Tag Archives: D&D

When a game session goes well

There’s nothing quite so fun as a game session that goes well. (Well, there probably are a few other things that are that fun. But just a few.)

Last night I ran a D&D 3.5 game that was… just a great deal of fun. Gaming over the last year has been a tad lackluster for various reasons, but sessions like last night’s remind why I love this hobby so much. A few observations from the game:

  • I love playing with newbies. A couple of the people in last night’s game group were totally new to D&D. I love being there when the game finally “clicks” for them. Almost invariably, about an hour into the game, there’s a flash of excitement and understanding on their face and they ask: “You mean… my character can do anything I want in this game?” Last night, that moment came as the party explored an old warehouse, came to a closed door behind which they knew enemies were lurking, and realized… hey, we don’t have to charge through that door—we don’t even have to fight these enemies at all if we don’t want to. A simple scene, but inspiring!
  • I’m never going to tire of D&D. That’s not entirely true; every couple of years I get overdosed on D&D and need to take some time off to play other games instead. But I always come back. At the end of the day, I’ll never say no to a good old-fashioned game of fantasy adventurers, sinister villains, and noble quests. Other great games come and go, but nothing does “kill the bad guys and take their stuff” like D&D.
  • I love gaming. This is probably an obvious point, but I had an epiphany this weekend: I love gaming just as much as I did when I was younger, but these days my reasons for loving gaming are quite a bit different. As one of the players last night commented during the game: “You know, for me, D&D is really all about eating unhealthy snacks and laughing with friends.” When I was a kid, I played RPGs with my friends because we loved the games; the social interaction with my friends was just a side benefit. Today, I play RPGs with friends almost entirely because of the social interaction: few other activities let me laugh and connect with them in quite the same way. There were times during the game last night that the entire table was paralyzed with laughter at somebody’s witty one-liner. It really doesn’t get much better than that.

As with any social activity, not every game is a transformative and joyous experience, as any gamer will tell you. But when they do go well, they leave me glowing for days. And now I couldn’t possibly be in better spirits for my trip to Gencon later this week!

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Two more Gygaxian links

The Gygax story is starting to fade from the headlines by now, but if you can stand to read just a bit more about the Man and his Legacy, here are two items worth checking out:

First up is D&D 0: a fun look at the very earliest incarnations of what would become Dungeons and Dragons. This observation about the rules of proto-D&D struck me as interesting:

The rules themselves were barely there. You had to make it all up. This put so much responsibility on the GM. He had to be entertaining, imaginative, fair, rational. In many ways the steady march away from original D&D has been a sustained effort to remove the effects of a bad GM on the game. The more game elements are objectively determined, written down in books, the less you have to rely on the GM. The less you need a really good GM to run the game. And yes, the more of a science it becomes, and less of an art. Running this game was an art form and only a few people could do it really well. There’s something magical about that. Newer versions become more systematized and therefore more people can play. Mediocre GMs can run good games. But, if I’m being honest with myself, something of the magic is lost. That feeling that most of this game lived in your mind. Because of that, I think, it was more real. As more and more of the game lived in the rules and on character sheets, it became a game instead of a world in your head.

I think that’s definitely something to that. I like the more systematized, rules-complete modern versions of D&D myself. But I’ll also admit that by refining and revising the game over the years, we’ve lost some of the “I can do anything I can imagine!” magic that was present in the very earliest editions. And looking at the vast array of nostalgic early-D&D recreations popping up these days, a lot of people agree.

(That said, I for one am happy we now have games where Elf is not a character class, the GM has a bit of help from the rules, and thieves are not the only type of character that can attempt to be sneaky.)

The second item is The Seven Stages of Gygax over at Chris Pramas’ blog. I’ve definitely been through most of those. Funny stuff.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Random thoughts on Christians, culture, and Dungeons & Dragons

This is a response to an excellent post over at the ThinkChristian blog (where I post as well) about D&D and the Christian response to it in the 1980s. As a Christian who struggled, back in the day, with whether or not my favorite hobby was satanic, this topic is one that really interests me. Here are a few semi-random thoughts in response to the post.

Great post, Chris. Hsu’s post has a lot of good insights.

This is a subject that’s near and dear to me, since I played D&D and similar games a lot when I was younger (I still play them, actually, as Peter and KDC note) and heard/read a lot from well-intentioned Christians who thought it was satanic.

