In Defense of D&D
This rhetorical masterpiece is from Noah Litvin. Follow him on Twitter @NoahLitvin.
I get shit all the time for liking Dungeons & Dragons. When I’m with my friends and I suggest we start a game, I’m inevitably faced with laughter. Not “Haha. You’re a nerd.” laughter, but rather “You’re obviously not serious.” laughter. Though they genuinely think I’m joking, I never am.
Yes, Dungeons & Dragons may be the paradigm of nerdiness. But the game has become a household name. And this isn’t for nothing.
For those of you unfamiliar, Dungeons & Dragons is a game that takes place in the collective imagination of you and your friends. All you need are some character sheets, strange dice, and a few rule books. The Dungeon Master (typically your friend most experienced with the rules) acts as a sort of hybrid referee-storyteller. The Dungeon Master supplies the world for your characters and the players decide what they’d like to do in it.
This means it’s awesome in the same way reading a great book is. The strength of your imagination is the only limitation on the detail and nuance in the game’s world. But unlike a book, it’s completely interactive. It’s interactive in a way that puts video games to shame, as your options are practically limitless. Plenty of video games try to capture this experience (Skyrim and Fable come to mind), but none come close. And you never need to wait for a new release to continue your adventure. Sessions last as long as you and your friends are interested. You never run out of places to explore and characters to interact with.
And best of all, it’s social. You’re not just sitting around with your friends having a few beers. You’re collaborating. There’s teamwork involved, but also your own personal interests. As you build your character, you gain levels, choose which skills and spells you’d like to learn, and accrue items. Sometimes, though certainly not always, these decisions will be dictated by the needs of the group as a whole. It’s up to you.
Maybe your character is an untrustworthy thief masquerading as a pious cleric. Or perhaps you’re a lumbering barbarian with impressive strength, but must rely on others to tie your shoes because your dexterity modifier is too low. Either way, your character is much more than a list of statistics. As in the real world, having an eye color, hair color and family history is rarely relevant to your daily interactions. But having defined these characteristics breathes life into your character.
And, in some cases, you really do become your character. It is, very literally, a roleplaying game. If, like me, you have no acting experience and lack any desire to get up on stage to do so, Dungeons & Dragons may be the perfect venue. A good Dungeon Master will encourage (if not require) you to conduct your character’s dialogue in the first person. (i.e. “I tell the goblins to fuck off.” becomes “Hey goblins! Fuck off!”) As soon as you stop worrying about your girlfriend dumping you for pretending to be a dwarf who attempts to seduce an evil sorceress into giving you the keys to a dungeon, you’ll have more fun than you’ve had in weeks.
And in a strange way, these experiences become real. You form new memories with your friends. They certainly won’t be as epic as those from, say, a skydiving trip. But they’re pretty damn cool for not having left your apartment. For instance, the last time I caught up with one of my high school friends, the conversation quickly came around to, “Hey! Remember that time you punched a dragon out of the air?!”
Of course I do. My entire group had been destroyed by a dragon. I was unarmed—in retrospect, I’m not quite sure why—and had just one opportunity to throw a punch at the worn-down dragon. I rolled a perfect twenty out of twenty, scoring a critical hit, and then rolled just high enough on my subsequent die to knock it unconscious. Did I feel like a badass afterward? You bet.
I think a large part of the reason I’m still surprised by the stereotype people hold about Dungeons & Dragons is that my high school happened to have a nearly even mix of “nerds” and “cool kids” eager to play. (While I’d be classified as the former, the friend who recalled my anecdote above was one of the latter.) I don’t recall how it came to be that way, but it was probably something like this:
You should really give it a shot. Let’s face it. You already think Game of Thrones is cool, so you really have nothing to lose.