Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A research paper on Dungeons and Dragons

As a child, I spent most of my time with my head in the clouds. I spent hours of my time playing pretend and imagining, wandering through all the space and time within my mind, creating adventures with friends and fighting the imaginary bad guys. Even though my friends and I were so small, we allowed our minds to create worlds around us, and there was so much to learn and so much fun to be had. As I've grown older, I've found myself more attracted to studies of mathematics and logic, and grew especially partial to dramatic expression, and really just theatre as a whole. Playing pretend was generally frowned upon, being that a six-and-a-half foot tall man swinging toy lightsabers and talking to himself pretty much has a guaranteed trip to the Psych Ward of his local hospital. After stumbling across an animated series online about two friends in an asinine game of Dungeons and Dragons, I began to take some interest. The show was fun, and illustrated how D&D could be played in a manner not generally associated with the negative stigma of the game, depicted by fanatical nerds in musty basements, screaming about “casting Magic Missile” and eating massive quantities of cheetohs, but rather as a fun way of regaining some of that imagination lost in our childhood and combining it with the resourcefulness learned later in life, and adding the ever-present element of luck.

Dungeons and Dragons was published in 1973 by creators Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, both veteran wargamers. A derivative of Gygax' original solo RPG game, Chainmail, D&D featured an aspect to gameplay typically unseen within the games of the time. Rather than playing as a General controlling armies against one another, Gygax proposed a game with players controlling a single character, and working together for a common goal, such as raiding a dungeon, saving a princess, or returning an enchanted relic to the Fairy King. Arneson and Gygax launched their company, Tactical Studies Rules, or TSR, to distribute the game. Though originally perceived to be just another war game, D&D was soon seen as much more, and launched an entire industry. In 1976, the first supplement, Blackmoor, was released, authored by Dave Arneson. Blackmoor featured campaign ideas for the quests that groups of players could use in their games, saving the game leaders, or “Dungeon Masters” a bit of trouble, as they didn't have to create campaigns entirely themselves anymore.

Dungeons and Dragons is a game that requires at least two people to play, though the rulebooks establish the optimum number for playing is approximately six. One of these players takes upon the role of the “Dungeon Master”, or “DM”. This player is usually the person who decided to get a group together to play, but the Dungeon Master's Guide for Version 4.0 states that this isn't always the case. The Dungeon Master is responsible for leading the group, serving as the narrator, and choosing the actions of all Non-Player Characters, or “NPCs”, including enemies of the party of characters. Sometimes multiple players will team up to play Dungeon Master, or alternate after a certain number of games played with the group so that everyone has an opportunity to play as a character. The other players, of course, play characters in the party. The characters must all have a race (such as Human, Elf, Dwarf, etc.), and a class (such as Bard, Wizard, Warrior, Barbarian, Cleric, etc.), each specializing in different aspects of gameplay. Players are encouraged to build characters complimentary to one another's and work as a team to become more efficient in their various encounters throughout the fantasy world they inhabit.

When creating a character, a player must go through a process that make take several hours their first time to get acquainted with the immense possibilities they can choose for their character. Being that players aren't always ensured they'll even enjoy the game, they tend to take as much time as necessary to create a character they feel the most comfortable playing with. This process is usually assisted by a veteran player to suggest which feats and skills to take and how to calculate stats.

The first thing that must be determined are the ability scores. These abilities include Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma. Each has respective effects on the character's ability to interact with the world once the game has started.

Second is the race of the character. Although many players start with Human characters, other races include Elves, Dwarves, Half-Elves, Gnomes, Halflings, and Half-Orcs, among several others. Races aren't a superfluous part of the game, and though they may help the players develop the characters' motivations, each race comes with statistical changes to the character, such as a halfling not being as strong as a half-orc, (thus having less Strength but gaining Dexterity) or a dwarf not being as social as a human (causing a negative effect on Charisma, but a boost in Strength).

The third step is choosing a class. Classes are essentially the character's occupation. Classes include Barbarian, Bard, Cleric, Druid, Fighter, Monk, Paladin, Ranger, Rogue, Sorcerer, and Wizard, as well as several added in the Player's Handbook II for Version 3.5. As with races, each presents the player with a different motivation for the character, and modifies statistics and allows certain skills to be used.

The final few decisions are at hand. You must pick feats, which are another form of special abilities. You may then select an alignment of behavior. Alignment works on two axises. There's good and evil, or a neutral in between, in addition to lawful and chaotic, and a neutral of the two. You could have a good character who is chaotic, thus behaving like Robin Hood by breaking the law for the greater good, or a lawful, evil character who plays by the rules but only wishes to benefit himself. A chaotic neutral character thus believes that it's ok to break the law to benefit one's self, as long as you don't incur suffering of others in the process. After these steps have been completed, you just have to calculate the necessary information based on your selections and write them on your character sheet, and then you're ready to play.

Though the setup is a boring process, once you're finished the game makes up for it entirely. This is proved by D&D's peak of activity during the mid 1980's, when there were an estimated 10 million players. Today there's only approximately 4 million. Though there may now be fewer players, named Gary Gygax the 17th most influential person in the history of modern video gaming, just below J.R.R. Tolkien.

Unfortunately, in 2008, Gary Gygax passed away, and shortly after in 2009, Dave Arneson did as well. Upon the announcement of Gygax’s death, the internet was flooded with materials in tribute, ranging from simple poems with references to the game he created, to webcomics featuring Gygax playing against Death in a game of D&D, with Death sitting at a table with a cell phone saying “You know how when someone dies they can challenge me to a game for their soul? …We didn’t count on this guy. I might be a while…. Oh Jesus, he’s getting out another rule book!”(XKCD)

Upon release of the 30th anniversary Dungeons and Dragons retrospective, many celebrities, including Vin Diesel and Robin Williams, wrote parts to be included in the book, showing how it influenced them in their youth. New writers have taken the helm that was once led by Gygax and Arneson, and Dungeons and Dragons has launched it’s newest version, 4.0, to mixed reception by fans. Though it may not be the glory days for Dungeons and Dragons anymore, it’s cultural impact and place as a social gathering is even more apparent than at it’s peak.

Despite it's general message of friendship, teamwork, and problem solving (valuable traits taught emphatically by children's television shows like Pokemon.), many have claimed that Dungeons and Dragons has certain unsuitable moral implications. Evangelist Jack Chick featured Dungeons and Dragons in one of his evangelical comic strips, where Dungeons and Dragons is supposedly a tool for recruiting players into witchcraft and demon worship, and sponsoring suicide and murder. Though any connections to such activities were drawn by fanaticals, ignoring the millions of players showing no negative changes from the game for the few, dangerous individuals who had ever come in contact with the game. Also ignored were such pieces of evidence as clinical depression, childhood abuse, and other legitimate causes for rash actions committed by those few players.

TSR responded to accusations of training players to use witchcraft and demon worship by removing material that could be deemed to do so, and in effect began to create their own mythology and stories. Eventually, in 2000, demons were reintroduced to the game, though those who chose to interact with them were usually of evil alignment. In the first appendix to Gygax's guide to being a good Game Master, he declares “'Thar's demons in them-thar games!' cry the fanatical opponents of RPGs generally and those dealing with fantasy and magic in particular.” and continues “It is certain that some fools actually believe that game materials and imagined events are 'real.'... These folk can't seem to separate fantasy from reality.”

Dungeons and Dragons has been a template for many further role-playing games. These games include table-top gaming such as Shadowrun, video games such as the Final Fantasy series and the recent Fallout 3, live-action role-playing games such as Mind's Eye Theatre, as well as miniature war games such as Warhammer, or card games like Magic: The Gathering (Also published by Wizards of the Coast). The concepts of playing a single character through an adventure, using “points” to monitor health, and using mathematics to calculate hypothetical battles set the stage for the video game industry, which is founded entirely on what ideas brought forth in D&D. As unlikely as it is that the brainchild of two wargamers who met at a convention in Indiana would go on to spawn several industries that would impact not only American culture, but to inspire people worldwide to imagine and create, to not let their imagination die in adulthood, but let it flourish and grow. As unlikely as it is that such a thing would happen, it did, and as odd as a statement as it is, I would be proud to be quoted in saying that the creation of Dungeons and Dragons is a staple in world history.

Works Cited

Dungeons and Dragons Player’s Handbook Core Rulebook I Ver 3.5. Renton, WA: Wizards of the Coast inc., 2005. Print.

Dungeons and Dragons Dungeon Master’s Guide Core Rulebook II Ver 3.5. Renton, WA: Wizards of the Coast inc., 2005. Print.

Munroe, Randall. “Ultimate Game.” XKCD. 2008. Rogers High School Library.

Gygax, Gary. Master of the Game. New York, NY: The Putnam Publishing Group, 1989. Print.

Wizards of the Coast. D&D Podcast: Penny Arcade/PvP. 10 Jun 2009. Online audio file. Wizards of the Coast Official Site. Accessed on 10 Jun 2009.

Schorow, Stephanie. "Here there be DRAGONS; After 30 years, D&D players shape pop culture." The Boston Herald (2004): Print.

"Dungeons and Dragons™ and other fantasy role-playing games." 15 July 2008. Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance. 10 Jun 2009 <>.

France-Presse, Agence. "Gamer co-created Dungeons & Dragons: DAVE ARNESON (1947-2009)." Edmonton Journal (2009): Print.

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