Looking back at the Christian response to D&D, it strikes me as a good example of how not to respond to a questionable piece of culture. A few random observations about how Christians mishandled the D&D thing:

  • If you were a D&D player reading a typical Christian critique of the game in the 80s, it was clear to you that most of the Christians condemning the game had only a marginal understanding of it, and had apparently done no research beyond skimming a rulebook looking for occult-sounding terms. Many of the more extreme concerns (that D&D caused suicide, that it was an occult recruitment tool) would have been put to rest by spending 3 hours sitting in on an actual D&D game, but you rarely got the sense that the Christian critics had even done that minimal level of research. Obviously you don’t have to know every nuance of something to critique it, but it didn’t seem like Christians were trying very hard to understand the game before condemning it. Also, despite the fact that there were (and are) Christians working in the game hobby, nobody thought to seek them out and ask for their perspective.
  • As Hsu points out very eloquently in his post, this was a classic case of Christians condemning something without offering any better alternative. Nor did Christians spend much time asking why the game appealed so much to kids. Here was a whole new social/relational activity that was meeting a genuine need in the lives of kids like myself, and the only thing Christians had to say about it was to tell people they shouldn’t do it. Instead of helping people to pursue the roleplaying hobby (which was certainly not evil, even if you thought D&D was) in a way consistent with their faith, Christians just indulged in a knee-jerk rejection of it all, baby and bathwater alike.
  • As PCG points out, those few Christians who tried to offer up alternatives mostly just ended up aping D&D in the same way that some types of CCM just ape mainstream music. I don’t mean to trash all Christian attempts at making Christian RPGs, because some of them were interesting; but a lot of them could be summed up as “Like D&D, but less fun.” And even these attempts were condemned by some Christians.

The result of all this was essentially to drive away people who might otherwise have listened to a Christian perspective. Christians sabotaged any chance of participating meaningfully in this particular discussion by failing to approach D&D, D&D players, and the whole issue of roleplaying in a respectful and intelligent manner. Ridiculous stories about D&D being an occult recruitment tool may have scared a few nervous Christian teenagers into giving up the game, but most gamers I know (Christian and otherwise) just decided that Christians had absolutely nothing useful to say about gaming, and ignored them. The “it’s satanic!” reaction just made D&D more popular by turning it into a Forbidden Fruit, and it’s now quite entrenched in popular culture, even if you don’t hear about it as much these days. So even if you believe Christians were right to condemn the game, the way they went about doing so must be seen as a complete failure, because it had the opposite of its intended effect.

This failure was particularly unfortunate because there really were spiritual issues surrounding some popular RPGs (some of the games that followed D&D went much farther in depicting violence, occultism, and other unpleasant stuff than D&D ever did), but by that time, nobody was paying any attention to what Christians were saying about it.

Wow, this whole topic—D&D and the Satanic Panic—seems so silly in retrospect. But at the time, I (and other Christians) took it very seriously. That’s what 20 years of hindsight perspective will get you, I suppose.

Just my $.02, as a Christian who played D&D back in the day.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

GaryCon 2008: Mr. Gygax, we salute you

gygaxMany, many people have in the last few days written eloquent tributes to Gary Gygax, so I won’t try and compete with them—I’ll just say that if Gary Gygax had not created a little game called Dungeons & Dragons, my life would be radically different than it is.

How many hours did I spent in my youth poring over game rulebooks, plotting out adventures in my mind, rolling up dozens and dozens of characters just for the sheer imaginative thrill of it? My first roleplaying experience was Tomb of the Lizard King—not one of Gary’s modules, but it wasn’t long before I was soaking up every piece of Gygax writing I could find. My cousins and I had so much fun with Tomb of the Lizard King that we proceeded to hole up for three straight days doing nothing but playing D&D (much to the consternation of our parents, who didn’t know what the heck to make of our excited babbling about clerics and hit points and gelatinous cubes). None of us had even the slightest idea what we were doing (my cousins made me GM even though I had never before laid eyes on a rulebook), but we knew we had stumbled upon something incredible. I have vivid memories of hours spent intensely reading through my cousin’s copy of the 1st edition Dungeon Masters Guide. After that it was Top Secret, Middle Earth Role Playing, Mechwarrior and many others… games written by others but which owed their existence to Gygax’s pioneering. Thank you, Gary Gygax, for sharing your creation with the rest of us, and for giving this awkward teenager an outlet for his imagination.

garyconTonight we participated in what some are calling “GaryCon”—a game of dungeon-crawling, kobold-killing, treasure-looting D&D in memory of Gary. I ran the players through a mostly improvised dungeon populated by skeletons, giant rats, and an owlbear, and remembering Gary’s DMG advice not to coddle players, I even managed to kill one of them with said owlbear. It was not the best game I’ve ever run, nor was it the worst: it was just a good game, and that seemed perfectly appropriate.

At the end of the game we each rolled a d20 in honor of Gary. I rolled a 19.

Rest in peace, Mr. Gygax.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather