focus on what is right in front of you, dividing attention on separate moving pieces to keep all objects aloft.

These lessons pour straight into my role as a Dungeon Master. Last night’s session, for example, was a classic juggling situation. It was a Zoom session battle featuring our five heroes, three teenage wards to protect, Mouse Squadron Alpha (a Sidekick Swarm of Mice) and Snoofli, the ranger’s companion in a muddy glade facing down 10 messy mud mephits. When faced with keeping the action and narrative moving along while players who have varying experience with 5e combat and ten mephits who want nothing more than to grind these invaders into the mud.

While most aspects of melee combat with about twenty combatants involved are smooth, broken into D&D’s turn-based system and for me, easy to decide what these elementals were doing, the players don’t have it so easy. As a player, I’d often feel a certain amount of anxiety in battle situations when my turn in initiative came around - should I waste that spell slot, what if I roll low, who should I go help - the stakes always seem so high. So when I’m on the other side of the screen, I try to let my players take the time to come to a decision about their turn that they’re comfortable with and even poor dice rolls are an opportunity to embellish descriptions of what happened.

I guess a blend of danger, fun and keeping them interested make up the three balls I’m juggling while running a combat session, trying desperately not to let anything drop. But even if I do, I’m confident that we’ll have fun anyway, even as I pick up the pieces and keep at it. Patience, practice and maintaining focus from those endless hours as a kid entertaining myself at rejecting gravity sure come in handy. And technically, since the two-hour session involved around twenty seconds of actual game time, we’ll be back at it next week. Maybe I'll switch to juggling axes!

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