Dungeons and Dragons is the staple of Roleplaying board games. Not even kidding, people who have never even heard of RPGs know what this game is. Every geek worth their salt has played for at least a couple of years. But the world of Roleplaying board games is so much bigger than just DnD. There are big challenging games like Pathfinder, atmospheric horror games like Call of C’thulhu, real time live-action roleplaying games like the World of Darkness series, overly-complicated situation-sensitive behemoths like Battletech and even games that help you recreate historic battles like Waterloo and whole war campaigns like Hannibal’s march on Rome. There’s superhero board games, adventure board games, board games where you build trains and cities and games where you try to catch Jack the Ripper or gather a crew to brave the deepest regions of space. So what is DnD? The tip of the iceberg and probably the best place to start learning how these puppies work.
So… why DnD? Why start with a game that has a system that has been reworked and polished by countless other games. Well for one it introduces you to the social requirements of a board game. Games like these take time to play and a DnD storyline could take anywhere between two or three games and a handful of decades to complete, especially if you’re going from level one to max level. So the first thing you’re gonna need is the skills to keep a game together, interact with other players and organize meetings. Also it introduces you pretty easily to your new best friend: the numbers. These games are big on numbers. Back in the days before computers could do more than calculate basic math, you had to keep track of everything by hand. Health, attacks, modifiers, armor, traveling, food, weight, speed, skills, talents, classes, even your roleplaying personality are all kept in check by numbers and categories. Yeah, I know, this sounds like preparing TPS reports for your job sometimes, but trust me, this game hasn’t lived through half a dozen editions and several decades by being a boring schlock.
So where did DnD come from? In short: DnD was created by this wonderful human being called Gary Gygax and published in 1974. The idea supposedly came up while Gygax and some guys were playing one of those war campaign recreation games I mentioned two paragraphs ago. See, before DnD that was mostly what existed in terms of roleplaying board games: war games (Not the movie). They were fun if not a bit nut-crushingly complicated. So the late great Gygax had a thought: We’re here moving troops around… But what if you played an individual soldier? Add some well-marinated Tolkien and BAM! Gygax just Emeril Lagasse’d Dungeons and Dragons.
And this thing was huge, oh let me tell ya. It took the gaming world by storm, in that it CREATED the gaming world or at least made it what it is today. Suddenly there were thousands of people playing this all over the world. There were expansions, there were action figures, novels, it made videogames, people made cheap knockoffs and in the 80’s it even began a series of scandals claiming that it promoted satanic worship contemporarily known as “The Satanic Panic”. There was even a movie about the supposedly true story of how the game ruined some kid’s life called “Mazes and Monsters” (based on the book of the same name) starring a young Tom Hanks. (Spoilers: It’s terrible)
So there you go, now you know what DnD is. It’s been one hell of a ride but we are just starting! In this series of articles I’m hoping to cover all the basics of DnD: how to make a group, how to make a character, what’s a Dungeon Master, how to make a campaign, what editions to use, the different playing styles, monsters and mythos among many many many many many other possible topics. Plus we’ll probably dive into the world of board games outside DnD with stuff like Champions, licensed games, Shadowrun, Pathfinder, World of Darkness and maybe some more oddball roleplaying experiences like Munchkin and Letters from Whitechapel. So get ready for a very different kind of gaming.