The Big Bang Theory D&D Episode – A Gamer’s Perspective

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on May 10, 2013

tbbt-02The 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

The Love Spell PotentialIt’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.)

tbbt-03At 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?

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1 Ocampo May 10, 2013 at 1:00 pm

It still hasn’t aired in my country but I’m certain I’ll love this episode. However, a big “boo” on the “Girls in Gaming” portrayal. You are correct about that. My wife and her best friend love the game and both encourage roleplaying amongst other adventurers at the table.

2 Edward Wilson May 10, 2013 at 4:59 pm

Well I’ve been gaming since about 1978 and only met three female gamers. Two were married to a male player in the game and one was a daughter of one of the players. So that’s three female gamers in about 35 years and all related to a male player.

3 Vobekhan May 10, 2013 at 5:32 pm

Great analysis Ameron.

4 Vobekhan May 10, 2013 at 5:59 pm

Both my daughters like D&D though the younger prefers the planning aspect over the actual playing. We also have a young lady in our on going campaign that started playing with her brother during his illness but he has since given up and she found us so that she could continue gaming.

5 Ocampo May 10, 2013 at 6:48 pm

Well, that is changing and in no small part thanks to 4E. My cousin and her highschool friends love D&D, and their group is made of four girls between 12 and 15 years, one woman of 24 and a casual girl of 10.

At the store I usually run sessions at, there are four women inbetween 21 and 26. And my home groups include my wife, her best friend -both 24- and a woman of 29.

6 Auiva May 10, 2013 at 11:55 pm

I’ve played in groups that are all male except me (as I am a lady), all female, and mixed. At my FLGS each week we have over 20 people, and about a third of them are women of varying ages. I did roll my eyes very, very hard at Sheldon’s line, as women make great D&D players and are plenty common. It felt a bit strange to be told that we don’t play, or that we don’t play as obsessively as men when I was busy trying to figure out what pre-made map the TBBT group was using to play their game! However, this trend on TBBT of “oh the men do their nerdy things, the women scoff, then come to understand/enjoy” has been a common theme the last few years on TBBT. I doubt it will change any time soon.

All that said, I did enjoy seeing D&D again after their fantastic Christmas-themed D&D session, and it was fun watching Wolowitz be the most ridiculous DM.

7 Emanuele Galletto May 11, 2013 at 8:11 am

Great analysis, I’m going to watch the episode for sure. About the “girls in gaming” part, I think it depends on where you live or play. I’m from northern Italy and currently attending the Academy of Fine Arts in Bologna. Before, I only played with guys (a big party, six PCs plus the DM), and the “girls at the table” (usually one player’s girlfriend) came to “watch” the game, only to get bored and make stupid comments on everything (being the DM, this made me quite upset). Still, you couldn’t ask them to leave, ’cause they’d start whining and complaining and saying I was mean (yep, they were THAT dumb). Nowadays, my group is actually made of three male players and three female players, and both enjoy being at the table. I guess moving to a larger city (which also means people are more open-minded, usually) helped a lot.

8 frostbr May 12, 2013 at 9:38 pm

Howard as DM was the highlight of the episode. About the “girls don’t play D&D” joke, I think they want to turn Penny into something like a Charlie Harper with skirts.

Great analysis, I would like to see a similar text about “Community S02E14 – Advanced Dungeons & Dragons”.

9 RPG Research May 13, 2013 at 12:42 pm

Good posting. I agree it was a mixed bag. On the one hand, it was one of the more positive portrayals in media for decades (since E.T. in 1981?), on the other hand some of the negative stereotypes were perpetuated and significantly reinforced.

Here is my video commentary on the episode.

10 Brian Smaller May 13, 2013 at 8:34 pm

I have been role-playing since 1977, starting with D&D and Traveller. Watching the D&D episode of BBT only left me with one thought. If that is an even close representation of how Americans roleplay, it is nothing like anything I have done since I played my first game of D&D in 1977.

Saying that I still liked the episode.

Brian (New Zealand)

11 Ameron (Derek Myers) May 14, 2013 at 9:16 am

@Brian Smaller
On the few occasions that I’ve seen D&D depicted on TV, it’s usually nothing like what happens at my gaming table. I understand it’s necessary to make some changes so it looks more exciting for TV, but you’re right in that it’s often quite different.

12 RPG Research May 14, 2013 at 12:11 pm

Indeed, they did focus on ROLL-playing over ROLE-playing, and it was extremely stripped down. The only upside was they showed them actually having fun in a non-threatening way (to the general/ignorant/mislead public). At least until they started to get into the sex-issues. Just shame they had to also keep hammering on the negative stereotype about “girls don’t play D&D”, every few minutes.

13 Danille Janney May 15, 2013 at 9:09 am

haha, that was an awesome episode 😀 I’ve watched it three times already 🙂

14 dude May 17, 2013 at 10:50 pm

you have to look around your table and see if any of them are lucky enuff to get a booty call. at my encounters none of them are that lucky. if i was dm’ing and any of them got a booty call i reward them with xp and gp and let them leave…lol

15 Phil June 3, 2013 at 10:45 pm

This show hasn’t made nerds cool, it has made them bigger objects of ridicule. Nerds aren’t the comedians, they are the jokes.

16 RPG Research June 4, 2013 at 5:18 pm

@dude, in response to your statement, clearly you have had a very different experience of RPG’s than I. Though occasionally some of the players I gamed with in the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s fit the stereotypes, MOST of those I gamed with were successful, well-adjusted, functional people, with none of the anti-social and dysfunctional stereotypes. They didn’t have any more trouble gettings dates/girlfriends/wives, they were from all walks of life and interests, and they over the years were professionally successfully. Very few I knew (once they were adults) that fit the dysfunctional, anti-social, unemployed, living in their parents basement stereotype.
Though everyone has various foibles and challenges, most of them did not map to the stereotypes. That being said during that time perdio, about half of the gamers I’ve met since about 2002 to current have been fitting the stereotypes, but my working theory is this is because they are the rejects from the regular groups. The “mature” players are already in their groups that stick together for years, generally only changing when people move and such, but there is a percentage of “floaters” that get kicked from group to group, and they are seen the most in public as they try to find new groups to join.

17 RPG Research June 4, 2013 at 5:34 pm

I have a working two-part hypothesis about why the continuing stereotypes about role-playing gamers.
1. The more everyone says only gamers are this way, the more it drives away those that are not, and attracts those who are, fitting the stereotypes.
2. That most of the gamers that the public does see are the gamers that are rejected from the regular groups, and so keep showing up publicly trying to join new groups, but keep getting kicked out, and continuing to be the public face of role-playing gamers.

I go into much more detail here:

What do you think?

18 Eric June 8, 2014 at 12:50 am

The only thing I don’t like is when Sheldon is able to just say something like I cast paralyze on your characters and everything is automatic. In game sessions I have played in we were allowed saving throws, to try to resist. Other then that I enjoy watching and seeing the games played, and thought the episodes were funny. Also sometime getting a good session going is like getting a good cast on this show. You have to trust, enjoy the group your playing with, be able laugh/be serious. Get into characters as well. If you have one bad apple, can ruin the whole game. But when the sessions click can ward away bad days and be totally fun.

19 Sara October 13, 2016 at 9:25 am

I was wondering what you thought of the more recent DnD episode on TBBT with Sheldon creating a scenario specific for Bernadette and although she was leary at first she ended up enjoying herself?

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