Dungeons & Dragons is one of the most successful role-playing games of all time but also one of the most misunderstood. Typically derided as the realm of shut-ins and losers but counting the likes of Vin Diesel as fans, LSi went along to a game to investigate the enduring appeal of the tabletop giant.
It’s a cold and wet evening, as I am lead down into the depths of Leeds’ own dungeons somewhere beneath the University Union, for my first encounter with role playing game phenomena – Dungeons & Dragons. Taking my seat at the table I introduce myself to my fellow adventurers: a heady mixture of wizened players and newcomers alike. They seem like the kind of people you would want to share a pint of strong brony with – although for now we must make do with Pepsi. With a loud shout the Dungeon Master draws our attention. The game is about to begin.
You soon learn that Dungeons & Dragons is not the place to be polite. At first the experience can seem quite daunting as everyone shouts out terms that seem incredibly alien to you. Natural Twenty! Role Insight! But soon this becomes second nature and I begin to shout out my responses to whatever the Dungeon Master had to throw at us.
After a protracted start in the local tavern the game finally begins to get going, and I find myself caught up in the euphoria of it. Soon we are faced with our first encounter and the true table top gaming begins. Empty cans of Pepsi are cleared from the table as the Dungeon Master goes about drawing a diagram of the cave location on a chequered board and populating it with a menagerie of figurines representing both us and our nemesis – a gelatinous cube. It is now that the dice rolling comes into its own. A heavy battle is fought; some adventurers are ingested by the cube, others take arrows to the knee, but in the end we eventually prevail.
During a breather after our first major encounter with the mysterious gelatinous cube I take the chance to ask our Dungeon Master what exactly it is about the game she loves so much. I am greeted with a highly enthusiastic response as she harkens back to her own days as an adventurer. She speaks of grand battles on sky ships and of outrageous attacks that make my own basic melee look feeble in comparison, as well as the eponymous dragons. I note that these “sky ships” seem similar to those featured in a major video game of last year, to which the Dungeon Master replies that it was a love of video games that lead to the leap to the table top world.
It is perhaps the way in which the player interacts with the denizens that inhabit the Dungeon Master’s creation that really appeals to this love of video games. She reveals to me that you can do almost anything in the world of the game, and it is the social encounters with NPCs that really set Dungeons & Dragons apart from its virtual counterparts. There are no pre-programmed responses given by these NPCs, instead they respond exactly to what you have to say. This of course, I am told, can lead to some both highly amusing and highly annoying attempts to derail the campaign by your fellow gamers. It is a world as limitless as the imaginations of its players.
Several hours later we begin to grow bleary eyed. The initial three hours set aside to play the game swiftly grow to five as we all became embroiled in both derailing and continuing our campaign. Deciding to call it a night we go our separate ways and head out into the darkness.