Three dice on a Dungeons and Dragons map.

Cool Cousin Elliot introduces young Shane to Dungeons & Dragons.

Part of the Identical Twin Double Feature with Raygan Kelly.

Music for this episode is by the galaxy’s own Breakmaster Cylinder. Illustration by Anna Delos Angeles.


Shane Kelly: I’m Shane Kelly. I’m a big fan of D&D and I am a regular dungeon master.

When I was probably about 12 or 13, a cousin of mine named Elliot, who, everybody has that one cousin, I think, who’s like the cool cousin, you know? Or in this case, the uncool cousin who you think is cool. And he was the guy who was always bringing around stuff like Monty Python tapes and his old Sega Genesis. And one of the many times he moved around, he came and he dropped off a bunch of second edition, advanced Dungeons and Dragons books. And I just sort of poured through those. There was this whole other world in these books, and if you just went through the rules in the right order, you could have this plausible fantasy scenario that had never been imagined before. And it was just so fascinating to me. As soon as I saw my cousin again, my brother and I just sort of begged him to run a game for us just to show us how to play, so he did. My brother and I came up with some half imagined characters. Started off in a tavern and there was a secret doorway at the back of the tavern that led down into the sewers. And we fought some rats down there! And that’s pretty much all I remember us doing, but I was hooked. And, uh, you know, if you’re starting off in D&D today, and you’re not spending at least one session fighting rats in a sewer, you’re doing it wrong.

One of the things I think people don’t expect when they first go in is that it’s dreadfully slow. If you were to sit and watch people play Dungeons & Dragons, you’d be like, “I’ve been sitting here two hours and you’ve killed like six orcs and moved from one room to another.” But when you’re actually in the moment in playing, it doesn’t feel that way. You’re constantly making decisions about what you’re going to do and reacting and playing off of what every other player is doing, strategizing, working together. You know, when it’s going well, like the time really flies by. And when I sit down to play, I usually play for about three hours and you blink and time has gone.

I didn’t really intend to be the dungeon master when I started playing D&D. Like, I really wanted to just, you know, make a wizard and cast spells. But there’s always way more players than people that want to run the game. It’s the job of the dungeon master, who is the organizer and is responsible for the world and the scenario to present a challenge. Usually that takes the form of some monster to slay or some dungeon to explore, a helpless civilian to rescue or some treasure to get. For every hour that you play sitting around a table with your friends, the dungeon master would probably spend an hour brainstorming and taking notes coming up with this whole own fantasy world. People who run the games get kind of frustrated when their characters in the story aren’t doing what they expected. But for me, that’s when things are kind of the most exciting.

One of my favorite memories is from a campaign that I played with my brother and some of my friends. This really was sort of a side session. This is one of those days where like, we couldn’t really get everybody together for a game. And so I thought I would just try and throw something together quick. I set a scene for them to start off what I thought was gonna be a really short session. They’re approached by a goat, and the goat reveals that he’s a wizard named Finethyr has been transformed by a treacherous apprentice who stole his wand. And this is the start of a long adventure kind of storming this wizard’s tower to recover the wand and to restore this wizard to his natural form. Ultimately at the end of the story, this poor wizard through a series of terrible dice rolls was killed. And I thought, well, that’s about it. That was a bit of an anticlimax to the story. But what was wonderful about this was many, many weeks later in another adventure as the reward, they got to cast the spell “wish.” It’s the most powerful spell, and it can do almost anything. So she could have wished for just countless wonderful things. But what she wished for was to bring back, Finethyr Shinebright from the dead. At that point, she earned herself so much affection from me, because you know, it really meant that she had caught on to this one particular character. That’s how the players then informed me at running the game. Like, this is what’s important to me. And so I can scrap any plans I might’ve had for the campaign. Finethyr is now a very important character. He had all these stories for them from his time on the other side of death. And he never quite shook his bleating goat accent. He always would talk like this. He wound up dying as a goat, but he came back as a man. I always think about that one pretty fondly.

D&D has been a phenomenon for decades and decades. It still offers something really unique, and I think that’s why, even though you can play a video game that has all the high fantasy, all the adventure, and you can get that without any of the labor of like trying to get all your friends together in a room. The collaborative imagination and the collaborative storytelling aspect, that is something that is really to tabletop role playing. I know people that are not really highly social people, but when they get into character and play Dungeons and Dragons, it really brings that out of them. They really get imaginative and they get loud and sometimes they even get obnoxious. And I mean, it’s really a wonderful aspect of the game. Like, it really is wonderful to get together with people and say like, “we’re going to tell a story just for ourselves.”

Mark Bramhill: Enthusiast is produced by Mark Bramhill. Today’s music is by our galaxy’s own Breakmaster Cylinder. Editorial assistance from Lenna Mendoza. You can find some great resources for getting started with D&D, and lots more to be joyful about, at This episode is part of our Identical Twin Double Feature, so be sure to check out the episode with Shane’s brother Raygan as well. Thanks for listening.