Who hasn’t heard of Dungeons and Dragons? Since 1974, when the first edition of the game was published by Tactical Studies Rules, Inc., the game has been a major player in the tabletop RPG (role-playing game) market. As Wikipedia puts it, “As of 2006, Dungeons & Dragons remains the best-known and best-selling role-playing game, with an estimated 20 million people having played the game and more than US$1 billion in book and equipment sales.”
Obviously, I haven’t played D&D since its creation; the game is older than I am. I was first introduced to the game around the time of its 30th anniversary in 2004, and haven’t really known D&D in anything but its current 3.5th edition. I’ve been enjoying the game since I first got it, and have been running our current game for over a year now.
And on the days when we gather our friends together to play the game, we create a world. A lot of that is my job; as the Dungeon Master, I’m in charge of creating the adventures and all of the characters in them that aren’t controlled by the players. And we do have no small amount of help from the books, since I’d rather not spend my time attending to every single little detail that goes into a world.
Even with the caveats, we’re essentially creating a novel, or a play, or any other kind of fictitious story here. There are six authors rather than just one, and each author only controls what one of the story’s characters does (except the sixth, me, that controls everything not covered by the other five), but I think it still counts. And frankly, one of our greatest D&D experiences came when I abandoned the dice that normally arbitrate the results of actions taken and just rolled with the story.
The adventuring party, controlled by my friends, had just returned to a city called Sharn. Which isn’t in and of itself notable, but the fact that they had greatly annoyed the authorities of the nation that Sharn is in while on their last adventure was a problem. And the city’s police force arrested them almost immediately upon their return.
Or rather, tried to. As a side note, in many videogames the heroes are “arrested” by guards or other forces that present no real threat. The heroes should be able to wipe the floor with the mooks that are sent to arrest them, yet they don’t. Obviously, the players of such videogames can’t do anything about it, since the events can’t be changed short of changing the code of the game. However, D&D is not limited in such a fashion. And my players had no interest in being arrested.
As my players now tried to leave the city, I sent reinforcements after them. And every time the guards confronted the players, the players escaped in truly dramatic fashion, often involving flight or a good fireball. They also at one point decided that they needed to discuss this whole deal with the commander of the city guards. They proceeded to fly up the tower that was the guards’ HQ and broke through the stone wall to talk to him. (Negotiations didn’t work; they left rapidly through that same hole.)
Finally, they left the city on a ship, destroying any pursuit with more fire magic. (And those ships were carrying the enemies that could have actually arrested them, too. Note to self: send in high power reinforcements earlier.) And as if all of that wasn’t enough, they were kind enough to me to split up on the way out of the city, by sending the one character that could transform into animals out of the city early. All of this with the maps of the Sharn prisons sitting in my folder, gathering dust.
While I may not be a literary critic, I really don’t think that’s too bad of a story. And that’s not even a tenth of the series of adventures I’ve led that group through. Some of my most creative moments have come when I was making the next challenge for the players.
And that isn’t even all that D&D is. As much as it is a joint story created by the Dungeon Master and the players, it is also a tactical war game based on an insane amount of statistics and on the luck of a die roll. The character sheets that my players use are four pages of little boxes with numbers and text in them, all of which describe anything from special abilities of the characters to the modifiers applied to an attack roll.
What’s the average sum of a roll of ten six-sided dice? We’ve dealt with that question before, and not on a math quiz either. (It’s 35.) The mathematics inherent in the game, while hardly calculus-level, aren’t the easiest calculations either. The first example deals with the average of a die roll, but that’s hardly the only one. All of this complicated by the fact that the requisite information that these statistics are created from is scattered throughout the several-hundred-page Player’s Handbook.
Those statistics add a distinct element of mathematics to the war game. In most videogames, they would be dealt with by the computer, but the players have to handle it themselves. Of course, being a game in which the Dungeon Master can and will kill off the players, some measure of tactical ability comes well advised also. If Pokémon is a game that helps develop some tactical ability, D&D is one where it might be better to have some before you play.
I can’t even begin to describe all of the battles that have been fought over that table, nor can I do any justice to the clever plans they’ve used on the enemies that I’ve created. Suffice to say they’ve utterly trashed several of the challenges that I thought would be nigh-impossible with some very clever strategies. (Note to self: don’t allow enemies with low health to go anywhere without defensive abilities.) It works in reverse though, as I made what should have been an easy fight harder with my own plans. Putting an invisible ally in a room with enemies makes spells that damage an area hard to use, by the way.
When it comes down to it, Dungeons and Dragons is far from a waste of time. From the creative, story-telling role-playing aspects of the game, to the lessons in anything from mathematics to tactical combat, I’m glad to have come across the game, and I know I’ve learned at least something from it over the last few years.