Why Dungeons & Dragons makes a promise of adventure like no other RPG
I didn’t think D&D was the destination of my journey
I’ve spent a lot of money on the roleplaying game hobby over the years, searching for something I couldn’t put my finger on – promise. Yet though my RPG shelf/ves have waxed and waned, very little of it has been given over to the grand-daddy of them all: Dungeons & Dragons. It’s something I’ve not minded; D&D never seemed my bag as a player or DM.
Yet, all of a sudden, I’m starting to realise that it’s time to embrace the Fifth Edition of the oldest, most popular roleplaying game in the world: It makes a clear and unambiguous promise of adventure.
My first experience with roleplaying games was the same as so many of my age group (high schoolers in the early nineties): “The Red Box,” otherwise known as Dungeons & Dragons Set 1: Basic Rules. One of my two Core High School Friends got it and the three of us gave it a spin.
To bring people who had no other guidance into the hobby, Set 1’s Dungeon Master’s Rulebook presented an adventure where the dungeon master read a paragraph that ended in a handful of choices and a paragraph number to go to depending on the option the players chose. I’d somehow picked up enough about the hobby to understand there was more to it than “choose an option and go to paragraph #” – yet if this was an indication, RPGs were simply a multiplayer Fighting Fantasy book.
Thankfully, as I discovered where to buy RPG products from, I found out that my idea of the hobby wasn’t wrong. Rather than get into more D&D, though, I went with my preference for worlds with sleek futures and/or cool machines, from the neon-and-chrome near future of Cyberpunk 18.104.22.168. and the Knight Sabers’ hardsuits in the Bubblegum Crisis RPG to the Gundam-size exo-armours of Jovian Chronicles.
When my wife and I moved from Sydney to Cairns in 2005, I left behind a lot of hobby buddies, and although a good portion of my books made it up, those began to trickle away via eBay. There was a local scene, and I even attended what turned out to be the last local RPG convention shortly after I got up here, but, as I snobbishly characterised them at the time, Cairns gamers played both kinds of roleplaying games: Dungeons and Dragons! (My sincere apologies to both Cairns gamers and The Blues Brothers.)
I will say, I tried it their way; I’m pretty sure that I first bought Dungeons & Dragons in its Third Edition incarnation (all three core rulebooks plus the Eberron setting book) thanks to the online store of Melbourne-based Military Simulations (their mail order catalogue had been an old friend since the early nineties) after we moved up. I even bought the Player’s Handbook for the Fourth Edition just in case I wound up at a table.
Sadly, that just-in-case didn’t come to pass. The few local gamers I knew/liked were all part of the same group that was already at the strain point for table members.
Still, the local geek scene slowly expanded and I did get a few more games, including some action movie shenangians in Feng Shui. As online technology began to offer games separated by geography and offered serious options, I dabbled in some online sessions and even tried podcasting a Deathwatch (Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay) campaign.
How I became a Dungeon Master, and learned to love the promise
Since then, I’ve been working on getting more game, both online and off, and – well, maybe this is just my frustration speaking, but as I’ve forged links with gamers across the globe via Twitter, Facebook, Discord and other games, I’ve noticed one game referred to and requested up over and over again: Dungeons & Dragons.
Heck, last year, a friend reached out and asked whether I’d introduce her and her room-mates not to the roleplaying hobby, but to Dungeons & Dragons. I told them where to find a copy of the Fifth Edition Starter Set, and then offered to be their first dungeon master – then, after the first session, went out and got myself a copy so I could read up between sessions. (I’ve since parted ways with that group – on good terms. Schedules are always the bane of the hobby. I’m glad to say they’ve chosen a DM from one of their number and are still having a blast.)
And I’m starting to think that a major leg of my game master’s journey will involve learning to stop worrying and love D&D.
It makes logical sense, of course. On the geek scene and in that Venn diagram overlap between geekery and mainstream, Dungeons & Dragons is everywhere. It’s to roleplaying games what Hoover was to vacuum cleaners in the UK, or Gerni is to water pressure sprayers in Cairns. As an aspiring Career Game Master, it’d be nuts not to be familiar with the most popular system out there.
But there’s a reason for that popularity; why Dungeons & Dragons is the one brand that represents all the products of its type in the mind of the geek and layperson alike.
It’s all about the promise.
See, roleplaying games are all about this unique sense of wonder that comes from the organised making-it-up-as-you-go storytelling. Exploring not just a world other than your own that exists in your imagination. But also exploring an alter ego who’s more capable, more powerful, more brave, more adventurous than you, sharing that with a group of friends.
But nothing quite conjures that unique promise than those three words: Dungeons And Dragons. Say them to someone who’s never heard of the RPG hobby before and watch their imagination circuits start firing. Even if they need a little more explanation to really grok the concept.
Hell, say them to yourself now. No – say some other game titles first, ones that ought to offer the same promise: Pathfinder. Tunnels & Trolls. Castles & Crusades. Dungeon World.
Now say them: Dungeons & Dragons.
What a wonderful rhythm those words have, don’t they? What power. What poetry.
Even if you don’t know about your options when creating a character yet. Whether it’s the – races, classes, alignments – or the complex experience of adventuring with your friends, you can feel the attraction. The gut-level promise of exploring a dank, abandoned dungeon and even facing down that mightiest of fictional beasts.
And then doing both those things again. Why else would they make the title two plurals? (Aside from the fact that it sounds better and less awkward.)
This, I think, is why people love Dungeons & Dragons. And, as I wrote in my first article for Coaching for Geeks, a roleplaying game is really all about the people with whom you get together to play, and the promise of wonder shared by all.
Rob Farquhar – Cairns voice talent, game master, writer, host, presenter and podcaster