I pointed out in a previous post that, like any self-respecting nerd, I have played Dungeons & Dragons (D&D). I played it quite often when I was younger. I own quite a few of the books, and an impressive collection of figurines. But it occurred to me that, while most people have heard of it, not everybody has had the pleasure of actually playing the game.
You see, while my friends and I were holed up in my basement surrounded by books, dice and tiny figurines, many of you were probably enjoying other, more popular forms of teenage entertainment such as “beer” and “sex”. Therefore, it is unlikely that you know precisely what goes on at a D&D session. Well, my chemically enhanced brethren, you are in luck. For today, I am going to enlighten your remaining brain cells about this fascinating game.
Let’s start with some of the people involved in playing the game. These people fall into two basic categories:
That’s you (and some of your friends). But this is not the version of you that runs away, screaming like a school-girl, from angry Chihuahuas. This is a bigger, badder, butt-kickinger you. This version of you is a Hero! And you need to do heroic things.
You know… traveling the world with nothing more than what you can fit in your backpack. Saving big-breasted, eternally grateful damsels in distress. Pummeling dragons until they are reduced to naught but a handful of loosely-coupled dragon molecules. Stuff like that.
The Dungeon Master (DM)
Oh, he may look like just one of your friends. But don’t be fooled. When he chose to wear the mantle of Dungeon Master he became the god of your sad little fantasy world. And he is an angry god. He is your friend no longer.
The DM is the narrator of the story, the keeper of the rules, and the arbiter of disputes. He also plays every other character in the story aside from the players themselves, which means that he needs to either be very talented, or mildly disturbed.
But how is it played? D&D is remarkably difficult to explain to people that have not played it. I think part of the difficulty stems from the fact that it is called a “game”, but does not actually work like any game that normal people are familiar with. I remember my Mom frequently entering the room we were playing in (usually to deliver some pizzas) and asking “Who’s winning?”. This is not that kind of game. People don’t “win”, although they can lose in a rather spectacular fashion (aka. dying).
I guess, if I had to sum up how D&D was played, I would say that it is “A group of people, sitting around, talking.”. Wait… that’s not entirely accurate. I suppose, to be more specific, it’s actually “A group of people, sitting around, pretending that they are someone else… talking.”. It is called a “role playing” game, after all. The whole point is that you play a role; you act like someone else…. right?
In reality, unless you have a budding thespian in the group, this doesn’t tend to be the case. More often, each character begins to act much like the player that is playing them. So, you end up acting as… you. But in this case, you act as a you who has a sword and is well versed in the art of buttkickery. It’s all very visceral, but totally harmless.
Of course, there are some that disagree…
<insert harp music here>
So there I was, a young Junior High School kid, sitting at home with all my Dungeons & Dragons books arrayed before me on the dining room table, when the doorbell rang. It was a plumber. Apparently, my parents needed something… plumbed. Anyhow, he walked in, saw what I was working on, and immediately went back to his truck. He returned a few minutes later, and presented my parents with a pamphlet entitled: “Dungeons & Dragons: Only a Game?”.
This document was intended to inform my parents of the danger that this “game” posed to young impressionable children like myself. He patiently explained to them that I was in dire peril. That, at any moment, the game could possess me and make me a potential danger to myself and others. My parents, instantly grasping the gravity of the situation, gave the pamphlet to me and went back to watching TV.
I bet you think that I tossed it in the trash as soon as they weren’t looking. Well then you, my friend, are a fool… I read it. I read the whole thing…
I don’t think I am exaggerating when I say that this is the finest document ever written in the history of the human race. I was personally moved to tears by the following paragraph:
Wow! I wanna go to those games! I mean, sure, sometimes we would talk about murder (“Eat that last slice of pizza, and I will kill you!”), and maybe toss out an occasional cannibalistic comment (“I will eat the last slice, and you can eat me!”), but… sexual perversion? gambling? desecration? That sounds more like college.
I get the feeling that the folks over at Christian Life Ministries picture a typical D&D session going as follows:
DM: Ok, let us begin. Player1, did you bring the sacrificial dagger this time?
Player1: Yes Master.
DM: Good. We don’t want a repeat of last time. The virgin escaped while you searched for something sharp enough to carve out her still-beating heart as an offering to the Dark God we worship.
Player2 shifts uncomfortably.
DM sighs: What is it Player2?
Player2: It’s just… it’s just that Player1 always gets to carve the still-beating heart out of the virgin. When will we get a turn?
Player3: Yeah. I want a turn too!
DM: Ok, ok… we’ll take turns… there are enough virgins to go around…
What great imaginations they have over there! Haha… I bet they have some wild parties over at the Christian Life Ministries. But, while that is fascinating, that’s not typically how a game goes. Our sessions consisted of alot of talking, and rolling dice, and talking more. There was pizza, and alot of soda. And the only virgins were the players. I remember game sessions going more like this:
DM: …from the rim of the valley, you can see the castle in the distance….
*The DM deepens his voice*
It’s dark presence fills you with foreboding…
Player1: Do I see anything I can shoot with my bow?
Player2: Asshole, the castle is miles away. Put the dice down, you douche.
Player1: Nevermind. I see something I can shoot. I aim at Player2.
Player3: Did we order the pizza yet?
Ahhh… such immersion. If you close your eyes… you can almost feel like you are there.
So, you see, D&D is all about the DM telling a story. And you, and your other fellow players, listening and interacting with that story. These interactions are referred to as Encounters, and can take two forms. Non-combat Encounters, and… you guessed it… Combat Encounters. Us players generally live for the Combat Encounters. We fast-talk our way through all the wussie non-combat crap just so we can get to the good parts.
But, occasionally the DM foils our plans and tries to ruin the fun of the game. Some DMs think that, since this is a Role Playing Game that everyone needs to be an actor. You’re just waiting for them to scream “Again! This time with feeling!”…
DM: …suddenly, a group of Orcs comes around the bend…
Me: I want to stab the leader-
DM: Don’t tell me what you want to do, tell me what you are doing.
Me: Um… I stab the lea-
DM: You are 50-feet away! You are stabbing him from there?
Me: …I walk over and sta-
DM: You just waltz right up? In broad dayli- *glack*
Me: *cleans knife on his shirt*
We went through so many DMs that way.
Where was I? Ah, yes… Combat Encounters. Let me first explain something here. Not only are you a hero, but you are the bravest damn hero ever! When faced with a group of creatures, you jump into the fray with nary a concern for your well being. You wade into their midst bellowing a battle cry! You do this even if you are wearing a loin cloth and armed with only a pickle. You do this because doing so amounts to rolling dice.
You want to hit a filthy Orc with your pickle? Simply roll a 20-sided die, and if you roll over a certain number, you hit them! Then roll some more dice to figure out how badly you hurt them. And finally, sit back and enjoy the DM’s description of how the miserable wretch dies.
DM: You swing you pickle around your head with alarming force leaving a trail of brine and the faint smell of dill as it passes. It connects solidly with the head of the lead Orc and barely slows down as obliterates his skull and tears through his brain. The, now headless, Orc remains standing for a few seconds and then falls to the ground with a sickening thud. Your pickle is now covered in gore and no longer kosher.
Me: I attack the next Orc with my throwing gherkins!
String a bunch of encounters like these together, and there you have it! A D&D game! A group of people, sitting around, trying to act like other people, but really acting like themselves, rolling dice, and talking… alot. Believe it or not, it’s more fun than it sounds.
Maybe some of you may even want to try it someday. If you do, just let me know…
We play every Friday night over at the Christian Life Ministries.
Don’t forget the sacrificial dagger.