Rambling on the Nature of D&D

I’ve been thinking about writing this post for several days now and have no idea where to begin.  I’d like to write for a bit on what I think Dungeons and Dragons is.

It’s a game, dummy.  It’s not that hard. Well, yes.  It is a game.  But it’s a kind of game that most folk don’t play.  Most of us probably played games like it when we were small, games that could be called make-believe, dress-up, or let’s-pretend.  But then we grew up and games became more structured.  Board games, card games, sports.  Our games, assuming we still played them, became more rigid, less fluid.  Most games that adults play have less room for imagination and more strict adherence to rules.

Dungeons and Dragons is like a return to the games of pretend that we played as children, but with more adult sensibilities.  Sort of.  I’m not telling it right.  While it is kind of like six people sitting around a table pretending to be elves and dwarves and shit, it’s also something more.  It’s like exercising the imagination.  It’s a group storytelling.

Yes, that’s it. It’s group storytelling.  We all sit around a table and tell each other stories.  But we agree on a setting – in this case, a fantasy world – and then we all tell parts of the same story.  The players each take up the duty of telling the story of one of the main characters and the Dungeon Master takes up the duty of telling the story of how the world reacts to the main characters.  That’s not to say that the players have no say in telling the world’s story, too, but that’s a good place to start.

Everyone at the table agrees to stop feeling silly around one another long enough to tell a story together.  They can act it out using funny voices or physically moving about, or they can describe what happens in simple prose, or they can use the game’s mechanical terminology and dice rolls to help them put thought into word.

So what’s with the dice? Ah, there’s where it comes back to being a game.  The setting we have chosen for our story’s heroes is one not without danger.  We use the dice to help add an element of the random into the story, an element of danger for the characters, reminding us that the best laid plans…

Anybody else have an opinion on the subject?  Leave it in the comments.  (As for what actually happens at the table, Zak over at D&D with Porn Stars had a really good post recently on how the game is actually played that I found quite amusing, if you’re interested.  Warning: site sometimes NSFW.)


3 Responses to “Rambling on the Nature of D&D”

  1. Speaking of Zak’s How to Play post, did you find it odd that he wrote that 3 days after you wrote about our noob-training session?

    Makes me think of Time-Life’s Mysteries of the Unknown commercials. That one’s an age test for the readers.

  2. It’s maybe a little odd, but as I read these D&D blogs I see a lot of comments where people say “I was just going to write this post!” So I’m beginning to wonder if all of us D&D bloggers aren’t on some kind of similar wavelength where we all end up posting similar things at around the same time. Some kind of mystic DM connection.

    Or maybe Zak and I just both have newbs, so we think about newb issues.

  3. Running for newb’s is lot’s of fun. I usually start D&D Gameday’s by DMing for pre-teens, what a riot. Thank You for commenting on my blog. I just started it a few weeks ago, and I’m learning alot from it.
    If you’re looking for a way to give your player’s a sense of impending doom without killing them off try a homemade critical miss chart. Everyone rolls a (1) one sometime. My players actually rat each other out when they crit miss.

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