Tuesday, December 16, 2008


First, a blog entry in (tentative) praise of Harry Potter; now, D&D?!

I played a lot of D&D as a teen and into college-- and turned out OK....HAHAHA! (dub in loud, creepy laugh here!)

I kinda understood the aversion to D&D, but it always seemed simple-minded from a variety of angles-- a generic allergy to myth (when as Lewis and Chesterton would later inform, Christians worship the one True Myth/Fable); a cultural/social snobbery (something they didn't do); an omission of what I would later learn from Econ as the "opportunity cost" argument (what else would one be doing instead?); and semi-legitimate concern about how different D&D was.

In any case, I'm thankful that my parents didn't make that something over which they would go to war. Since then, I've moved on to German Board Games and some modest role-playing-- but look forward to doing more role-playing games as my kids get older.

From my files, an interesting article from John Miller in the WSJ...

When Gary Gygax died in March, several eulogists observed that this co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons had made a big imprint on our computer culture. It's hard to believe that the online game World of Warcraft, for example, would boast more than 10 million subscribers today had Gygax and Dave Arneson not come along first, calculating the armor class of bugbears and determining the number of experience points paladins need to move up a level.

The underlying assumption was that Dungeons & Dragons had slipped into nerdy nostalgia. But was it merely a 1980s sensation among socially awkward boys who have since abandoned papers, pencils and 20-sided dice in favor of pixels, avatars and artificial intelligence?

Wizards of the Coast, a subsidiary of Hasbro, doesn't think so. "The game is alive and well," says Scott Rouse, a senior brand manager for D&D, as fans call it. He estimates that four million people still play the old-fashioned way, around kitchen tables or in basements....

Some of the best parts of the game haven't changed at all: Long swords remain efficient weapons of orc destruction, and sorcerers still may cast "stinking cloud" spells that induce nausea in their unfortunate targets. More important, the fundamentals of the game continue to revolve around a dungeon master, or "DM," and a group of players.

The DMs serve a dual function as narrators who describe situations and umpires who referee the action. The players -- four or five is considered optimal -- take on the roles of dwarfish warriors, elfish enchanters, human rogues, or whatever else suits their fancy. They fight monsters, solve riddles, and swap stories. There are no winners or losers in the conventional sense, and games can go on indefinitely. "I've been playing with the same group for decades," says Ed Greenwood, who has written dozens of D&D supplements. "We're making a movie that isn't shown anywhere except in our heads."

D&D was born of wargaming -- tabletop military simulations in which armchair generals refight everything from the Battle of Waterloo (for those inclined toward the Napoleonic Era) to the Battle of Pelennor Fields (for those who prefer J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth). Gygax and Arneson's breakthrough concept was that instead of commanding battalions of soldiers, players would assume the roles of individual heroes and go on specific quests in a supernatural world of witches and warlocks.

Sometimes gamers would use graph paper and miniature figures to help them visualize their surroundings. Polyhedral dice brought in an element of chance, as players rolled their way through melees with trolls and ogres or tried to open booby-trapped treasure chests....

...it always has suffered from a social stigma -- the dark suspicion that it was a pastime for pimply faced misfits who couldn't run with the jocks or get dates on Friday nights. Some parents also found it creepy, especially when they flipped open the "Monster Manual" and discovered pages of detailed information on demons.

In reality, D&D was no more harmful than a Harry Potter book. It inspired kids to do many of the things for which J.K. Rowling's novels are widely praised, such as turning off television sets and picking up books. D&D is also the quickest way to building simple math skills this side of flash cards, which aren't nearly as much fun.

A few years ago, Wizards of the Coast published a commemorative book on the game. To counter the freaks-and-geeks stereotype, it included appreciative essays by tough-guy actor Vin Diesel, fake-news anchor Stephen Colbert, and Ed Robertson, a singer and guitarist for Barenaked Ladies, the popular rock group....

...the game's draw ultimately rests on its social element: an excuse to get together with friends -- or maybe even a dad who grew up in the 1980s -- and unplug.


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