I know this is an OLD topic, but I feel I must defend my avocation (and profession).
Regarding the question “What’s the deal with Dungeons and Dragons?” Cecil wrote:
>There are two main problems: (1) there are
>one billion rules, and (2) the game requires
>nonstop mathematical finagling that
>would constipate Einstein.
>The rule book is laden with such mystifying
>pronouncements as the following: “An ancient
>spell-using red dragon of huge size with
>88 hits points has a BXPV of 1300, XP/HP
>total of 1408, SAXPB of 2800 (armor class
>plus special defense plus high intelligence
>plus saving throw bonus due to h.p./die),
>and an EAXPA of 2550 (major breath weapon
>plus spell use plus attack damage of
>3-30/bite)–totalling 7758 h.p.”
>Here we have a game that combines the charm
>of a Pentagon briefing with the excitement
>of double-entry bookkeeping. I don’t get it.
It’s not surprising Cecil doesn’t get it, considering the source material he’s using.
As usual, Cecil isn’t wrong (Cecil is NEVER WRONG!!) but the source he used to obtain this information is both outdated and nonrepresentative.
Dungeons & Dragons may have been one of the first roleplaying games, but there were two major problems with it: 1) there was way too much jargon and 2) there was way too much math.
The current D&D rulebooks do most of the math for you beforehand; in the example above, in the current D&D game you’d just look up “red dragon” in a book and it’d say 7758 xp right there.
Even now, though, D&D is still widely criticized for its lack of “transparency” – another jargon term basically meaning that you have to do too much math. More modern games like Vampire: the Masquerade and Legend of the Five Rings barely require math at all past simple counting, so you can use them for more complicated games than just “wander into a cave, whack some baddies and take their stuff.” A roleplaying game is never gonna be Tolkien, but at its best you can tell a fantasy story that’s easily on the level of, say, Anne McCaffrey.
The other key point is that roleplaying games are more like baseball than they are like Clue; yes, there are billions of rules, but most of them will only come up once in a blue moon. The designers generally figure that it’s better to have a rule than to have ambiguity, so there’s little stupid rules (like checks for communicable diseases, formulas to figure out how much weight you’re carrying, the gestation period of an elf, and things like that) on the off-chance they’ll come in handy someday. I’ve been playing D&D and other roleplaying games for nigh on twenty years now, and I’ve never once referred to anything as obscure as the rules cited in the article.
Roleplaying games basically come down to Cowboys & Indians, with dice and rules thrown in purely to avoid the “I shot you!” “No you didn’t!” kind of disagreement so prevalent in the schoolyards of the 1950s.
Of course, whether you need to buy $60 worth of books to play a game whose actual working rules could probably be written on both sides of an 8 1/2x11 sheet of paper is debatable.