In April 2010, my life changed forever. I discovered Dungeons & Dragons. I was roaming the aisles of a Hastings Bookstore when I came across the D&D 4th Edition Roleplaying Game Starter Set. I’d seen Dungeons & Dragons now and again throughout my life. I didn’t ever know what it was. I thought it was a brand of book or video game. But this time was different. In college, my friends and I started playing a board game from my childhood that I’d dug out of my basement. It was called HeroQuest. We all fell in love with it, becoming obsessed. So I was intrigued by this box at Hastings Bookstore with awesome fantasy artwork. I texted my best friend a picture of it and said something along the lines of, “Should we?” His response was basically, “Oh god. Yes.”
In the following weeks, we failed to figure out the game. But we adored the artwork. We knew this was something we wanted to do, so my friend purchased the core rulebooks, in the hopes that they provided the info we needed. They helped some. And the artwork and descriptions were mind-blowing. I loved sitting for hours, absorbing this game that I was still struggling to comprehend.
Fast forward to the summer. We’d reconnected with a friend from high school after learning that he and his family played D&D growing up. He happily joined us in my friend’s parents’ basement a few times to teach us the game. We played one-shots which were more explanation than story. We quickly picked up the concept and took off with it.
I ran a few more one-shots for everyone else that summer and my life became D&D. I was devouring the books, researching online and planning a campaign. On December 3rd 2010, I ran the first session of a campaign that would span the planes of existence, 30 levels of play and 7 years of our lives. We would go on to make amazing memories, meet amazing people and change the course of our lives. We ran three more sessions that month.
During the spring, we were neck deep in D&D. Our new college apartment was perfect for play. We had a long, island counter in the kitchen that we could bring chairs around with plenty of room for whiteboards and battle maps. We often swapped out lightbulbs for colored options and lit incense to really set the mood. And of course, epic music. By the end of spring, the player characters were nearing Paragon tier in 4th Edition. But uncertainty loomed on the horizon. Some of us (myself included) were graduating from college in May.
Fast forward to summer. This was a summer to remember. It may be weird but I associate songs with specific times in my life. I remember Edge of Glory by Lady Gaga being a big hit that summer. So queue that song up and read on.
The frequency of our gaming sessions was beyond anything I’ve achieved since. My friend’s parents’ basement served as the gaming grounds. We played weekly. We often played twice a week. A few times, it was even more than that. I remember getting so excited near the end of my work shift around 6pm. I’d run home and grab my supplies and race across town to run D&D. We’d play for 4–6 hours each time. Incredible. But the Golden Age ended.
Fall arrives. I didn’t get into the graduate program I had my eyes set on due to a missing prerequisite that I’d overlooked. I’m out of college without a plan. So I decided to move to that school (about an hour and a half away) to take the prerequisites and then enter the program the following year. I lived in a friend’s basement until I could find my own place.
While living with him and his family, I tried out D&D Encounters at the local gaming store. It was my first experience with D&D outside of my close friend group, my first exposure to the wider community. I had fun but unfortunately, never returned because of what happened shortly after.
I attended class for two days. I dropped out and got a job as a personal trainer. I already had a degree and more undergraduate schooling was not something I wanted anymore. Not long after that, I landed the apartment I was hoping for. Things were looking up. But it was on the other side of the city from the gaming store. And my new job had later hours, preventing me from attending more D&D Encounters.
At this point, I’m living by myself and supporting myself 100% for the first time in my life. I’m also in a new city. Most of my friends (and my entire gaming group) live an hour and a half away. It’s kind of scary but exciting. What kept the darkness at bay was D&D. While living in my friend’s basement and well into living on my own, I was reading the Legend of Drizzt books (the first six in total). The characters felt like family. I was happier when I was reading them. For some reason, I was comforted. Even outside of playing D&D, its influence was a guiding light in my life.
Once settled into my own place, the gaming continued. My friends are awesome and traveled to my place to play often. I remember one time there was a tornado warning and we lost power mid-session. Talk about atmosphere.
