Well, this one kinda sux...

What’s the deal with Dungeons and Dragons?

Actually wanted some info on this and instead got a lot of hot air.

Cecil, you can be very funny but sometimes your responses seem a little too self-indulgent. The Straight Dope then becomes the useless dope.

All yer recent ones I’ve read have been great. Ty and keep up the good work!

Not like it matters. Anyone who plays that game will be burning eternally in the fiery lake of Hell soon enough.

Yeah, but only if they roll a six and a twenty, and have strength and magic over 200. :slight_smile:


Trajan, what didn’t you like? Cecil was doing a summary of the game, how it works and what is the point. He wasn’t out to describe strategy, or give insight into how to make a truly kick-ass character, or whether it’s better to be a cleric over a druid. Those are way to detailed for the column - and the point of the question. I think he answered the question asked pretty well - and with some great wit. If you notice, his final paragraph does tell the person where to find more information - game and hobby stores. He even gave a phone number.

What he didn’t describe are the newer types of games using card decks, like Magic: The Gathering. But I don’t know when the column was written, and it could be arguable if those should be included.

andros, you left off your smiley.

Well, I’m kinda with Trajan on this one. My youngest brother played D & D endlessly while he was in high school, and the rest of us were never able to understand what was going on. I clicked on the link and read the column with high anticipation, only to be rather let down at the end. Details, Cecil, we want details. We want to have the murky protocols and baffling minutiae and mystifying pronouncements, if not fully explained, at least basically delineated.

However, I do understand that it probably isn’t humanly possible to explain D & D in the space of a Straight Dope column, so I will shelve my complaint. :slight_smile:

Okay, I’ll throw my two cents in, as someone who once played Dungeons & Dragons with considerable vigor. This was during my high school days, some 20 years past now, and my primary role was as the Mansonesque Dungeon Master. (I.E., Satan Incarnate, according to some people.)

What was the attraction to me and my cohorts in this role-playing weirdness? Looking back, I think it was a combination of factors. Creative outlet was the big one. In spite of the vast, arcane game rules, most of the game could best be described as interactive story-telling. Buncha guys collaborating to tell a tale. Most of the rules we ignored as being unnecessarily complex. We concentrated on what essentially amounted to fits of imagination. Strange? Sure, but relatively harmless when you think about it. We weren’t out drinking and driving, egging houses, playing mailbox baseball, or harassing the teenage girls. Mostly we were sitting around someone’s dining room table talking and drinking too many caffeinated soft drinks. Could we have been doing something else as a creative outlet? Sure, but we were having fun and nobody was getting hurt. (And, frankly, most of us moved on to other creative endeavors – one of my screwball game cohorts is now a fairly successful mystery novelist.)

Another factor, I think, was a quest for a sense of control. Let’s face it, me and my buddies were low on the social ladder, which in high school is pretty important. We weren’t particularly attractive or athletic, and our sense of where we belonged was fairly fragile. Role-playing games provided the chance to move, even temporarily, in a state of mind where we were powerful and respected. Once again, strange? Yes, but also, for the most part, fairly harmless. As we grew up, we grew out of D&D, and it was because we found other outlets for feeling successful. Whether it was school or art or work or whatever. Some people never grow out of it, I suppose, but D&D isn’t the problem here – it’s simply the symption.

A lot of fuss got made when I was in high school that D&D made you insane. My mom was constantly in a dither about it. There was a guy from my home town that flipped out and ran away and was last seen alive at a Dungeons & Dragons convention. Supposedly he wanted to play “real life” D&D. Eventually he committed suicide and the news was awash with the brainwashing power of D&D. All I can say to that is, “Hogwash.” D&D can certainly be the expression of mental or emotional distress, but so can drinking, smoking, scrubbing the floor all night, etc. People escape reality in all sorts of ways, and D&D just happens to be a way that got especially bad press. The guy I mentioned above turned out to have been sexually abused by his father. But that wasn’t nearly as exciting for the TV news as “D&D is brainwashing our children.” If this kid just watched a lot of TV and molested his sister, it never would have made the news.

I don’t want to sound like I’m being unduly defensive of D&D. It’s weird, no doubt, as an avid former player who still remembers my D&D days with mild fondness, I nonetheless found Cecil’s description to be essentially accurate and pretty funny. But I can also tell you that weird as it is, it essentially boils down to just one more thing that some people like to do.

I mean, you think D&D is weird – think about how some people are about golf.

 I'll certainly agree that this reply of his is useless. Instead of trying to understand the game by looking at the books, he should have talked to a few players. The standard books are reference material, not instructions in the usual sense.
 There are some introduction accessories out these days, they get you used to the system without being bogged down with the stuff that a beginner doesn't need to deal with.

