Dungeons & Dragons

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Dungeons & Dragons (usually abbreviated D&D) is a role-playing game system. In fact, it is in many ways the great role-playing game system, being the first one ever developed and selling better than all other RPGs combined. D&D was created in 1974 by David Arneson and E. Gary Gygax as an outgrowth of their miniatures wargame hobby. The game was originally published by Tactical Studies Rules (aka TSR Hobbies); in 1997, TSR was acquired by Wizards of the Coast, which in turn became a subsidiary of Hasbro in 1999.


[edit] What D&D is actually like

See the main article on this topic: Role-playing game

D&D can best be described as a cross between improvisational theatre and a board game. Like most tabletop RPGs, D&D basically looks like a bunch of nerds sitting around a table and talking about orcs. This is moderately true, though as one Cracked article pointed out, this being a social gathering already puts it a step ahead of most nerd pursuits.[1]

One of the nerds is the "Dungeon Master", or DM (sometimes called a Game Master or GM, or simply the "referee"), whose job is to explain what is happening, set various challenges for the other nerds to meet, and move the plot of the story (referred to as a "campaign", "scenario", or "adventure").

The other nerds are the "party". Each player in the party creates an avatar within the game, called a "Player Character" (PC) by the players who prefer the board-game side or an "Adventurer" by the players who prefer the improv-theater side. But by 1981 the game eventually came in two flavors: the boxed sets (D&D) and the books for the Advanced version or AD&D for short. Realizing that having two lines of the game was confusing (the boxed set had Basic and Expert editions if things weren't confusing enough) TSR dropped the D&D box line in 1991.

The main factors determining the powers of the PCs are their "race", usually selected from fantasy archetypes like elves, dwarves and gnomes, and their "class", selected again from fantasy archetypes like monks, wizards and clerics. One other factor in character creation (which matters more to some players than others) is your character's moral alignment, which is a rough guide to how they will behave in a moral dilemma. In D&D, characters' alignment was a straight line of Chaotic, Neutral, and Lawful while in AD&D, a character's alignment fell on a Cartesian plane, where one axis goes from "good" to "evil", and the other goes from "lawful" to "chaotic". The addition of a "neutral" middle ground to both scales creates 9 possible alignments.

In theory, these alignments were supposed to be absolutes but some DMs treated them as relative. The problem was that alignments as absolutes resulted in situations like that described in Roger E. Moore's Dragon #51 (July 1981) "It's not easy being good" where the player was basically hosed regardless of their choice (kill the Talbot-like werewolves and your Paladin does penance because due to their split personality he killed 'innocents'; let the Talbot-like werewolves go and your Paladin still does penance because he did not stop 'evil'). The "alignments as relative" view had its own set of problems as anything that pinged 'evil' could be fair game to be slaughtered by 'good' characters—a situation carried to its logical extreme in the satire character Kore the Paladin in the online comic Goblin who can kill anything he deems 'evil' and retain his Paladin status. Because of this inconstancy Alignment became one of the most maligned (ha ha, see what we did there?) things in D&D with articles like Paul Suttie's "For king and country" (Dragon #101 September 1985) suggesting alternatives.

D&D uses various dice as a random chance generator, mostly to determine the outcome of fights with monsters and villains.

Because it grew out of the medieval miniature wargame Chainmail, D&D has always been strongest with combat and weakest in other RPG elements like seducing wenches or even navigating an unknown area. In the TSR days it was obvious that all non-combat options were put into the game as an afterthought and even now the game is still focused towards combat, since it's combat that makes you gain experience and level up, but most non-evil DMs will also award experience for non-combat things (like finding clever solutions to thorny challenges).

D&D uses various dice as a random chance generator, mostly to determine the outcome of fights with monsters and villains.

[edit] D&D and the religious right

For some reason, D&D has always been the target of considerable belligerence from conservative Christians, reaching its height in the 1980s. Some of their many absurd claims have included:

  • Roleplaying games make the participants more prone to suicide or mental illnesses.
  • The inclusion of magic and supernatural creatures such as devils and demons makes roleplaying equal to practicing sorcery and witchcraft, or at least promotes such activities. [2]
  • The alleged emphasis on accumulation of wealth and personal power in the game is incompatible with the Christian message. (Huh.)
    Now how did Phyllis and Andrew Schlafly become so rich?
  • The rule books contain "pornographic artwork".[3]
  • The inclusion of polytheistic deities worshipped by the game characters is blasphemous.
  • And so on and so forth.