The Pathway to PhD20
It was also in this apartment that I started reading Chris Perkins column, the Dungeon Master Experience. I entered into a dungeon design contest of his and was picked as a finalist! It’s through that experience, that I learned of Dungeon Master Johnny, another finalist. Sitting at the desk pictured below, I found his YouTube channel and consumed all of his content in a very short amount of time. I was hooked. I started finding other D&D content producers on YouTube and leveling up my game from their tips and tricks. I had discovered what would come to be known as the YouTube RPG Brigade.
Thanks to D&D and a wonderful support system, living on my own in a new city was a fun and exciting time.
In August 2012, my best friend (and college roommate) started a teaching job in the same city I was in. Naturally, we got a two bedroom apartment and decked it out. It was a D&D haven. We called it the Fortress of Solitude. You’ll recognize it in my early videos. PhDnD started in October of 2012, in that apartment.
Living there, I felt at peace. We played hundreds of hours of Skyrim, made trips to the nearby gas station for sodas, the popcorn shop, and more. We played some of our most epic D&D sessions in that apartment. Our group would travel to us, play from 6pm to 1am and then stay the night in our living room. We’d often talk for hours after the session, analyzing the night’s events and theorizing about the story. The next morning, we’d have a D&D hangover from too little sleep, too much soda and too many snacks. So we’d head to Fazoli’s, for a final meal before everyone would head back home. My roommate and I would return to the Fortress and clean up from the previous night’s events. For my odd music association, Some Nights by Fun was big at the time.
It was also in this apartment that we began a second campaign, beta-testing D&D Next. Which of course became D&D 5th Edition. Through that campaign, we met yet another amazing friend. Of course, there were downfalls too. Two of my friends did not get along and it culminated during a D&D session in which one dropped out of the campaign. They never spoke again.
As mentioned, in October of 2012, I started my own YouTube channel. I loved the community of creators and wanted to be a part of it. The community was known as the YouTube RPG Brigade. Search that phrase and you’ll find plenty of content from around 4–7 years ago. I collaborated and gamed with a bunch of different creators. During these times, I thoroughly enjoyed working with and watching DawnforgedCast, A Fistful of Dice, woodwwad, Dungeon Master Johnny and too many more to list. Some I still follow and talk to today.
Some parts of this community were amazing. Others, not so much. It was a passionate but often divided group of individuals. There were elitists. Some even lied and hurt others. I’m glad that stage is over with but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t influence my life and gaming significantly. Near the end, we even ran BrigadeCon, an online convention that raised money for charity.
These years were a time of creating, learning and experiencing everything revolving around Dungeons & Dragons. In retrospect, this second Golden Age in the Fortress of Solitude ended too quickly. But it was also a time where I siloed myself off from other responsibilities and let personal relationships (outside of the D&D group) slide. I used this safe “world” we had created as a defense mechanism against anxiety and depression (which I suffered from in college).
In early 2015, I was returning to my job as a personal trainer after trying out work in insurance. I lived in a nice apartment with my girlfriend, just across the parking lot from the Fortress of Solitude. I remember trying out World of Warcraft during this time and staying up late to play raids in Destiny with my brother and friends online. And I was still making videos on YouTube, though more livestreams and vlogs than edited content. I also did a brief (semi-successful) run at Patreon for mapmaking.
There were less D&D sessions during these years. We didn’t have the space in our apartment to really host anything. I tried a few times but it wasn’t great. My other friend in town also didn’t have the space yet. So sessions were less frequent.
In May of 2015, I interviewed for a job at a dream company of mine. I got it. In July, I started. The next year was a whirlwind of new people and experiences. I loved it. But D&D definitely took a backseat in my life compared to the years prior. At night, I was still hitting up the communities and studying all things D&D. But play was rare. On the bright side, I was discovering new channels like Mini Terrain Domain and Runehammer (formerly Drunkens & Dragons).
