What I like about D&D

Dec 10 2008

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All right, I admit it: I play Dungeons & Dragons. This may horrify some of my evangelical friends, but trust me: there’s nothing wrong with it.

You may ask, why play D&D when it has so many negative connotations? Why not use one of the hundreds of other role-playing systems out there, like FUDGE or GURPS?

First, I’ll use Saalon‘s metaphor: D&D is like Microsoft Windows. Everyone uses it and it works okay, though it’s kinda bloated and sometimes confusing.

I contend that World of Darkness is like the Mac, and FUDGE/GURPS are like Linux, but those are different subjects.

So, I play D&D because it’s a standard. It provides a common context for discussing role-playing with others, and if I’m playing with a bunch of folks I don’t know, D&D’s a convenient default.

But that shouldn’t be the only reasons. I play D&D because it’s fun. It’s exciting and adventurous; it feels like a big, epic fantasy action/adventure movie.

Well, the current 4th edition feels that way. I also played 3.5 Edition, which felt more like an overly-long series of fantasy novels.

4th Edition D&D provides a huge world, brimming with possibility. There are dozens of fascinating races, all scrambling over an ever-evolving world of good, evil, conflict, and flashing steel. You can throw yourself into combat, or negotiate with merchants, or haggle with kings.

(Can you tell that I love setting?)

The system works quite well, too. It’s a heavy system, compared to all the others out there, but it works. You choose values for six core attributes, such as Strength and Intelligence. Your race and class (profession, like cleric or warlord) may improve those numbers, and will give you access to a menu of powers. Some powers can be used as often as desired, others only once per battle, and others once per day. You then choose from a set of skills, which are all affected by your attributes (a high Strength score makes you better at Acrobatics).

I’m not as crazy about the two-step combat mechanic, where you roll a 20-sided die to see if you hit, then another die (number of sides depending on the weapon) to determine how much damage you do. Combat can grind to nearly a standstill as half a dozen players roll their dice in turn.

But even that has its charm, with players picking out a shiny d8 or d10 to roll their damage.

It works. D&D is fun. It’s goofy, and overly complex at times, but it’s a fine way to spend a few hours on a Saturday afternoon, romping through a huge fantasy world and baring your teeth at dragons.

There are worse ways to spend a Saturday.

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