Dungeons & Dragons

Here’s Ta-Nehisi Coates on Dragon Age II:

Is anyone playing? Apparently there’s a split between the critics and the lay gamers. What I read didn’t seem particularly appealing to me. I’m a really old-school D&D, Gold Box, Caves of Chaos, House of Amber dude. (Yeah, I know. Lotta schools in there.) I liked the first Dragon Age, but at some point, I felt like I was just killing x numbers of mobs to x place. I wanted to feel more in control of the narrative, and my character. I’m also not a fan of the linear.

This is the place where table-top beats pc/console. I don’t know how you program that open human element. I’m thinking about running Neverwinter Nights with my son, because it just takes too long to set up a good table-top game. And yet “long” is kind of what I liked about D&D.

I’ve never played Dragon Age or Dragon Age II (though both sound pretty fun). Actually, I haven’t played more than five minutes of a video game in probably over two years, and I haven’t kept up with video game news very much either (so it’s a good thing we have Jaybird!). Truth be told, I don’t really miss video games that much, even though I have fun when I do play them.

I remember being pretty excited when I first heard of World of Warcraft. Immersive fantasy adventuring sounded pretty fun. I’d seen other MMORPG’s advertised but didn’t really pay much attention to those until WoW was released. It looked amazing – but it really wasn’t. I didn’t have anywhere near as much fun with WoW as I did with the old Might and Magic games. And those weren’t nearly as fun as paper and dice RPG’s.

The first time I played D&D was in fourth grade in Canada, which is also the first time I discovered that there were dice with more than six sides (and that they came in all sorts of colors and designs). I didn’t have D&D books and didn’t know much about it, so I quickly began making up my own games, and for years afterward – even after acquiring AD&D manuals and some other games – I fine-tuned the rules to those games. I wanted the perfect combat and magic systems. Malcontent that I am, the ones in D&D didn’t make sense to me. (Why should wearing heavy armor make it harder for someone to hit you? It should make it harder to be wounded by a hit, but easier to be hit in the first place…and so on, and so forth).

I never quite crafted the perfect system, and I’m sure I never will (I haven’t played actual D&D in at least a decade now) but I can say that the paper and dice experience just can’t be grafted over onto video games. Table-top games are to video games what books are to movies. You can enjoy both, but they’re not the same thing. Books and RPG’s take more time than their on-screen counterparts. More importantly, D&D requires a level of commitment and trust that a video game simply doesn’t ever demand (my high school theatre teacher would always complain about D&D saying of the DM that “He’s just making it up as he goes along. He’s cheating!” But of course, that’s also the point…). The collaborative, imaginative aspect of traditional RPG’s doesn’t translate into even the most stunning 3D graphics.

I miss the table-top games a lot more than the video games. Maybe this is just nostalgia, but nostalgia is a powerful thing.

Please do be so kind as to share this post.
Share

23 thoughts on “Dungeons & Dragons

  1. Cool post, Erik. It gets me thinking. I still get together with my brothers and play a raucous session of good old table-top, paper-and-pencil, polyhedral-dice Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (2nd Edition–that’s the one we still have all the books for!), maybe every couple of years or so, whenever we can all get together. And occasionally I’m tempted by other D&D games; for about a year I was part of an online table-top campaign with Jacob Levy as DM–he’d send us maps and the set-up, we’d choose our actions and e-mail him, he’d role the dice–but that kind of faded away as we all got busy with other things. I’m completely in agreement with you about preferring table-top to video games, and the power of nostalgia in general. I suppose it’s to be expected that I’d feel that way, being a partial Luddite, but I’ll defend it as a legitimate and worthy perspective all the same.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  2. Tried to get into D&D at college many (many MANY) moons ago. Along with 3 buddies, paid my membership fee to the College Gaming Association (they organized games for new players), was told “we’re in the middle of a game, but we will call you as soon as a new one starts.” Their call came in the middle of final exams that semester (only 3 months later!).

    Kindly told them to stick it up their behinds. Have not tried since.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  3. I find that i more enjoy reading about games now then actually playing them. I can picture how fun it would be but i just don’t jump into playing anymore. I was very into some WW2 tactics games but that is years ago. The last game i thought about trying to get into was the Star Trek Online game but i just don’t have the drive. I’m guessing at some point, some game will hook me. However i do have a nifty Asteroids game i enjoy at times. Live D and D would be fun, if i knew anybody to play with.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  4. The best (read: most realistic) combat system in a tabletop RPG was GURPS, last time I checked ’em all, which was a while.