In February, I got engaged. Work started consuming more and more of my life. In May, I ended my YouTube run. Summer and fall, were filled with going out with work friends (something I hadn’t ever done much). Fall was a hectic time at work so any free time I got was spent relaxing and hanging out. In November, I got married. A busy year outside of D&D. But sometime during this year, I joined a campaign as a player that my friend was running. That campaign lasted for four more years!
After a year with very little D&D, I was getting the itch again. Something was missing in my life and I knew exactly what it was. I got my books out. I logged back into the communities. I started writing. Play was still rare but I was planning for it again. The fire was back.
In March, I ran the penultimate session for the campaign that we’d started in 2010. The group faced off against Orcus in an amazing battle. It ended with uncertainty and darkness.
5 months of unknowns for my players as the final session wasn’t until August. I was in a new apartment with my wife and we were loving life. The session was a blast and we said good-bye for now to characters we’d grown together over the last 7 years. In December, we started the next campaign.
In January, we found out that my wife was pregnant! A bit of a shock but we were excited. Over the next few months, I was doing a software engineering apprenticeship at work. In June, I accepted an offer for a full-time job as a software engineer, something I’d wanted to become since 2013.
I was still playing D&D now and then and doing plenty of research and “studying” as I call it. Really just scanning the forums and groups and watching community videos. In August, our son was born and everything changed again. I did very little with D&D for the next few months.
Similar to 2018, there was some D&D happening now and again. But not enough. With my son joining the household ranks, it became impossible to host D&D. So I continued to play in an online game and waited for opportunities for friends to host.
This was a year of experimenting with different campaign management websites for me. But that’s a story for another time. All in all, there was a below average amount of D&D in my life this year outside of consuming content online. Except October. In October, we ran the Midwest D&D Raid, an epic raid-style one-shot with 2 DMs and around 15 players. We had a massive venue and all the snacks and drinks you could hope for. Check back as I’ll write more about this once in a lifetime event in the coming weeks.
And this brings us to 2020. “Double-Crit” year. It’s the year I achieve some of the goals I’ve had in the back of my mind for some time. Starting with this site. I’m going to game more. I’m going to read more. I’m going to paint more minis and draw more maps. I’m going to publish my adventure.
Boy was I wrong about 2020. I originally wrote this before the worldwide pandemic. All things considered, my family and I were lucky to survive the year with minimal pain compared to others. But now we’re in 2021 and still dealing with the pandemic.
Truthfully, I’m reading more. I’m gaming more. I’m making more maps. Shamefully, I’m not painting more minis. But most of all, my first adventure is published! I’m looking forward to what the future holds for my gaming life and I’m thankful for the journey I’ve had.
I want to thank my gaming family. I know I’m missing several people and I promise that’s not intentional. There’s just so many of you. These people have influenced my life and made my days brighter through this hobby (and beyond). From my games:
Neal S, Max F, Mark F, Beth F, Cole K, Shane C, Drew L, Bruce B, Heather H, Paul H, Wes R, Chris R, Laura K, DJ, Ryan D, Joe H, Jake R, Becky C, Chris W, Rachel W
From the community:
Matt C, Tim K, James K, Michael B, Jake N, Andre M, Andrew A, Esper, Jack J, Rob D, Alex G, Nate V, Ben F, Trevor H, Tim H, Kraig U, Mathieu R, Evan L, Jill M, Sean C, Jayson G, Brandish G, Ander W, Tallsquall, DMJ, Found Familiar Coffee, Dimitris and Janet, Mike Shea, Chris Perkins, Matthew Mercer, Critical Role
And finally Pete. Thank you for supplying me with so many D&D books to fuel my creativity.
If you’ve made it this far, I thank you. Writing this was therapeutic for me and I hope you were able to find something in it for you. We each have our own “D&D Biography”. It’s a game that shapes our lives and experiences unlike anything else. If you fancy sharing your story, I’d love to hear it. Hit me up on the social sites listed below.
Originally published at https://phd20.com.