Dungeons and Dragons

“I want to cast… magic missile.”

The Dead Alewives

If you had told me a year ago that I would start a blog, and then not write about Dungeons & Dragons — and in fact, hardly mention it — for six  months, I simply wouldn’t have believed you.

Ever since I first started playing — 2nd ed. AD&D, when I was in grade 3 — D&D has been a pretty big part of my life. A year ago, I was running two games and playing in two more — every single week. I’ve tried getting D&D articles published. It’s inspired my writing and my reading, my world creation. It’s made me friends.

But then this past summer I became overwhelmingly focused on finishing The Nexus, and I lost a lot of my drive for actually playing D&D. Combined with my work schedule, a social life, and then school again in September, I started playing a lot less. But, I’ve started to get back into it — especially in returning to my old D&D world for the setting of Shadow of Death. So I thought I’d finally write a bit about it.

To those who don’t know much about it, D&D is usually perceived at best as the epitome of geeky passtimes and at worst as a satanist ritual that promotes violence and worse (though admittedly, this was a more prominent conception twenty years ago).

What it is is a pencil-and-paper roleplaying game, one of many (though the most prominent and well-known), the analog precursor to modern roleplaying video games and MMORPGs. It’s like a complex board game combined with a drama game, a social activity with rules and dice and acting and imagination. It’s cooperative storytelling, with a group of people coming together to create a story.

So, D&D is many things. It’s a harmless game, like any a group of friends might come together on a regular basis to play (video game night? poker night? D&D night. It’s no different). It’s a social activity. And it’s storytelling.

And the storytelling, to my mind, is the greatest part of D&D (which of course I would say, as a writer). The Dungeon Master (DM) creates a setting and a story and the other Players are the protagonists of that story. They get to decide, to some extent, how the story goes — the DM can set up possible routes, storylines, hooks, but it’s the players that decide to take a hook, decide how they act in a given situation, decide what choices the main characters make.

In many ways, it’s like writing a novel as a group. One person sets up the story outline, each of the others takes a main character, and you play through it all to see what happens. It’s certainly not a perfect metaphor — there tends to be less emphasis on, say, character arcs than on cool locations and monsters and fights — but when you boil it down, that’s the essence of it, or the essence of one of the best parts of it.

D&D has been associated, in several studies, with “gifted” students, it teaches social interaction and math and even heavily influenced my love of history, myth, and religion. (You have to be able to step back from it and say, “Ok, that’s the fantasy/D&D myth, what’s the real-world one?” but it’s a starting point.) I’d like to be able to explore a lot of that in future posts.

Today I just wanted to give an introduction. It’s influenced so much of what I do, and I think in a good way. My dirty little secret is that The Nexus was based pretty heavily on a D&D game I ran (modified heavily for fitting the medium, of course). Shadow of Death is not only set in a world I created for D&D, but is based on some ideas I had for a D&D game. When D&D lets you create and roleplay vibrant characters, work within a detailed setting, and create stories with others, it’s a great inspiration.

And as a bonus — it’s fun.

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4 comments


  1. RobMagus

    “D&D has been associated, in several studies, with “gifted” students, it teaches social interaction and math and even heavily influenced my love of history, myth, and religion.”

    Citation?

    • Lucas J.W. Johnson

      I’d like to do a whole blog post talking about this, but to start,

      The Swedish Nation Board for Youth Affairs reported that role-playing was a “stimulating hobby that promotes creativity.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_role-playing_games#Swedish_National_Board_for_Youth_Affairs) (I’d cite the actual source rather than Wiki, but it’s in Swedish)

      The National Association of Gifted-Creative Children has “endorsed D&D for its education content.” (http://www.religioustolerance.org/d_a_d3.htm)

      As Calvin Cockell writes, D&D “teaches much about medieval society and culture… new vocabulary and acting skills… [and] basic math skills.” He also says, “It’s a good opportunity to get together with your friends, eat snacks, and have some fun. I also find it keeps kids out of trouble, for when Friday nights come along, parents know their kids are safely downstairs, playing D&D and drinking coke, instead of out partying, getting high or committing crimes.” (http://www.padnd.com/dndsatan.php)

      Those aren’t great citations to make from an academic point of view, but those are what I could find quickly. I’ll definitely do some more in-depth research when it comes to a more detailed post about the issue.

  2. mom

    I’m not sure it’s such a “dirty little secret that The Nexus was based pretty heavily on a D&D game” for anyone that’s read it… even I, a mere mother of D&D-players, could tell that!!

  3. Pingback: World Building Pt. 4 – Religion « Words and Things

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