 He's also bashing it for the level of math involved, something I find strange. Virtually all the math is addition or subtraction of small numbers without decimals. Role-playing games are an intellectual pursuit, those who don't enjoy thinking aren't going to enjoy them anyway, and for those that do, the math is trivial.

 Furthermore, most of the rules are not relevant to beginners, anyway--something that should be obvious as one book is labelled as being for the players, another for the dungeon master. The guy running the game has to have a reasonable knowledge of the rules, but he should be an experienced player anyway.

But it’s just a game.

The rules of D&D are, in fact, extremely complex, as is inevitable for a game that attempts to simulate an entire world and everything that can happen in it. However, just as in the real world, you only need a very limited knowledge of the rules in order to play. At least one player (the Dungeon Master, or DM) needs to either know the rules well or be able to fake it, but the rest of the players don’t need to know a thing. If I say that my player is fighting goblins using his sword, do I need to know about attack rolls, armor classes, and hit points? No. All I need to know is that sometime my character hits one of them, injuring it, and sometimes one of them hits him, injuring him, and that something that gets injured too badly, dies.

Of course, things like dragons (which he quotes) are rather more complex than goblins (dragons can fly, breath fire, cast spells, and do various other nasty things in addition to normal attacks), but then again, you’re not going to be encountering dragons until you’ve got a lot more experience and familiarity with the game.

By the way, that quote concerning the ancient, huge red dragon appears to be from a first-edition rulebook. The third edition (current) rules are generally considered to be a bit simpler, but what I said above still applies.

And this is just a posting board, and it’s just a movie, and someone’s pet was just a dog, and it was just a relationship–different people get excited over different things, that is what makes the world an interesting place.
Much more interesting than a bunch of cynics and pessimists sitting around proclaiming that none of this is real and it’s all an illusion.

Shit happens and then you die but it is up to you to make the most of that shit first.

I was a D&D player for years growing up. I think my experience with it was pretty much like bungie_us’ post.

It’s been years since I had anythig to do with RPG’s, and I really don’t want to play them again, but I don’t regret having played it. It was good for my imagination and general mental exercise (the column wasn’t exagerating about the enormous number of tedious calculations).

When someone with no background in the games asks me how it works, I try to describe it as briefly as possible:

[tiny]The Dungeon Master sets up a virtual reality full of scenarios through which players journey. There’s no board, but occasionally there are a few props that helps everyone envision the reality. The players all work together doing anything they can think of to accomplish some designated goal or quest. A lot of the time is spent fighting mosters, exploring dungeons, and gathering info on towns. Basically, it’s like acting out a standard Sword 'n Sorcery story.

The rules assign various statistics and odds of doing anything and everything successfully. The dice are used to randomly determine in each action whether a player succeeded. Different players are tailored with unique biographies so each has different chances of success at various things.[/tiny]

There’s really not much more detail to actually explain, unless you want to know the actual rules, which really isn’t realistic to explain here.

Some people think the rules are too cumbersome, so they trim it down to their liking. Whatever works is best, because the point of the game is enjoyment.

When you click Submit, it’s too late to shelve your complaint.

Thank you, Sea Snake. That was pretty much my kid brother’s explanation, but you expressed it better, and without using “um” and “you know?” and “like”. :smiley:

The biggest thing that none of us could understand was the heavy emphasis laid on the Dungeon Master. The DM makes up his own layout, and he’s the only one that knows what’s down that tunnel, or what’s behind that door. So we would ask, “How do you know he’s not changing it, or making it up as he goes along?” My brother and his buddies would turn their bewildered little faces to us and protest, “But he WOULDN’T!”

“Yes, but how do you know?”
“Well–well–just BECAUSE. He wouldn’t, that’s all.” This was an item of unshakeable faith. We finally figured that it must be a Male Bonding Thing and let it go at that.

I was interested to discover, 20 years later, that my brother’s Dungeon Master had grown up to be the music teacher at my daughter’s high school.

The other tiny thing we didn’t really get was the lack of a glossy game board, like with Candy Land or Monopoly. Graph paper? How bizarre.

Duck Duck, your devious mind hits an interesting point - why wouldn’t the DM make it up as he goes, or change things on the fly?

Part of the answer is that the fun of the game is that you can win, if you do things right. A DM who alters things on the fly for his own malicious amusement would very quickly run out of people to play with. If there’s a DM who can make things up on the fly and keep it honest, that’s one brilliant dude.

Then there’s the pride thing. There’s different ways to enjoy the game. As a regular player, you don’t know what’s coming. And with the dice, you don’t know the outcome. You have to take what’s thrown at you, make decisions, and hope for the best. And when 12 giant rats kill your party off in the first room you enter, that’s the breaks. However, the DM is in a different situation. He isn’t just along for the ride, he’s the one directing the show. It is up to him to make the game fun, exciting, surprising, involving, and remain fair, and aimed at the appropriate level for the characters involved (i.e. don’t make it too tough). A good DM is worshipped by his friends for keeping it entertaining. A DM who arbitrarily changed things or maliciously attacked the characters is going to get his ass kicked by his nerd friends. It would be like a referree at a football game making up new fouls as he goes along. “Foul - team A is wearing red on their uniforms, 20 yard penalty, first down.” He won’t be referree for long.