The irony of this (or at least part of the irony) is that D&D actually builds on elements from the Western Christian cultural heritage to a considerable extent. Besides the obvious elements, such as inclusion of "angels" and "paladins"[4], this is probably most apparent in the game's very naïve world view, which presents a system of overly simplistic moral absolutes that categorize a character (or even whole races or societies) with one of nine different "alignments" by placing them on two different axes of morality: Good/Evil and Lawful/Chaotic.[5] By comparison, most other role-playing games are much more "morally mature", such as White Wolf's various World of Darkness products or Chaosium's Call of Cthulhu RPG, or at least prefer to consider the individual personalities and motivations of the characters, rather than placing them in the hopelessly optimistic dualistic good vs. evil moral matrix found in D&D.

Despite this, D&D has always been the favorite target for the "concerned" people, probably due to a combination of the game's status as the archetypal RPG, and ignorance that the other games even exist. BADD, a (now-defunct) organisation opposed to D&D, is an example of this. The makers of D&D even acquiesced to some complaints, such as renaming Hell as "Baator," demons as "tanar'ri," and so on. Most of the criticism fell by the wayside in the 1990s, when D&D both declined in popularity and began catering to older players, and by 2000 the game reverted to its previous terminology ("demons", "Hell", etc.), no longer concerned with the opinions of a few fringe kooks.

In any case, it is quite clear why the game has attracted the level of hostility that it has. After all, it almost goes without saying that any game that teaches such skills as...

  • Improvisation
  • Creativity
  • Vocabulary[6]
  • Open-mindedness
  • Social skills
  • Strategy
  • Group management and group dynamics
  • Empathy
  • Self-insight
  • Game theory
  • Probability
  • Other basic math concepts (such as percentages and simple accounting)

...must almost by necessity find itself the target of widespread fear and loathing from large parts of the religious right. Why, the young people might start actually thinking for themselves!

[edit] D&D vs. its own players

During its tenure as the flagship product of TSR, Inc., D&D was the undisputed king of the role-playing world. However, TSR was notoriously *ahem* protective of its trademarks and system, often suing those who dared adapt D&D rules to their own products without TSR's permission with an almost estate-of-Tolkien-ian zeal (rather ironic, since Gygax had lifted massive amounts of the Lord of the Rings mythos wholesale for his settings, not to mention the works of Robert E. Howard, Fritz Lieber, Poul Anderson, Jack Vance, and Michael Moorcock). It got so bad that it was suggested that TSR really stood for "They Sue Regularly".[7]

At least a few D&D players felt varying degrees of contempt for TSR given its rapid and zealous attacks and threats of legal action against people in the game community who dared to use any term relating to TSR without copyright and trademark symbols, yet TSR never seemed to go after anyone who attacked them outside the game community. They never sued anyone like Geraldo Rivera who slandered D&D by saying it was responsible for deaths it was clearly not responsible for. Some gamers felt that TSR was a big bully in the game world, but didn't have the guts to fight anyone outside it. It didn't help that at times TSR seemed to demonstrate all the social awareness of a rock; how else can one explain the 1986 cover for GD 1-7 Queen of Spiders which depicted the Drow (evil elves with dark skin) as if they had just fallen out of the Shaka Zulu miniseries?

This is why after TSR collapsed and Wizards of the Coast bought the smoldering remnants WotC lightened up, creating the Open Gaming License (an application of open source well outside its traditional stomping grounds of software design) and releasing the fundamentals of the rules as the d20 system SRD (System Reference Document), essentially the rules from D&D third edition with the serial numbers filed off.[8] as well as taking many settings (such as Ravenloft) and licensing them to other companies or (like Spelljammer) effectively making them open source.

The d20 Modern game -- stylistically sort of a cross between D&D and the modern goth-horror games of White Wolf's World of Darkness -- is derived directly from the D&D 3e rules and has its own SRD.

The d20 SRD is a great document to have for the gamer running a campaign on the cheap, or for a game designer who likes D&D rules and wants to create their own setting. Unfortunately there's one thing that is inescapable -- you still need all those goddamned dice, and a d4 by any other name still hurts like hell when you step on it.

