Dungeons and Dragons, gate to the occult or harmless tabletop game? Where did it come from? How is it played? What is the truth behind it? Being a Christian, and an active player of Dungeon and Dragons, I will attempt to bring these answers out.
Although I would love to jump right into the history, morality and safety of Dungeons & Dragons, or D&D, to have an unbiased opinion one must first understand how it is played. So instead of telling you the history of D&D in-depth, I will first do a brief explanation of the rules.
D&D is a tabletop role-playing game. This basically means that it is played with paper, pencils, dice and miniatures. One must not mistake it for a simple board game; it is exceedingly complex (there are dozens of published rulebooks, each several hundred pages long), and it can take months, or even years to finish one game.
In the game each player (except one) takes the roll of a character in the pretend world. These characters are called player characters, or PCs. At the beginning of a game, for example, one of my friends is playing a dragonborn warlord named Levac, and another is playing an elf rouge named Gennan. Everything about the PCs is recorded on a character sheet such as race, class, skills and abilities, or items and gold owned. The other player, who did not take control of a PC, is the dungeon master, or DM. the DM’s role is to create the world (displayed on a grid of 2.5cm*2.5cm squares) that the PCs are in. This includes towns, castles, monsters, non-player characters (NPCs), treasure and anything
else you can think of. It is also the DM’s job to write the story and mediate between different PC’s.
D&D is run on what is called the D20 System. This means that it uses several polyhedral dice (fig.1) to determine almost anything that may take place in the game world, from the swing of a sword, to attempting to pick a lock, to trying to convince a king to give you a better reward. Dice are referred to as “D” with the number of sides displayed as a number: an eight sided die would be referred to as a D8 for instance. The dice that are used are D4, D6, D8, D10, D12 and D20. Quite commonly two D10’s are used to simulate a one-hundred sided die to be used for percentages.
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The reason it is called the D20 System, is because the D20 is the most commonly used of all the dice. It is the die that one rolls to make a “check”. (This is why I am giving an overview of the rules first. I am quite sure you have absolutely no idea what “making a check” is.) A check is when you roll a D20, and add it to a skill modifier and compare it against a set number. For example, if you were trying to climb a tree, you would look at your acrobatics skill, and roll a D20. You want these numbers to be high. If the total is higher than the number the DM set for the minimum to climb the tree, you successfully climb the tree. If it is lower, you fail at climbing the tree, and if it is low enough it is possibly you fall and take damage.
Taking damage basically means that the character has been injured. When you take damage, you remove some of you’re hit points, or HP. When your total hit points are reduced to zero or less, you die. It is not just PC’s health that is measured in HP however; monsters NPCs and even some objects (like a chest or door) can have HP.
Although these rules seem quite complex, they are very simple. The complex part is when different items or abilities come into play. To quote the Players Handbook 1, D&D has “simple rules, many exceptions. Every class, race, feat, power, and monster in the D&D game lets you break the rules in some way. These can be very minor ways: Most characters don’t know how to use longbows, but every elf doesâ€¦. these game elements are little ways of breaking the rules-and most of the books published for the D&D game are full of these game elements” (F11)
There are many reasons why D&D is so successful (there are millions of players worldwide), but one of the biggest ones is the way the rules work. Once you know the first basic rules, the rest come quite naturally to your understanding. Another reason the rules make the game so popular is how adaptable they are. Although D&D is typically run in a fantasy world with knights, castles and dragons to slay, it can be run in any conceivable universe from sci-fi, to a medieval era where magic is only a thing of legends, or even a modern-day setting. To give you an example, the movies Pitch Black and The Chronicles of Riddick are both D&D campaigns that have been made into films. The actor Vin Diesel played a PC in both campaigns, and also takes the role of Riddick, the main character, in the films.
This kind of versatility means that there are literally infinite possibilities for story and game play, something that other board and video games cannot give. With the story
limited only by the DM’s imagination and the players’ readiness to accept this story and go along with it, no game will ever be played the same. The player might have to root out crime and corruption in a major city and its governing council in one game, while in
another they delve into ancient ruins seeking gold and artifacts, with only their own profit in mind. In a video game the story is always basically the same, with a few different changes depending on ones play style, and a game of Monopoly always seems to end with one player controlling 80% of the properties and having hotels built on all of them. Although people may play in a similar setting, with the standard quest types (“stop the evil wizard”, “save the village”, and “go kill things for loot” being a few typical examples) the game will never play out exactly the same, making it a rather refreshing activity for gamers.
Now that you know basically how and why it is played, we will now take a look at when it was first created.
Dungeons and Dragons was created and built upon by Jeff Perren and Gary Gyrax in 1974. It was Perren who had the original idea, but Gyrax has most if not almost all of the fame and credit today. Gyrax isn’t stealing credit however; Perren’s idea had not been for an rpg (role-playing game), rather a war-game.
War-gaming as been around for millennia, possibly starting with the Egyptians. It is basically two or more players controlling armies of miniatures each, pitting the armies against each other on a board or table top. Some examples of war-game are Warhammer, Little Wars, and chess. What Perren eventually produced, with Gyrax’s help, was Chainmail: a relatively average war-game.
While they were working on the rules for Chainmail, Gyrax started writing rules for one-on-one combat (rather than platoons of soldiers), fantastical creatures, and other things based around the individual characters in a world rather that an entire army.
In 1974 fantasy novels such as The Lord of the Rings and Three Hearts and Three Lions were quite popular and Dungeons and Dragons “borrowed” a lot of material from these and other sources. They even had to change names to avoid copyright infringement. One good example of this is “Hobbits” being changed to “Halflings”.
In 1974 Gyrax’s rules were published and Advanced Dungeons and Dragons first hit the shelves. Once on the shelves, however, it did not get a chance to collect much in the way of dust. D&D became exceedingly popular, and getting a copy of the rulebook was quite difficult. People would literally camp outside of book and hobby stores to wait for the next shipment. Many entire groups were only using a photocopy, which makes things difficult as each player should have a copy (not having a copy of the books for everyone is still a problem in some places, like in my group, and it can really bog the game down when you need to look at 4 pages at once in the same book). Dice were also hard to come by “â€¦two game groups might have only one twelve sided die between them that they would have to share. Others didn’t have dice at all, but bowls full of numbered chits…”(I1)
Some other problems involved with the first edition of D&D were common misprinting in the book and the lack of rules in some areas, For example, if you wanted to duel wield swords rather than duel wielding a sword and a dagger. It would make sense
for it to be easier to have a small weapon and a large weapon, rather than two large weapons but there were no rules to say just how much easier it was.
In 1989 Advanced Dungeons and Dragons second edition was published and what some people call “The Golden Age of Gaming” began. Many if not all of the previous typos were fixed, new rules were added and many older rules were made more streamlined. Also, the books were more easily available and dice became less scarce. Individual groups still had to rely heavily on “house-rules”, rules created by the players and DM because of a lack of a rule for the specific situation in the books, but that was how people liked it. It was this sort of freedom that people loved about D&D.
In the year 2000, Dungeons and Dragons version 3 was released, but two years later, in 2002, it was updated to v3.5. This was the version that had the most supplement books published for it. I would love to list them here, but there are so many it would not only waste space, but take several hours trying to find the titles of all of them. Let it just be said that there are well over fifty, and those are just full length books published by Wizards of the Coast. These books added new races, classes, skills, items and monsters. They also fixed even more of the missing rules from earlier editions. Many people loved this edition because house-rules were rarely needed if you had bought the books related to that topic. Many people resented it because it made their precious, free-roaming game set into grooves.
In 2008 the latest edition came out. D&D 4.0 has been praised and ridiculed for simplifying the game. By simplifying I mean taking away older, perhaps crazier, classes and abilities. It did do some good at that though, by removing the Appraise skill, people
now exactly what an item does when they pick it up, instead of having to check, or even pay someone to check for them. Someone on a forum (anonymous) said “the appraise skill is about as useful as a “use rope” skill”. By that he/she meant that it is something you would have to put points into to avoid a huge inconvenience, and there was no reason to have it as a separate skill.
The latest book for 4.0 came out December twenty-fifth, 2009 and another is scheduled for release in January 2010. It appears that Wizards of the Coast is trying to bring the vast amount of material available for 3.5 into 4.0’s format.