I don’t want to suggest that I was “one brilliant dude,” either as a pimply high school student or as a pimply middle-aged guy, but back in the days when I was a Dungeon Master, sometimes the only way to make a session enjoyable to was to change things on the fly. Consider a variation on Irishman’s example. Room one has 12 giant rats, but let’s say the group just barely kills them off. Well, if my map and notes tell me that room two has 15 giant rats, well, I better do something fast or we’re going to be done for the evening, with a mountain of Doritos un-munched and a half-dozen 2-liter bottles of Coke un-drunk.

The sense of fun for me as DM was the creative aspect – and let me tell you, there were relentless hours of map-making and notes that prefaced each week’s gathering. But there were also half a dozen guys making their own decisions about how to react to what I threw at them. I couldn’t count on them to follow a script, so I had to be ready to shift gears quickly. If I was successful, it was when I adjusted to the choices of the players and kept a game moving and fresh. At the same time, there was an unspoken agreement that players wouldn’t make choices that were too drastically out of whack with what I’d prepared. If I spent a week skipping my homework to create a castle on the moor outside of town, then set up a reason for the players to go, they went. Technically, they might have decided to stay in town, hang out at the tavern, and ogle wenches. Nothing to stop them (except maybe a horde of bandits I could make up on the fly to chase them outa town).

As a player, I wanted a DM who was clever, innovative and balanced. Create the castle on the moor, but then give me a real good reason to check it out and I’ll bite. Then you get the interactive story telling I mentioned in an earlier post. Sometimes it could be really fun, sometimes not. Depended on the DM and on the players. And I had DMs who admitted afterward that they had to completely change everything they planned because of choices made by the players. The good ones were the ones who changed things transparently.

The best games, when I played, went on for weeks or even months. Any given week might be one small sub-adventure in a much larger story. The DM built the bones of the story, and the players provided the characters, dialog, action and reaction to events created by the DM.

As I mentioned before, it IS just a buncha pretend, and it is weird – especially to an outsider but even a little bit to an insider. But in the end, it’s still just a thing some people like.

How do you know he’s not changing it, or making it up as he goes along

Actually, I did change the scenario around on the fly from time to time. If players were having too much luck with die rolls and guesses, or if they were having too little of it, the game wouldn’t be as fun. The DM’s job is to make the game fun for the players, not to enforce strict game rules or compete against players.

It didn’t matter to the players when I didn’t, as long as they couldn’t detect the difference when I did. Even if the players would “lose”, they’d still have fun because they’d play the character well and have a dramatic death that made an impact on the story. Then they’d just make a new character. You don’t need a happy ending to have a fun game.

No, a relationship is a relationship and D&D is a game. I’m not diminishing recreation, here… far from it. I love games. I’m just sayin’.

I’ve only DMed once, so far, but let me tell you, there were very few things in that game that I didn’t end up having to change on the fly. Think of it this way: The DM is one person, trying to think of ways to go one particular way. The players are four or five people, all trying to think of ways to make the story go whichever way they happen to want to make it go, which is not necessarily the way the DM thinks that they’ll want to make it go. Folks can be remarkably creative (or remarkably lucky) in doing things that you never expected them to be able to do.

"If there’s a DM who can make things up on the fly and keep it honest, that’s one brilliant dude. "

My favorite DM was that kinda dude, a Classics major and into beasts and Hell…after awhile it dawned on me that I’d better be a paladin if I wanted to get anywhere in his universe…one of my favorite D&D recollections is my sister’s half-orc character named “Buffy”. Of course, once Buffy managed to prove herself survivable, we began meeting other DM-introduced characters with names like “Mr. French”, etc. That was a different DM…the indignant kind with the Pimples of Fury. Of course, my sister and I never had pimples…

Jill said:

[QUOTE[No, a relationship is a relationship and D&D is a game. I’m not diminishing recreation, here… far from it. I love games. I’m just sayin’.[/QUOTE]

Um, what? :confused:

For example, are you saying, “it’s just a game, so why are we talking about it?” Or, “It’s just a game, so what’s so baffling about it?”

It’s just a game, so why do the people who play it take it so seriously?

It’s just a game, so why do the people who DON’T play it fret about it so much?

It’s just a game, so what’s not to get?

It’s just a game, so why would anyone spend eternity in the lake of fire because of it?

It’s just a game, so why would a high school boy almost fail trigonometry because he was prepping to play?

No dis intended, but I didn’t exactly follow your first post, and then I didn’t exactly follow your second post so I thought I’d ask.

Cheers. :slight_smile: