The game that started off the role-playing craze. Participation requires the following:
- Several rather expensive hardcover rulebooks.
- Various oddly-shaped dice.
- A vivid imagination.
- Delusions of grandeur.
During the game, players assumed whatever identity their imaginations could cook up. Some were humans, elves, or dwarves, while others invented fantastic creatures with the head of a fish and a unicorn's horn. Their characters had the strength of a bear, the wits of a fox, or supernatural magical powers that put the Psychic Friends Network to shame.
General guidelines were offered to create a character, and variations, combinations, and just plain inventions were allowed. The most typical player types included the following:
The Fighter. Heavily armed and armoured, this player type was the most durable and violent. Everyone wanted to play one of these.
The Mage. This character was best played by the smartest member of the group. Nearly useless and completely vulnerable during the early stages of a campaign, this character would acquire god-like powers.
The Cleric. This character combined elements of the Fighter and the Mage, but not the best ones. Its selection of weapons and spells was poor. However, every group needed one because of a unique ability to heal wounds. The youngest or smallest member of the group was often bullied into playing this character.
The Thief. Some fighting skills came with this character, but its main benefits are several unique abilities in stealth and scouting. He also had an ability to pick pockets, and this was the character's main attraction. Every group had a player who just wanted to steal stuff.
The game was directed by the Dungeon Master1 who was generally the most sadistic sociopath of the game group. His task was to invent situations that the players' characters would have to work through. It was often misconstrued that his job was to kill everyone, and this he would do to his utmost. His job entailed listening to a lot of wheedling and whining from the other players, so his sadistic characteristic is understandable.
The game was played in the minds of the players and the Dungeon Master. The Dungeon Master narrated a story line, with which the players interacted. He could tell a story of his own invention, or purchase several game 'modules'. It was nearly impossible for the Dungeon Master to guide his players in any certain direction, so most of his storytelling had to be done on the fly. This is another feature of the game that caused him to want to kill characters off. During combat, the results of the oddly-shaped dice became paramount. Wise players found ways to bring the odds onto their side, but the wrong die rolls brought about death.
The importance of the dice cannot be stressed enough. Any time a character attempted to do anything, a die roll determined the outcome. The 20-sided die was rolled to hit an opponent. Then the appropriate dice were cast to determine damage. Other dice were cast to determine the effects of a huge range of things... spell success, breaking down a door, picking a pocket, whatever. Some Dungeon Masters tried to limit the number of die rolls in the game, allowing for a faster, more enjoyable game.
This game was at its height of popularity in the mid 1980s. These were the Reagan years in America, when the Christian Right had too much power and everything that was fun was perceived as the work of the devil. Dungeons and Dragons received some of that attention as the result of some kids taking their involvement too far - when their characters died in the game, they grew so despondent that they took their own lives. The media blamed the game and its makers, for producing a tool of the devil.
In spite of the negative press, it still gets played on Saturday nights when its players ought to be out talking to women, but the genre has exploded, and several games have overshadowed it in popularity. But it will always be the first. Indeed, the game still lives on in novels, cartoons, T-shirts, lunch boxes, breakfast cereals, bumper stickers, chat channels, and web sites. At this rate you will soon be able to sample 'Dungeons & Dragons: the Chocolate Bar'.