On Monday nights, I become a half-elf named Serena. She’s got long blond hair and a bad attitude … and unfortunately only minimal control of her sorcery. Next to me sits Rovis, an elvish druid who seems to talk to animals more than she does to the rest of us. Slurg is a orcish fighter of little brain who is happy to hit people over the head on command and Orego is a human cleric bent on saving our souls. We gather at a tapas bar: it’s quiet and they have a decent selection of beers. Jim is our Dungeon Master, the creator of our world and the leader of our game.
Monday night is Dungeon and Dragons night.
Dungeons and Dragons received a bad rep in the 1980s as being related to (or possibly leading to) Satanism. In the end, the media fury died down and the reputation that remained was a simple one: it’s something that nerds play.
There may be something to that: if you feel that playing games indoors is the kind of thing only a nerd can do.
On the other hand if you
- can have fun playing games like Trivial Pursuit or Monopoly
- enjoy having a drink with your friends
- like meeting to socialize with a set of friends on a regular basis
then you might just be enough of a nerd to enjoy Dungeons and Dragons.
Dungeons and Dragons is focused around two primary aspects: a rule set and role-play. The rule set is strict enough that any argument can be settled via reference texts but open enough to allow for varying styles of gameplay. The type and extent of the role-play varies greatly but it’s a critical component of playing D&D – so much so that the genre to which D&D belongs is referred to as Traditional RPG (Role Playing Games).
In a simple Dungeons and Dragons game, each player has a character which is generated using a character sheet and a set of dice. You choose a race and class and then allocate your statistics, skills and abilities – or use pre-defined characters if desired. The Dungeon Master explains the initial scenario to you: the world that you are in, the details of your particular location, how you meet the others in your group. Then the role-play begins: you must decide what you are going to do and how you are going to react to the situations the DM is putting you into.
Depending on the players, gameplay can be strict and mathematical or relaxed and low-key. Some like to play with the rule books to hand, looking up references for every situation and detailed gameplay defining exactly how many feet away from each other the party is standing. Others prefer a more liberal game, where the focus is on the role-play and interaction, rather than the roll of the dice. A strong DM is crucial to a good game experience in either event and a more liberal game is easier with a group of experienced players who know the rules and how to bend them. As with any social interaction, the priority for a good game is the people.
As you play, you will gain experience at the DM’s discretion – points are awarded to you for your interaction with his world. Typically, you’ll receive experience for killing monsters, solving puzzles and resolving story-lines. Once you have accumulated a certain number of points, you will level up, gaining new skills and abilities for your character.
Dungeons and Dragons is a social game – you interact not just with your friends but also allies and foes in the world and, unlike computer games, your reactions to any given event is limited only by your imagination.
If going out with my friends on a regular basis to tease and laugh and have a good time means you think me a nerd, then I don’t mind. Just don’t get into the line of fire next time Serena wants to cast a spell.