Saturday, September 13, 2008

Dungeons & Dragons: Describing & Demystifying

Well, it appears we've made it: over 100 hits to our blog! To celebrate, we're posting the same old junk we were planning on posting anyhow. Onward!

Today's feature concerns a game that has often been misunderstood and, I would argue, consequently carries more stigmas than most geek activities.

But! We hope to demystify and possibly even encourage the game we're about to discuss. Allow us to exfand your horizons with...

D&D logo
What is Dungeons & Dragons?

Dungeons & Dragons is a fantasy roleplaying game in which the player takes on the role of a character in an interactive story. The player
decides what his or her character does and says, and the limitations of one's character and the chances for success in any given endeavor are dictated by a set of rules and the rolling of dice.

You sound like a textbook. Tell me about what actually happens when you play D&D.

Well, that really depends on a lot of factors. Typically (but not always--that will be discussed eventually), D&D is played in person with a group of players. I've seen anywhere from 1-8 players, but I find that 3-5 is ideal. One person, called the Dungeon Master (or DM), runs the game.

In some ways, the DM is the players' babysitter for the duration of the game session. He or she tells them stories, tells them what they can and cannot do, and keeps them from beating each other up and spilling Mountain Dew on the carpet.

8-Bit Theater D&D gameIn a typical game session of D&D, players will gather around a table and listen to the DM as he or she explains everything the players see, and all the events that occur in-game. Here's a quick sample of something you might have heard in one of my campaigns at college:

ME (the DM): Guys, could you come back in, like, 30 minutes? I'm not quite done writing today's quest.

See? Doesn't that just make you want to run out and blow all your money on D&D stuff?

Anyways, what really happens is that the DM will generally describe the scene:

"You are standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door. There is a small mailbox here."

Then, players will either tell you coherently what they want to do...

"I want to go around to the back of the house."

...or they will find some way to make fun of you and your campaign by, say, quoting obscure Internet videos.

Mailbox! Open mailbox!"

What kind of adventures can you have?

Anything. Seriously. Protect a caravan of merchants across the desert, prove the innocence of a prince framed for murder, plunder an ancient trap-laden tomb, wage war against an army of werewolves, exterminate the troglodytes, fetch me a sock; anything. Seriously.

Didn't I hear something about dice? I swear there was something about dice.

Yes. There's dice. Lots of 'em. Any time your character attempts to do something that requires any kind of skill, such as jumping onto the Leper King from the balcony above him, resisting the feminine wiles of a wily female, or throwing a dagger at the tricksy hobbit who just stole your pants, you need to roll a die to determine whether or not you are successful.

D&D polyhedral diceD&D uses funny polyhedral dice that have 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, and even (and especially) 20 sides. You use the d20 (20-sided die) to determine your chance of success for just about anything.

Rolling a 20 on the die is basically a guaranteed success, sometimes with extra-favorable results, so you'll often find D&D players making jokes like this one. (Brief profanity alert.)

The not-20-sided-dice are usually (but not always) used to determine how much damage you do to the people, monsters, and inanimate objects you rough up with your axe, sword, flaming torch, lightning bolt, shillelagh, ukulele, or whatever else you use to attack.

Most D&D campaigns involve a good deal of battles, but exploration, stealth, sabotage, negotiation, information gathering, and shopping can all be a part of a campaign as well.

But what if I don't want to do a lot of negotiating and information gathering? Talking is boring! Bash and smash!

Yes! Bash and smash! Raaar!

Ahem. How you act out your character is up to you. If you want to be talkative, you can be talkative; if you'd prefer to shoot first, Han, and not bother asking questions later, you can do that too. If you're not much into acting, you can just be yourself.

You have a wonderfully large degree of control over the creation of your character, so you could easily design and play as a disgruntled warrior who carries a huge hammer and breaks everything he sees. Alternately, you could be a sneaky, silver-tongued thief who could talk her way out of a battle or slip away sooner than she could fight her way out.

As long as your DM is permissive enough, your character could theoretically be of any fantasy race you can think of (elf, dwarf, gnome, or regular old human), and your character could be just about anything--wizard, barbarian, priest, innkeeper, goat herder, evil harbinger of destruction... whatever.

That's pretty cool. And there are rules for all of that?

Sure. Though the rules flesh out all of the standard races and classes one might choose, along with several exotic and nontraditional ones, it's technically possible to do some heavy customization and adaptation. You and your friends might, theoretically, go off to slay a dragon with a party consisting of Stewie Griffin,
Sir Robin the Not-Quite-So-Brave-As-Sir-Lancelot, Captain Kirk, Pac-Man, Zombie Abe Lincoln, and David Bowie.

That party would rock. Except for Sir Robin.

Right you are. Now I'm intrigued. Tell me more.

Maybe tomorrow.

[D&D logo from Dice picture from]

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