The Big Bang Theory (TBBT) has made nerds cool by thrusting them into the main stream. The show has shone a spotlight on many nerd hobbies people used to make fun of and made them cool, or at least less nerdy. In this week’s episode “The Love Spell Potential” they guys played Dungeons & Dragons with their girlfriends. This wasn’t the first time the characters in TBBT played D&D but it was the first time they played for the entire episode. Although there were a few cheap shots taken at D&D and the people who play the game, the show did a pretty good job of bringing the game into the public eye.
As a hard core D&D nerd and vocal member of the gaming community I feel it is my responsibility to comment on this episode of TBBT. There was a lot of things right with this show and a few things wrong. Gamers and non-gamers alike can learn a few things about D&D from what they saw in this episode. Let’s review the highlights.
- Wolowitz as DM
Although we’ve seen both Sheldon and Leonard DM in previous episodes, it seemed that Leonard is the groups primary DM. When he stepped aside to let Wolowitz try his hand at being the DM it made the other players (Sheldon in particular) nervous. In my group we all take turns being the DM. However for other groups one or two people shoulder the burden most of the time. I liked that, despite any misgivings, they still allowed Wolowitz to be DM. As is the case when I see a person DM for the first time, Wolowitz was clearly prepared and had put a lot of thought into his adventure right down to the voices for the NPC.
Changing DMs is good for the game. It allows experienced DMs to remember what it’s like to be a player. They can lead by examples and demonstrate the behaviour they want the others to emulate when they play. It’s also a good way for the group to get exposed to different play styles. Some DMs uses voices for NPC (like Wolowitz did) some don’t. Some DMs enjoy hack and slash; others prefer intrigue and political role-playing. The point is to encourage others to DM and hopefully everyone can learn from the experience.
- Girls in Gaming
Although I really liked this episode of TBBT, this was the only part that I felt missed the mark. Sheldon said “I’ve never played D&D with girls before,” to which Penny replied “Neither has anyone else.” It was an easy laugh by taking a cheap shot at the hobby. Way to perpetuate a negative stereotype. In truth I’ve played a lot of games with women. In the 13 season of D&D Encounters we’ve had girls participate almost every single week. I’m not going to get into the whole women in gaming debate other than to say there are plenty of female gamers and they have been for a long time. The show could have done a better job of selling the up sides of the game to new gamers, male and female alike, and not imply that the only girls who play are those reluctantly dragged into it by their desperate boyfriends. (See Stereotypical Gamers – Debunking the Myths.)
- The Ghost of Raj
As soon as Raj gets a message from his girlfriend that her plans changed and she’s free he ditches the guys and goes on a date. Wolowitz decides to have the ghost of Raj’s character offer advice to the party – nice save! First let me address the sudden departure. Real life happens. As my group has grown up and had families of their own real life commitments have required that they miss games or leave early. It happens. But short of an emergency once the players are at the table, it’s expected that you’ll stay and play. I’ve never had a guy leave for a booty call mid game but it would be severely frowned upon. I get that people have needs, but if you did that at my group I’d have a hard time asking you back again.
Let’s move on to the ghost of Raj. I like this idea and have used it often in my games. When a notable character dies (PC or NPC) I will use their ghost or spirit to warn the party or offer them advice. Sometimes they need to perform a ritual to do so, which can be a whole adventure in an of itself, other times I do it just like Wolowitz did it in the show. The other option is to have a former PC return and a major villain. This is a standard storytelling convention used often in fiction and in my campaigns. (See Hey, Isn’t That My Character: Using Retired PCs As NPCs.)
- Rolling Dice
It’s very rare that players don’t roll their own dice in D&D, but some groups and some games do work that way. It can make it easier for the players to immerse themselves in the game if they aren’t always stopping to roll dice. But as this episode showed, rolling dice is fun and for me that’s a big part of what I like about RPGs. (See Dice Rituals & Superstitions.)
- Magic Potions
I’ll admit that I’ve had a “potion” or two when playing D&D. I don’t usually drink alcohol when I play, but once in a while my home group will partake in a few bottles of beer when we play. The danger is that some players will be more focused on their drinking and pay less attention to their characters. As long as your group knows their limits a few drinks to loosen up the players usually meets with decent results at my home games. Drinking during a public game is, of course, a big no-no.
- Love in the Game
There are some things that we rarely, if ever, do in game – a relationship between two player characters is one of them. My home group is all guys and we’ve been friends for decades so when one of our characters makes a pass at another character it’s a humourous situation that’s laughed at. In public play games this can get really creepy and sometimes boarder on inappropriate behaviour. This is why some female gamers stop playing D&D. In a situation where two players are actually together in real life try to have their characters hook up it can be just as weird, as we saw in this episode of TBBT. I’ve seen this go all kinds of wrong in game and in real life. If couples want to role-play sex they should keep it in the bedroom (as Sheldon and Amy eventually did). No one wants to see or hear what your “characters” are doing to each other. This is especially true during a public play game (it’s sad that I have to state that but I’ve seen things that cannot be unseen).
- Funny and Serious
D&D is a game so it should be fun, but it does require a certain amount of seriousness. The key is balance. Wolowitz did a great job of keeping the players engaged and injected humour to keep them interested. Whether the DM uses voices or cracks jokes, humor and levity are important aspects of a good D&D adventure. Just remember that if things get too silly the game will derail, so know when to draw the line. (See Embracing the Silly Aspects of Fantasy Gaming.)
At the end of the day I was glad that TBBT once again had the characters in the show playing D&D. The way I see it this kind of national exposure is great for D&D. As I’ve already stated there were a few missteps, but overall I think they did a good job.
What were your thoughts on the episode The Love Spell Potential? Do you think it did a good job of portraying D&D or do you think too much time was spent laughing at the game rather than with the game? What would you have changed about this episode?