Winning D&D Part One: Emotional Investment

Articles Dungeons and Dragons

Shedding the traditional emotional bonds that come with character creation allowed me to experience the game in a whole new way.

Over the course of the next couple articles I will discuss different elements of the game and how they relate to the enjoyment or “Fun Factor”. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject and I encourage you to leave comments at the end of the article.

There is no Winning D&D

We all like to win, right? Winning is fun but winning suggests there is an end. Traditional TTRPG’s don’t have an end. The character continues until it retires or dies. So how do you “win” in a TTRPG?  If winning or losing are adjectives you use to define the outcome of your D&D game, then you might be missing the point. You will win battles, lose some arguments, perhaps even lose a character, but let me suggest another way to approach wins and losses. You survive battles, fail to argue your point, and die to live another day. So like like to say “Survival in D&D is winning”. There are are some exceptions. Your character could die in a session where the roleplay is so epic that it overshadows the death of your PC (player character). Another example is “The Glorious Death in battle.” The grandiose nature of your character’s death does his memory justice – a battle worthy to be recorded in song. In the right circumstances either example good be considered a win in my opinion.

When it comes to enjoying an evening of tabletop gaming there are obvious influences that can make it a success or failure. These can include luck of the roll, DM/GM style, the actions taken by other PCs, and the personalities of the other players. Any one of these by itself can make or break your evening. Here are a few more to consider:
• Setting
• Game design
• PC type
• PC build
• Emotional investment

For this first installment I am going to start at the bottom of this list:

Emotional Investment

We are emotional creatures. When we put effort into a project, we develop a certain attachment to it – doesn’t matter what it is. It could be something as simple as digging a hole. If someone comes along and fills in the hole without asking, we have an emotional reaction, right? If you didn’t dig the hole what do you care if it gets filled back up? In the same way we can develop a degree of emotional attachment to the player characters (PC’s) we create. The emotional investment can help or hamper the fun we take from the game. Here are a couple examples of characters I created recently that illustrate how emotional attached can have an impact.

Example 1 – Alister – A Bards Tale

Alister Cooper is a half-Elf Bard from Waterdeep. His family owns a famous playhouse there. From his background (something I spent hours creating) we know who his mother and father are. He has siblings. We know who tutored him in the ways of the sword. We know that he likes to make jokes at the expense of others. He can’t be in a tavern and not be the center of attention. Alister is alive and I want to keep him that way. In the face of danger, I am careful to make sure my actions are considerate of his safety.

For years I have approached the game with this theory of character creation. I formed emotional bonds with my PCs. In the back of my mind was the ever present threat of losing them. There is merit in this approach as it generates a healthy respect for the game. You proceed with caution, but this is not always a fun way to play. Sometimes you want to “Leroy Jenkins” that instance. I recently experienced the freedom of the Leroy Jenkins style of play in my tabletop game.

Example 2 -The Tale of Krusk

Krusk was a Half-Orc Barbarian. He hailed from somewhere north of the North Wastes. He liked to fight. Designed to be a meat shield, he soaks up a lot of damage and give it right back. His name was randomly chosen from a list of Half-Orc names in the D&D Players Handbook. Krusk was conceived and born within 30 minutes of his first adventure. In his one and only battle he “died,” was revived three times and then down again before the parties foe was struck dead. The group of strangers he rushed in to help never learned his name. Without him they would have surely perished. They thanked him by rummaging through his pack and splitting up his possessions. They didn’t even dig a hole to put him in.

Shedding the traditional emotional bonds that come with character creation allowed me to experience the game in a whole new way.

Perhaps this kind game isn’t uncommon for you. You might have more experience dropping into games for one or two sessions. One Shot adventures or playing with pre-generated characters offer opportunities to play without emotional investment. My one shots usually involve the same character playing in a series of episodic adventures. I don’t generally use pre-generated characters.

I didn’t approach Krusk with the intent of losing him, but playing a character without emotional attachment was a refreshing experience. Personally I wouldn’t substitute the story driven character for a host of Leroy Jenkins types. It’s not to say one way is more correct than the other. Each approach has it place and it’s necessity.  but I will recommend that if, like me, you have been playing the long campaign and you are look for a change then take a break, whip up a Leroy and enjoy some winning!

Gravy Kingpin exists in two gaming worlds - Pen & Paper and console/PC. He's a part time guardian, part time Dungeon Master, and a full time husband and father of two.

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