Last night I killed my first dragon. I guess these days that’s not a very cool thing to say, with dragons being a staple of children’s fiction and cartoons. But back in the glorious 1980s, dragons meant swords and dragons plus swords equalled heroic fantasy violence. After some twenty years of playing variants of Dungeons & Dragons, it feels like I’ve achieved something.
I’ve mostly just ran D&D, not actually played it myself. As a caring, sensible Dungeon Master (or just “GM”, as I like to call myself), I rarely if ever used dragons. Because the beasts tended to be really unpredictable and really lethal. I never cared for killing my players’ characters. After all, the game was about them, not my dragons. The threat of a party wipe was all too real. But I always wanted to run a party that would be worthy of coming up against a dragon. But I wanted the players to prevail and my dragon to perish and the rules were far too scary to go ahead and do it.
Fast forward through many an edition of that seminal RPG to today, year 2010, 22 years after I first thought about picking up a sword and killing a dragon. To be fair, I was perhaps more interested in the magical loot or damsels in distress the dragon may have had in its lair. With my fellow first-level Dungeons & Dragons fourth edition first level detective heroes (we run our own fantasy detective agency, it’s great), we felled a dragon. It was epic. I almost went down several times, some of us did, and I sacrificed myself to allow my friends to deal the killing blow. The ploy worked, I was revived, and I screamed in joy. I am really happy about it. It’s like I achieved something very real.
D&D 4E is a great game. I had my reservations, because the previous editions were really quite complicated and it took me quite a bit of time and persistence to get a handle on my various powers. It asks you to throw a lot of your preconceptions out of the window. A dose of MMORPG knowledge helps, because it’s really built like a modern online RPG. I visualized the combat as something out of World Of Warcraft or indeed Dungeons & Dragons Online.
It does a lot of things very well. All of the combat is super interesting because everyone is constantly moving around, looking for an advantage, guarding their flanks and choosing between several interesting manoeuvres. Totally not the “I hit it again” school of RPG combat I was brought up with. Most of my character’s powers are about moving the other players or the enemies around the battlefield, and granting bonuses to my partners. It’s great – the combat is actually a social thing, not something you’re effectively soloing.
First level characters used to be ridiculous wimps, barely fit for a trip to the grocery store, let alone a dungeon. These days, they’re heroes, their pockets already full of awesome tricks. They’re full of character, and color, and noise. These are heroes like you might have imagined your first level wimps some day becoming, if they never crossed paths with a dragon.
I don’t get that loot or the damsel until the next session. Today, that doesn’t matter.