I’m sure you’ve heard of Dungeons & Dragons, especially with the rise of shows like Stranger Things, where the heroes constantly play or reference the game. If you’ve never heard of D&D, or you have heard of it but don’t really know what it is, or that there are other games like it, this article is for you.
Dungeons & Dragons is a Tabletop Role-Playing Game (TtRPG). This means a few things. For one, it’s not a video game (though video games based on it have come out). It’s played on a table, like a board game. Secondly, it’s not a board game, for there is no board necessary to play. Instead, the entire game exists only in the words you use, and the images you imagine. Third, it’s a game that you cannot win or lose, but instead play a roll in a larger story.
The way D&D, and other TtRPGs, work, is by 2 or more people sit at a table together, and while one person establishes situations, the other person or people react. If you’re getting confused, perhaps this will help. This is a conversation between two people, the one who establishes the situation (or Game Master), and the one who reacts (the Player), where the Game Master speaks first.
“As you walk along a trodden path in the forest, you suddenly see a small green creature with a spear in his hands jump out of the bushes!”
“I pull out my sword and say ‘Who are you?'”
“The creature shouts some words in a language you don’t understand, and pauses, waiting for a response.”
“I…try to repeat what he said back to him…?”
“You utter some gibberish unconvincingly, he looks confused for a moment, then angry.”
“He charges at you with his spear!”
“I swing to attack!”
This is an example of what happens in a game of Dungeons & Dragons, or other TtRPGs. To help clarify, the first person, the Game Master, is in charge of creating the world. They decide who the Non-Player Characters (NPCs) are, they decide what conflicts arise, they decide what the world looks like, and how it reacts to the Player’s Characters (PCs). The rest of the people, are all players with their own PCs, and only handle that one person in the game. This might seem like an interesting dynamic, but a common analogy is in sports, there is one person that is in charge of the game, following the rules, deciding if the game is being played fairly for all participants (the referee), and everyone else involved in the game are players (besides coaches, but that doesn’t follow the analogy). So the Game Master is the Referee, and the Players…are players.
D&D has risen in popularity a lot over the past decade (Tabletop Renaissance), and as such, many people are asking themselves “Should I Play Dungeons & Dragons?” or even suggesting that the game would be a good work exercise (Hey Boss, Let’s Play D&D).
As I mentioned above though, Dungeons & Dragons isn’t the only TtRPG. In fact, there are hundreds, and more come out every month! There are games set in the Star Wars universe (Age of Rebellion), games set in a Steampunk/Horror version of the Wild West (Deadlands), ones where you are a samurai in feudal Japan (Legend of the Five Rings) and so many more! The idea that Dungeons & Dragons is the only TtRPG, is like saying that the only video game is Super Mario Bros. If someone’s into video games, you don’t just assume they play Mario, or call every game a Mario.
In fact, if you are interested in discovering more TtRPGs, The Nerdd Network has a podcast called Around the Table in 80 Dice, where every month we play a different game, so you can find one that might interest you and your gaming group.
What Do All TtRPGs Have In Common?
Very little. Back to the video game analogy, think of the similarities between a game like Batman: Arkham Asylum, a very detailed story based game, and Candy Crush, a short game that is perfect for killing a few minutes. That is similar to the range of TtRPGs. Truly the only thing that ALL TtRPGs have in common is that which is in the name, you play it at a table, and there is no winning or losing, only playing.
How Do You Not Win or Lose?
Whenever you play a Tabletop Role-Playing Game, you take on the persona of a character that lives within the world of the game. So just like how you, a person in the real world doesn’t “Win” or “Lose” at life, but instead continue to go on, and the world continues on without you, so too does the fictional world and your character have that same relationship.
These games can literally go on for as long as you can imagine, because even if your character dies, you can take on a new character, and continue living in this world, and continue experiencing it.
There is so much to TtRPGs, and I’ve written several other articles about it, so if it’s something you’re interested in, feel free to go read those, and check back in over this month, because I’ll be showing you how to create characters, worlds, stories, and more in Dungeons & Dragons.