Something else noteworthy is the creation of many D&D video games and novels. These are generally quite successful, partially due to the fact that they are D&D paraphernalia, but also because they have an intriguing story line. For instance, the games Neverwinter Nights and Neverwinter Nights 2 are both actual D&D campaigns that someone has made into a video game. The Dragonlance novels are simply a set of related stories, but they use D&D lore, such as the presence of certain monsters or similarities between characters in the book and possible classes for your character in the game, including paladins and warriors. One major Video game is Dungeons and Dragons Online. This is an MMORPG, or massively multi-player online role playing game, meaning thousands of players are all connected via the internet to cooperate, trade, compete, duel, or most frequently ignore each other. Although you might think this would be a hit among D&D players, it really wasn’t. Many of the game mechanics were changed to make it suitable for online play. Also, you cannot write your own story, or try
absolutely anything you want, because a computer has replaced the traditional human DM, and of course the computer is limited by its programming.
And now, the part you suffered through the previous pages for: controversy.
Over the years D&D has earned a bad reputation. This is not the kind of bad reputation most games get (one for not being a fun game). This is the kind of bad reputation that white supremacists and Satanists get. D&D has been accused of being racist, extremely addictive, causing suicides and a gateway to the occult (among other things).
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The accusations of being racist are not just rants and ravings of fanatics, but they are misinterpretations of the rulebooks. A skeptic might say “D&D is racist because everyone must pick a race for their character, and this has major effects on the characters statistics.” This is 100% true; however, the term “race” in D&D does not apply to skin color or culture. It applies to something closer to species. Some of the races for D&D are quite common in fantasy universes, dwarves, elves, gnomes and of course humans fit into these categories. Other races are not so common in other universes, including the bird-like kenku, and the reptilian dragonborn.
Another misconception is that in the player’s handbook it mentions that Hitler would be an excellent example for someone with a high charisma points. This leads people to believe that D&D players think that Hitler was a pretty nice guy. The people who think this did not look too closely at the definition of charisma in D&D.
Charisma in D&D is how people react to you. It involves conversation skills and natural charm. Hitler was an evil man, and he was not very physically imposing, how
ever he managed to convince people to carry out his commands by sheer force of words. Skills like diplomacy and bluff rely heavily on your charisma.
There a few stories that say some troubled youth killed themselves because they play D&D. One story involves a boy who was always alone in his basement playing D&D by himself, and killed himself because he was doing poorly in the game. This story is ludicrous, simply because D&D requires a bare minimum of two people to play, but the ideal number is six. Also, if he were by him self, he could simply change what is happening in the world that his character is doing so badly in.
Another story with some truth to it is one of a boy who disappeared into the school’s steam tunnels. After a lengthy search with no results, the family hired a private investigator to find him. The investigator, after asking around, found that the boy played D&D. He then told the reporters that he thought the boy had gone into the steam tunnels to try playing D&D in real life. The press exaggerated this, as they do many other things, and took it as fact. A few weeks later the investigator found the boy, who had skipped around some of his friend’s houses. He told the private investigator that he had entered the steam tunnels to commit suicide, but had failed and he had tried once more in the time since he had vanished, and asked the man not to tell his story, and the man agreed. This kept story in the dark for quite some time until the boy’s next try at killing himself, which did not fail. Many people say that this boy may have tried to kill himself because of D&D. While possible, it must also be noted that he had been depressed well before he started playing, and killed himself long after he stopped.
Some people accuse D&D of having detailed instructions for real-world satanic spells and rituals. While it is absolutely true that D&D, being a fantasy game, has spells and rituals, they are far from real, and they give no such instructions to be carried out in the real world. Fig.1 shows a spell and a ritual. This is all of the information given on them, basic requirements, the effects and a short description of what it does. Although you need to have a full understanding of how the game works, it should be easy to tell that these could have no real-world significance. Another point towards this and addiction, D&D is no more addictive or contains nothing more harmful than any of today’s video games.
So is D&D dangerous? Only if you and your friends are willing to make a world of hatred and evil, will the game be evil. D&D is what you make it while you play it.
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