“I want to cast… magic missile.”
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.