What is Dungeons and Dragons?
Dungeons and Dragons is a tabletop fantasy roleplaying game that started life as a fantasy war game. It is a brainchild of the late Gary Gygax and it is considered the grandfather of all fantasy roleplaying games.
It is best played by a small group of people, usually consisting of one ‘Dungeon Master’ – or ‘DM’ for short – and four players. The responsibility of the DM is to create an imaginary world for the other four players to explore. The DM will flesh out the creatures, people, geography, cities and various other elements that collectively make up the world he creates. He also acts as a referee of the game, determining what is possible within the world and what isn’t, conditions for success or failure and many other things.
The remaining four players will each create a character, designing his (or her) personality, appearance, traits, flaws, skills, weaknesses, moral outlook and profession. All four characters together will form a party, pooling their talents together for their mutual benefit. Each character fulfils a specific niche role in the party. For example, one character could be a priest who performs miracles and acts as a spiritual leader for the group. Another character might be a warrior, answering enemy threats with his skill at arms and superior tactical knowledge. The third might be a master of espionage, subterfuge and a survivor in the rough and tumble urban/criminal underworld environment.
The players will explore the world created by the DM through the eyes of the characters they create. Each player should ideally play their characters according to the personality and quirks of the character that they designed right at the beginning. For example, a warrior who is described as being surly and a man of few words shouldn’t be dancing and singing at the local tavern – unless he is drunk. A morally suspect rogue should probably object to doing good deeds unless there is significant financial gain to be had.
Goal of the game
The story that unfolds as the characters interact and explore the fantasy world is called a ‘campaign’. The end goal of a campaign will vary from group to group. Some groups prefer short campaigns or ‘one shots’ where the party tries to complete a short term goal. This often – but not always – involves delving into places forsaken by civilisation – generally referred to as a ‘dungeon’ – in order to uncover a cache of treasure. The dungeon might be protected by monsters and traps and it is up to the characters to overcome the traps and defeat the monsters in order to reach their prize. This is often referred to as a ‘dungeon crawl’.
Other groups like to play out epic stories like that of The Lord of the Rings. The end goal in such a campaign could be the defeat of a great evil. The group could either play through multiple dungeon crawls or they might opt for a more freeform approach, allowing the players more freedom to explore the fantasy world and possibly indulge in some political intrigue along the way.
Each character will typically start a campaign at ‘level 1’, but as they progress through the campaign, they become better at what they do. When (and if!) this happens, they will gain a new ‘level’ which allows the character to unlock new abilities to increase their survivability. As well, they may find tools and ‘magic items’ that give them a significant advantage going forward. In response, the DM will ensure that the threats and challenges they face are likewise tougher in order to match the characters’ growth in power.
Death is a real possibility for each character in the campaign and when that happens, the player will need to create a new character – unless they have access to someone who can perform a miracle to bring the character back to life. If the whole party dies, the campaign is over. That said, the DM can continue to use the world he has created if the group decides to start a new campaign, rather than creating another world from scratch.
Tools of the game
The actions of the characters will be described by the players who play them, but certain props are needed in order to determine the success or failure of each character’s actions.
First of all, each player will need a set of polyhedral dice. Secondly, they will need a ‘character sheet’ downloadable from the Wizards of the Coast website or at least a notepad to write down their notes and character statistics. Optional extras would include poster maps and miniatures (as well as beer and pizza).
And last, but not least, three books are needed in order to learn the rules and play the game. These books are: the Dungeon Master’s Guide, Monster Manual I and The Player’s Handbook. These are commonly referred to as the ‘Core Rulebooks’ and are adequate for most campaigns on their own. Other supplemental books are available, but less experienced groups are advised to only use the core rulebooks to start off with.
Why Dungeons and Dragons?
Some people may want to try out a new hobby and stumble upon Dungeons and Dragons as a result. Other people might be a fan of fantasy literature and might want to play a game that allows them to re-enact the stories that they’ve known and loved since childhood. Still others might like the social interactions that result from playing a game together with other people.
Regardless of the individual reasons, Dungeons and Dragons remains one of the most popular and widely played roleplaying game systems in the world.