Dungeons and Dragons 101

You may have heard of Baldur’s Gate 3, a grand revival of a widely renowned franchise, but heard it uses Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition as a chassis. Or perhaps a friend or family member has been gushing at the dinner table over some grand adventure they took part in where they defeated a powerful lich and saved the realm. Maybe instead you simply find yourself constantly being advertised about some grand new module or expansion to Dungeons and Dragons. Regardless of where you heard of it, you’re now aware of Dungeons and Dragons. But what is it exactly? Why should you play? Are there any benefits to it over other similar forms of entertainment? All these questions shall be answered by yours truly! Having played Dungeons and Dragons and their ilk for over 13 years now, I feel confident in my power to provide satisfactory answers!  

Do note that whilst this article will be focused primarily on Dungeons and Dragons, which fits inside the high fantasy genre, there are tons of different flavors of the game, and Dungeons and Dragons has become a blanket term to refer to the genre of tabletop RPGs as a whole for many. Whatever genre is your go-to, you will find multiple games to whet your appetite . Not a fan of fantasy, but have a soft spot for futuristic sci fi? Want to be superheroes? Survivors in a horror setting? Or perhaps you desire something entirely different? Whatever you wish, you can find it with the proper game system and a good group to play with. 

What is Dungeons and Dragons? Dungeons and Dragons (henceforth referred to as DnD) is a unique beast in the menagerie of entertainment. Created in 1974 by Gary Gygax and David Arneson as a more personalized approach to miniature wargames. Its creation sparked the beginning of an evolution in role-playing games, and is widely recognized as both the catalyst that sparked the success of the role-playing industry, and being responsible for its continued success to this day.

DnD on average involves 5 people playing cooperatively to tell ever changing stories. Four “players” take on the roles of “player characters” (PCs),the central cast that the story follows. The players can choose from several ‘classes’ to help flesh out their characters.  Many of these are archetypical classics, such as wizards, barbarians and clerics. The final person takes on the role of “Dungeon Master” (DM). Their role is a bit more complex, taking control of every other character (referred to as Non Player Characters/NPCs), facilitating the events of the plot and getting the wheels turning, and controlling the enemies of the party as they drive the narrative forward. They also act as arbiters of the table to make sure everyone has fun and that the rules are followed.

The name itself evokes the idea of battling dragons and exploring dungeons, and in those lies two of the three great pillars that its gameplay revolves around. Specifically, they are exploration, combat and roleplay. Every group will prioritize different pillars with varied importance, and therein lies much of its nuance. 

As the game progresses, characters gain experience and increase in strength, becoming capable of taking on greater challenges. A group starting out may only be able to take on bandits, goblins or the occasional undead, but by the end of story they’ll be able to best liches, dragons and Demi-gods. 

Why should you play? Are there benefits to it over other forms of entertainment? In addition to what was already stated, at its core, Dungeons and Dragons offers a unique experience attainable in no other entertainment form. It grants you the freedom to do whatever your heart desires, and the ability to come up with creative solutions to problems. Books, movies and shows offer great stories with interesting characters and action, but any individual series is static and unchanging. A movie’s ending won’t change after you watch it again. Where many video games often boast that you can take on their challenges in whatever way you wish, the intrinsic nature of their format and the limitations of a game’s coding invariably leaves you with a limited number of options at your disposal. In DnD, not only are the stories ever changing and ever evolving, but they boast unlimited possible outcomes and paths for a story to develop, and allow you to help shape the story yourself. Your actions and desires shape the plot in a way no other medium offers. In DnD, the only limit is the imagination of the players. Each game, group, character, and experience is unique. What the group puts into the game is what they get out of it. 

This open-endedness invites, and I daresay challenges, you to push the bounds of your creativity and imagination as you seek out new and interesting ways to overcome obstacles. A locked door is more than a barrier to entry. The approach to its solution is a question on the identity of the party. Do they pick the lock? Break down the door? Bypass it with magic? Pickpocket the key from a guard? Convince them you’re on the list and should be let in? Smash a hole in the wall? Grant the door sentience and befriend it? Even the simplest of tasks can be an opportunity for expression and creativity, and things are rarely simple in DnD.  Continuous playing of the game can improve your creative, communicational and improvisational skills, as you’re constantly using all of them. 

Lastly,  and I hope my words have conveyed this thought to you already, but it’s just plain fun. It can be silly, epic, heartfelt and badass, all in one game session. And depending on the group, a story can be made up of dozens to even hundreds of those sessions. Its adaptability lets you make sure that the game is exactly the kind of fun you need. Some groups prefer a more humorous and more lackadaisical approach to playing, others wish to deeply ingrain themselves into the characters and the world. Some wish to focus on the combat and the feeling of badassery it often invokes. And they’re all right. As long as your group is like minded and agrees on it, any playstyle can be the right way to play. 

And… that’s a wrap!  Dungeon and Dragons is a game that can be played by anyone and that everyone can enjoy. It has numerous benefits, and offers an experience entirely unlike any other form of entertainment. Join me next time where I will do a deep dive into how to get into the hobby, resources available to help you play the game, recommendations for how to start and tips for your setting up and playing your first game, as well as an etiquette guide for new players to help make sure your game is fun for the whole group!  Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed it, and until next time, stay healthy!

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