Dungeons and Dragons: The Nerdiest Game I’ve Ever Loved
If you’ve never heard of Dungeons and Dragons, then you’ve been living under a rock. Even if you don’t know the first thing about D&D, I guarantee that at some point in your life, you’ll have heard the name. D&D is pretty much the pinnacle of nerdy counterculture: it’s been referenced in The Simpsons; Futurama has a whole movie based on it; and the entire plot of Stranger Things is spawned from a game of D&D that the kids play in the first episode. But what is it, and how does it work? Well, I’ve been playing over Zoom with my friends every week of lockdown, and I figured it’s high time that I share some wisdom for those of you unfortunate enough never to have played.
Dungeons and Dragons is a fantasy tabletop RPG (that’s ‘Role-Playing Game’) that takes place entirely in the collective imaginations of everyone playing. Unlike traditional tabletop games like Monopoly or Cluedo, D&D in its raw form doesn’t use a board, pieces, or cards. In fact, D&D is better thought of as an interactive story than a game in the classic sense.
Let me explain. In a typical game of D&D there might be four people playing. That’s three players, and one Dungeon Master (yes ha ha it sounds funny I know). The Dungeon Master is the person who runs and controls the game. Think of the DM as sort of like the banker in Monopoly, except the DM doesn’t actually play. Before the game starts, the DM will have created a story, having planned out environments, characters, and situations for the players to work through and interact with.
As the DM describes what’s going on, the players decide what they want to do, relaying their decisions to the DM. The outcomes of these decisions are decided by rolls of the dice. No, not puny six-sided dice – a 20-sided dice (along with a few others). Usually, the higher the number you roll, the better your action will be, and vice versa. If you try to slice an orc and roll a 20, then that orc is in for a pretty cinematic death. If you roll a 1, you might end up swinging your battle-axe and chopping your friend’s arm off.
A typical moment of D&D might play out like this:
DM: “You come to a large chasm covered in thick mist, so thick that you can’t see the bottom.”
Player 1: “I try to look for a way over.”
DM: “Okay, roll a d20.” (that’s the 20-sided die)
Player 1: “15!”
DM: “Great! You gingerly approach the cliff face and see a rickety bridge swinging in the breeze. Through the mist, you see a shadowy figure walking across towards you. What do you do now?”
And so on. This is just a small taste of how a regular game of D&D would go – if it seems simple, that’s because at its core, it is. But the fun of Dungeons and Dragons comes alive in the role-playing, as the players inhabit the characters that they create. Then there’s combat, spell casting and exploration, all of which have their own niche mechanics to nerd over in a gameplay session. D&D can get really complicated, but if you’ve got a few friends and the official Players Handbook, I urge you to give it a try. In my experience, messing around with my friends as a skeleton-smashing gnome-wizard is some of the silliest fun you can have in any game.