I'm wearing a black cloak. You know nothing about me.
Updated: Mar 14
I was going to open this with some flighty tones about life … you know, the power of nostalgia, or the allure that our childhood loves had. My friends and I watched Transformers when we were kids. I once saw the whole series flipping through Netflix. I checked one out, out of nostalgia and realized – it was terrible.
So there’s something special, more vivid, when we run into something for the first time. Or when we perceive it for the first time with young eyes.
So when I think about Dungeons and Dragons, I’m often going to compare it with my first serious group. My High School friends.
We’re not in touch anymore. That shows that these bonds were not lifetime bonds, I suppose.
Nuts, I think I’m going to need to make up Pseudo-names for these guys. Even if we’re not in touch, who wants to be fingered in some random D&D article? Fair enough. I’ll make my own notes.
I was the first DM. I had a couple ideas, but not a grand, overaching story. Or maybe I sketched in some further ideas. But believe me, we never got close to any of them. Oliver’s fighter was quick to kill off NPCs for fun after they served their point. Later, this led to killing off other PCs for similar reasons – he was annoyed with them, or felt they served their point.
That transitioned into being everyone offing other players when we felt like it. And an interesting dynamic formed: it was the upperclassmen against the freshmen. After enough of the freshmen found their characters mutilated, lynched, or humiliatingly offed by the older players, gradually they stopped coming to the games, until it was just the four of us.
Try to figure that one out, right?
Then there was less and less player trust. Michael pointed out a dynamic once. “The game starts and all the DM says is that we’re sitting around a table in a tavern. We don’t know each other. We don’t trust each other. When asked to describe ourselves, we all say: “My guy is wearing a black cloak and doesn’t talk to any of you.” Then somehow we’re given a quest, and we go out there and get eaten by owlbears because we can’t fight together. Then it’s all over, and we say:
‘What were you playing?’
‘I was playing a mage.’
‘How come you never cast a spell?’
‘I didn’t want you to know I was a mage.’
“So no wonder we got eaten by owlbears.”
Last week I was in the middle of game two of my first homebrew game in 20 years. This time we’re men instead of High School teenagers. And I came this close to having one of my players get killed by another one. Fortunately, I managed to talk him into using his fists instead of his daggers. “You punch him back, and he’ll have a black eye for a few days, which will compensate for the bloody nose he gave you.” And on with the game.
Because say what you will, nostalgia notwithstanding. I might indulge by watching a Transformers cartoon once in a while. But I am not going back to High School.
So ever since those days – I am done dealing with parties of players wearing black cloaks who have nothing binding themselves together. In future articles I’ll talk about other party mishaps and a few tricks I have for getting around them.
Until then, speaking from the belly of the whale – Jonah.