    It’s largely because the entire game system was built on top of a gladiatorial combat system. If you want to really have a realistic man-to-man fight, it’s the way to go. It also turns combat sessions during your RPG into… well, let’s be generous and call them a “time sink”.

    It also doesn’t scale well up past normal human capabilities. The mass combat rules are megh.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  5. Some day I want to create my own D&D style RPG and incorporate all my favorite elements (aspects; not wind, earth, fire, etc. ) from all my favorite role-playing games. Maybe I’ll do so when my children are old enough to play (and if they haven’t lost any of the geekiness I am and will be trying to instill in their hearts).

      Quote  Link

    Report

    • We started our boys out on large foam dice during our regular Sunday Afternoon Games. (We even had a table of “Random Baby Action” that could spell doom or treasure depending on the load level of the diaper) The babies from our group are teenagers now and still have our Sunday Afternoon games. Start them young, teach them life as chaotic good and you will enjoy the rewards of long car trips. Although my combat bard with extra mime skill was put in a large hamster ball by the DM due to the excessive (his words) singing. Can I help it that random phrases are all song cues, and when you are a combat bard (+4 bagpipes) you have to play when the muse strikes!

        Quote  Link

      Report

  6. There seem to be two schools of D&D players — those who focus on narrative and those who focus on rules. I was never much of a “rules lawyer” and always looked for a good storyteller to be the DM. Since these wound up being in short supply, I took over DM duty a lot — and this turned out to be a balancing act, between trying to guide my players down a narrative on the one hand, and dealing with their inherent unpredictability on the other. It took a while before I was able to craft a campaign that fit their personalities but doing so rewarded us all nicely. My players went on to be spoiled by this treatment later — catching up to them later in life, I find they kept up the D&D and were always annoyed when their new DM’s insisted on following the rulebooks exactly. “The rules serve the story, not the other way around,” is the winning philosophy in my book.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  7. I played D&D from close to the beginning — 1979 or so.

    I’d love to play now. But who has the time? Most of the friends I played with are [nominal] grown-ups with jobs and kids, like me. The days of lazy Saturdays with 12-hour gaming marathons are long over.

    But my son is 10 this week — and he shows promise. Hopefully I can start gaming with him and his friends soon.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  8. Although it’s not a perfect replacement, I’ve found that Neverwinter Nights persistent worlds tend to offer quite a bit of the highs that can come from tabletop D&D sessions, including the most important: the organic friendship/community.

    I’d recommend it if you don’t have the time to keep up a regularly scheduled tabletop game, but would still like to do your collaborative storytelling through gaming angle…(shameless plug! Always looking for new players at the World of Avlis! http://www.avlis.org )

      Quote  Link

    Report

  9. I only got to play D&D a few times, growing up. We moved so often I never had the same set of friends for very long.

    In Africa, there wasn’t any radio and obviously no TV. Somewhere along the line, very early, probably second grade, I found I could cobble together an original story as fast as I could tell it. First my roommates, then kids from other rooms, would come around to hear me tell stories. First one kid, then another, would interject, wanting a reappearance of a character from another story I’d told. It got to be a problem: so I was made a regular at Story Time at the end of the day, where the dorm parents would normally read from a book.

    I told my own children such stories, though they were read a great deal of fiction aloud. My son became a good gamer, far too much WoW, but D&D wasn’t popular among his friends. I think he eventually found D&D through the comic book shop, where he hung out a good deal more than was good for him.

    I only DMed twice, as I recall. Same skill set applied, and I was told I was good at it. Often wonder what I might have become, if I’d become a writer of stories instead of software, juggling characters and situations instead of variables and queries.

    Narrative really is key to such things.

    Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
    As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
    Are melted into air, into thin air:
    And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
    The cloud-capp’d tow’rs, the gorgeous palaces,
    The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
    Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
    And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
    Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
    As dreams are made on; and our little life
    Is rounded with a sleep.

      Quote  Link

    Report

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *