Is There a Right/Wrong Way to Play D&D?
Misty Mountain Gaming is everywhere now! You can find us on all major platforms, where we post photos, videos, and other content to all a little D&D juice to your daily scrolling. And you can contact us with questions about D&D on all of these platforms! For example, we received this message on our twitter…
Thanks for the questions! While we’re going to allow the inquirer to stay anonymous for the sake of their privacy, we thought these questions deserved some answers! After all, if they were wondering about these things, maybe others are too! So here’s our answers!
What are your views on Tabletop games?
This won’t be a surprising answer from a dice company and its staff, but we believe that they're an amazing way to spend your time! We second D&D youtuber and long-time Dungeon Master Matt Coleville when he claims that “Dungeons and Dragons is the most fun you can have with your brain.”
Whether it’s D&D, Blades in the Dark, Call of Cthulhu, Fate, or Fiasco, tabletop games allow their players and game masters to experience incredible, fantastic, unlikely, and impossible situations that they would otherwise never encounter. It fosters imagination, shared storytelling, critical thinking, and problem solving in ways that board games and video games to not. It gives its participants a sense of agency and activity that reading books, listening to podcasts, and watching movies and TV shows cannot offer. And it forges strong bonds between its players that bind them together in ways that no other group activity can rival! Joining together for hours to collaborate and create using nothing but the shared power of your minds creates relationships that may last a lifetime!
I’ve often said when asked that if I could alter something in my past, I would start playing D&D sooner. I waited until I was 24, and I would have loved to have been enjoying tabletop games even longer than I have. Though I have not done anything in my life for eight years, I have played D&D for that long, and I intend to continue until I can no longer lift a d20.
Is there a right and/or wrong way to play them?
This question is somewhat more complex than the last. Because the answer is both “definitely yes,” and also “certainly not.”
Let’s address the rules first.
Each TTRPG has one or more associated books that tell you how to play that game. D&D famously has three: the Player's Handbook, the Dungeon Master’s Guide, and the Monster Manual. Many smaller games simply have a single book, often sharing a title with the RPG (Monster of the Week, Blades in the Dark, etc). Contained therein are the rules that govern that particular system: the framework you will use to tell your story. Players and game masters are agreeing to abide by these rules when they sit down to play, even if they don’t know them all by heart.
That said, the rules shouldn’t stand in the way of fun, and there isn’t a right or wrong way to have fun with your friends (so long as everyone’s boundaries are being respected). If you all agree that a rule is silly and that you don’t wish to play by that rule at your table, you’re free to do away with it. That’s still within the bounds of playing a game the “right” way, and many rulebooks explicitly state that you’re welcome to customize your experience with the game in this way. However, if you cast aside too many rules, you’re no longer playing that game properly… you’re playing some new RPG with your own rules. And there’s nothing wrong with that! But if you decide that you’re going to roll d10s instead of d20s when playing D&D, you’re not longer playing D&D right… you’re playing “Billy Bob’s Homebrew TTRPG” right!
But there is also a wrong way to play that has nothing to do with what the books have printed in black and white. How you approach the game, how you think about the other players, and your attitude while you play can be right or wrong as well.
Roleplaying games are, at their heart, about cooperation and collaboration. If you come to the table with a selfish or antagonistic attitude, you are playing them wrong. You’re not in competition with the other players at the table, your friend running the game isn’t your enemy, and your priority should be your own fun and the fun of those around you (certainly not your own fun at the expense of the fun of those around you). And, even if you don’t know the rules or occasionally break them, if you sit down to the table determined to enjoy yourself and to make the people around you smile, you’re playing the game right.
Is there such a thing as being an expert?
The short answer is “yes,” but let’s talk about why.
An expert is “a person who has a comprehensive and authoritative knowledge of or skill in a particular area.” There are experts in D&D. I aspire to be one, but I’m not there yet (right now I’m a dndwannabe). But you don’t need to be an expert to play, or to run, or to enjoy yourself.
Nevertheless, there are champions in the TTRPG world that could rightly be considered experts: Chris Perkins, Matt Mercer, Brennan Lee Mulligan, Matt Coleville, Seth Skorkowsky… to name a few. But what makes them experts may surprise you… it isn’t their comprehensive knowledge about the system they run (though Chris Perkins is responsible for designing much of D&D, Matt Coleville often forgets rules), the stagecraft or production value of their games (Mercer and Mulligan have budgets and prop departments for their games, and do lots of iconic character voices), nor their years of experience (Seth, Chris, and Matt C. have been running games far longer than Mulligan or Mercer). Certainly, these people are experts in those realms as well, to varying degrees. But the thing that makes them experts is their practiced ability to learn from their mistakes, and their drive to improve.
(click each photo to hear them give DM/GM advice)
Each session for these men is a learning opportunity, and a chance to grow. “Did I prep too much? Next time I’ll do less. Did I explain that well? Next time I’ll do better. Did everyone get a chance to shine? Was anyone left out? Did everyone enjoy themselves? What could I do to help them have more fun?” They are determined to be the best that they can be, and have driven themselves beyond their perceived limitations to reach new heights of mastery in running the game. They are attentive to their players, considerate in their storycrafting, and aren’t too precious with their creations so that their players are allowed to shine.
That was the premise behind taking the name thedndwannabe when I added my name to the list of content creators on the internet. I strongly believe that these luminaries were determined to be better than their peers and their former selves when it came to running their games, and they were willing to put their time and energy into realizing that goal. They wanted to be better, and so did I. Following their example, I hope one day to be an “expert” who others can follow into a hobby or career of fantasy and fun thanks to roleplaying games like D&D.
This is all in reference to running the game, of course. You can be an expert player as well! In fact, I'd argue it's easier! You play your character believably and consistently, you are attentive to the needs and wants of the others around the table, share the spotlight, know your character and their abilities, and come prepared to thoroughly enjoy yourself before each session.
I’m very glad someone reached out to us for answers to these questions. The fact that they felt comfortable asking us these questions, or were interested in our perspective on these topics at all, is an encouraging sign that we are more than just a dice company to someone out there! We strive every day to build an encouraging and inclusive community around TTRPGs here at MMG, and we’d love you to be a part of it! What questions do you have for us? There are lots of great ways to make your voice heard! Check out our Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and our Discord community!
Rob Franklin (thedndwannabe) has been a Dungeon Master for many years, and has a deep passion for roleplaying games. He runs the MistyMountainStreaming channel on Twitch, our Misty Mountain Gaming YouTube channel, and is cohost of the Bardic Twinspiration D&D podcast. He also enjoys bourbon, From Software games, and his dog Bigby.