Since the success of Netflix’s series “Stranger Things” and the de-stigmatization of “nerd” culture, Dungeon and Dragons (D&D) has gained immense popularity. Dungeons and Dragons is a role playing game (RPG), which essentially means that the participants play as the characters in a story, not unlike a video game. However, RPGs have something that no movie, video game or any other medium can replicate: they give the player unlimited freedom. In movies, the characters are limited to following a script to solve problems, but in games like Dungeons and Dragons, you will find that the best solutions are often the ones that aren’t planned.
Usually, when I bring up D&D in a conversation on campus, my friends either say, “It’s something I always wanted to try, but I don’t know how to get into it,” or “It seems too complicated.” Despite stereotypes and common assumptions, playing D&D is actually not complicated at all. It certainly has the potential to be, but most games are very casual and are simply another way to have fun with friends. As for finding a way to try it out, having an experienced player certainly helps in a group situation when people don’t any prior experience with the game.
To play D&D, all you need is your imagination and a way to roll dice. That’s it. Everything else are just extra things that you can add to the game to enhance the experience. In essence, D&D is a game where you say something like, “I throw my dagger at the dragon,” and then you roll a 20 sided die (D20) to see if you succeed. If the number is above a set threshold, then you succeed, and if it’s below, then you fail.
Each game consists of two types of players — Dungeon Masters and Player Characters.
The Dungeon Master’s job is simply to be the storyteller. This person describes what is happening and decides the threshold to succeed on an action. If the player wants to climb a tree, the DM may decide that the tree is pretty easy to climb and make the threshold 8, so if the player rolls a D20 and gets an 8 or above, they succeed in climbing the tree. Typically, they are also the ones planning the adventure and coming up with a plot line for the PCs to play through, though for new players who don’t want to spend time making a story, there are many quick adventures online that others have already written. Being a DM requires a lot of improvisation and it is the hardest role in the game, but it is incredibly rewarding. The key to being a good DM is remembering that it’s normal to go off script.
Normal games have one DM, with the rest of the group being players. As a player, your job is to work with the other members to accomplish a task that the DM usually sets for you, or one that you decide for yourself. As stated before, you will roll a 20 sided die to determine success or failure in a task. However, as a player, you also get stats. For example, if your character is very strong, they may get a +2 to any roll that has to do with feats of strength, or if they are very charismatic, you could get a +3 on your roll when you are trying to persuade someone to do something.
A typical Dungeons and Dragons game will usually sound something like this:
DM: You all are in a dark, musty dungeon. In front of you is a door and there is a small, wooden chest on the left hand side.
Player: I want to open the chest.
DM: The chest is locked.
Player: Can I break open the chest with my axe?
DM: Roll a strength check. (Thinking) The chest is made of decently strong wood. I will make the threshold 14.
Player rolls a D20 and gets a 12. Their character is incredibly strong and gets +3 to strength, so they add 12+3.
Player: I got 15.
DM: You slam your axe on the chest which bursts into splinters revealing a mysterious, glowing sapphire ring.
For more examples of Dungeons and Dragons games, there is a free podcast called “The Adventure Zone” that has amazing storytelling. There is also a YouTube channel called Geek and Sundry whose series Critical Role is a D&D game comprised of voice actors.
Dungeons and Dragons is an incredible medium through which you can express your creativity as a storyteller or as a player. Each game is unique, and you will find no two people who have had the same exact experience. I urge anyone who is thinking about it to at least give it a shot. It’s all the fun of adventuring, but from the comfort of an air-conditioned room.