One theory as to why TSR ended up in the ground is that they had developed a Many Buckets Theory, resulting in a "lot of product lines" which "instead of supporting the main Dungeons & Dragons line, fragmented the marketplace."[9] So the players were still giving TSR the same amount of money as before but now there was this additional financial burden of creating, producing, and supporting hundreds of products outside of the main line. Worse, "As the settings grew more popular, they began to diverge from one another, advancing along their chosen philosophical paths, essentially becoming their own separate games" until "players had stopped identifying themselves as D&D players and were instead identifying themselves by the setting they played in. A Planescape player was very different than a Forgotten Realms player, and their rule systems were beginning to become incompatible with each other. More significant from the company's point of view, though, was that players would never buy a product set in any other setting than their own. Far from catching more money in their small buckets, TSR was actually making the audience smaller!" [10]

In 2008, though, Wizards of the Coast released D&D Fourth Edition, which seemed designed to try and cash in on everything viewed as popular while also driving away many of the game's adherents in the precess. First the very cosmology of the game had been changed to the point that the worlds of 1st through 3.5 that had worked fine were totally incompatible with it, and the new rules were NOT open source.[11] If that wasn't bad enough D&D Fourth Edition also seemed to be trying to cash in on the whole World of Warcraft "MMORPG" market. For example, the Tieflings who could have any aspect of their demonic heritage in previous editions effectively as far as appearance was concerned became the freaking Draenei from WoW in D&D Fourth Edition. Then it borrowed some of the mechanics from World of Warcraft...which was really a dumb idea for a pen and paper RPG. The overall reaction was so strongly negative that they made sure to get plenty of player Beta-test feedback before releasing the next edition. The next edition, officially titled Dungeons and Dragons Next, falls more in line with earlier editions than with 4th edition.

[edit] D&D and religion

Interestingly, if someone believed D&D mythology as being real, and that their books & commands are real, they would be called an outrageous nerd, possibly insane, and if they even entertained hurting others based on those books, outright insane.

On the other hand, when religious nerds believe certain books & mythologies as real, it is called "having spirituality". Worse, acts of hurting someone are often sugar-coated as "religious freedom" & "beliefs".

The funny thing is that the game's co-creator, E. Gary Gygax, was a devout Christian himself.[12] He even refused to allow angels to be published as "monsters" in the game because allowing players to kill them bothered him. (He did include/allow the angel-like "devas", but that's beside the point.) The difference between Gygax and those who believed he promoted Satanism was that when Gygax pretended to be a righteous crusader against evil, he knew it was all in his head. Of course, during the whole satanic panic about D&D, he refused to publicly mention that he was Christian for fear that D&D would somehow tarnish Christianity. That's right, rather than invoke his (moderate) Christianity to help quiet the crazy Christians who were attacking D&D, he chose his religion over his game and its fans.

Pat Robertson has cast True Resurrection on this particular brand of hysteria.[13]

The biggest laugh is the claim that D&D (and later AD&D) allowed one to cast "real" spells. The reality is that to avoid using any real world magic system, D&D effectively borrowed the memorize, cast and forget magic system (known in RPG circles as "Vancian" magic) from Jack Vance's The Dying Earth, which has gone through modifications in each edition, with other magic systems (such as sorcery, chi and psionics) added to complement it.

[edit] See also

Icon fun.svg For those of you in the mood, RationalWiki has a fun article about Dungeons & Dragons.

[edit] External links

[edit] References

  1. http://www.cracked.com/article_17040_the-6-most-insane-moral-panics-in-american-history_p2.html
  2. See the totally (unintentionally) hilarious "Dark Dungeons" Chick tract
  3. Examples include the 1995 edition's female wizard in a yellow platemail bikini and AD&D 1e's scraggly-looking bare-chested succubus with a bad facelift. Penthouse it's not.
  4. Modeled on the knights of King Arthur and other parts of the Chanson de geste tradition, especially characters like Parzifal and Lohengrin.
  5. See some Wikipedia article on thisWikipedia's W.svg for a better explanation of this.
  6. Admit it, D&D was the first place you ever heard of a glaive-guisarme or a codex.
  7. Magic & Memories: The Complete History of Dungeons & Dragons - Part III page 3 Gamespy
  8. Oddly enough, the System Reference Document to the d20 system is enough to run a pretty decent D&D campaign all on its own, with maybe a second-hand copy of a second edition Monster Manual to fill in the blanks.
  9. Magic & Memories: The Complete History of Dungeons & Dragons - Part III page 2 Gamespy
  10. Magic & Memories: The Complete History of Dungeons & Dragons - Part III page 2 Gamespy
  11. (2008) D&D 4e’s Out… And It’s Awful. Here’s Why" Fear of the Geek Planet
  12. [Gary Gygax on gaming and faith]
  13. "Dungeons & Dragons destroys peoples lives", Destructoid. 20 April 2013
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