Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) is a Role Playing Game (RPG), inspired by miniature warfare games but rather than a focus on military strategy, Dungeons and Dragons focuses primarily on character. A Dungeons and Dragons game is an adventure undertaken by a group of people playing fantastical races and professions (called classes), while a ‘Dungeon Master’ weaves the fabric of a fantasy world all through imagination and communication. It is a game of the mind, a game of imagination and escapism. Dungeons and Dragons is not played on a board, but uses manuals, a character sheet, polyhedron dice and, most importantly a vivid imagination. In a game of Dungeons and Dragons, players enter a world, enter a role and enter a most remarkable adventure.
Dungeons and Dragons – A History of the Game and Personal Addiction
Dungeons and Dragons was established in 1971by the brilliant Gary Gygax, with a game called, The Fantasy Game. The Fantasy Game lasted three years until, in 1974, Gygax and his collaborator, Dave Arneson managed to come up with enough finance to hand assemble and print 1000 copies of the first ever titled Dungeons and Dragons. Published under the imprint Tactical Studies Rules inc. (TSR) founded by Gygax and Dungeons and Dragons original test player, Don Kaye, these 1000 copies sold out in a year. Since these beginnings there have been many changes to the Dungeons and Dragons brand. There have also been many, many imitators.
Along the way I have played many of them, some experiences I will share in later articles, none as good as D&D. I started playing in 1988, with a 1977 published red box set of Basic D&D. I was immediately engaged and interested, but it was not until some months later when I was introduced to Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (AD&D) that I was addicted.
We played with our friend’s sibling’s copies whenever we could and eventually raised enough money to buy our own just in time for the 2nd edition release in 1989. I remember being excited as Thursdays came around, because it meant the next evening it was AD&D, we would immerse ourselves in a weekend of Dwarves, Elves, Halflings, Orcs, Kobolds, Goblins and Dragons.
1989 also saw the release of Spelljammer, a Dungeons and Dragons campaign extension set in outer space. While set off world, Spelljammer was not strictly science-fiction as its focus remained on sword and sorcery fantasy situations and characters, as opposed to a scientific basis.
In 1990, the Gothic horror game extension, Ravenloft was released which I vividly remember to this day. With Ravenloft came the introduction of Count Strahd Von Zarovich, vampire and nemesis, one of the most enduring villains in D&D history.
Some of the fondest memories of my youth are sitting on the back veranda at my parents’ house, a rug on the table, books, paper, chip wrappers, empty soft drink bottles littering the floor. Shaking with fear and excitement at the latest challenge, playing all night only to see the sun rise, then dreaming of D&D during the short rest we got, only to do it again the next night. Sitting in class at school as it rained outside, thinking it was perfect D&D weather. In the classes we did not care about or thought unimportant we would talk D&D, play fighting fantasy books. We were like drug addicts taking a smaller hit to ride it out to the next big score.
Facing bankruptcy in 1997, TSR sold the Dungeons and Dragons brand to publishing and game company Wizards of the Coast. Three years in development, Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition replaced AD&D in 2000. This saw a degradation of the rules, streamlining things to a d20 system (named for the 20 sided dice integral to the game play) to fit in with Open Game Licensing.
After a good revamp in 2003, 2008 saw the release of the 4th and current Dungeons and Dragons incarnation. For many this was the final straw and they left D&D to play Pathfinder a hybrid of earlier editions and rules. Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition relies heavily on miniature play, the mechanics are simplified and it is almost moving toward a card game style system of play. I still like it and I still play, because D&D is D&D. There is only one original and there only ever will be. Dungeons and Dragons is setting up the brightly coloured weapons of choice, your dice, sharpening your pencil, rubber at the ready, books for reference and imagination for everything else. Dungeons and Dragons is about creating and nurturing a character, a personality that grows and develops over time. Dungeons and Dragons is about doing what perhaps you cannot in reality, being who you cannot be and going where you cannot go. Dungeons and Dragons is entertainment and escapism rolled into one. A good session of D&D is bordering on perfection.
If you have not played D&D I implore you to do so. Do not be embarrassed – all the people you play with are there doing exactly as you are. We do not dress up, we do not chant and we do not mock fight with foam weapons. We do enter a fantasy world and are absorbed by adventure, but it is at a table with good people and good fun. If dragons, dungeons and magic is not your game, there are innumerable sci-fi, modern warfare, fantasy, horror, movie, superhero, literary and just plain weird role playing games out there. You will never know what you have missed until you try it.
by Adam Hennessy
© 2011, Adam Hennessy