Indeed. It has been a seminal influence on my fictional writings, but not just upon my writings. It also greatly influenced many other things I did or am still doing in life, everything from detective work to my inventions.
I also learned a great deal about things like map-reading and ambush setting by playing D&D.
When he was an immigrant boy growing up in New Jersey, the writer Junot Díaz said he felt marginalized. But that feeling was dispelled somewhat in 1981 when he was in sixth grade. He and his buddies, adventuring pals with roots in distant realms — Egypt, Ireland, Cuba and the Dominican Republic — became “totally sucked in,” he said, by a “completely radical concept: role-playing,” in the form of Dungeons & Dragons.
Playing D&D and spinning tales of heroic quests, “we welfare kids could travel,” Mr. Díaz, 45, said in an email interview, “have adventures, succeed, be powerful, triumph, fail and be in ways that would have been impossible in the larger real world.”
“For nerds like us, D&D hit like an extra horizon,” he added. The game functioned as “a sort of storytelling apprenticeship.”
Now the much-played and much-mocked Dungeons & Dragons, the first commercially available role-playing game, has turned 40. In D&D players gather around a table, not a video screen. Together they use low-tech tools like hand-drawn maps and miniature figurines to tell stories of brave and cunning protagonists such as elfish wizards and dwarfish warriors who explore dungeons and battle orcs, trolls and mind flayers. Sacks of dice and vast rule books determine the outcome of the game’s ongoing, free-form story.
For certain writers, especially those raised in the 1970s and ’80s, all that time spent in basements has paid off. D&D helped jump-start their creative lives. As Mr. Díaz said, “It’s been a formative narrative media for all sorts of writers.”
The league of ex-gamer writers also includes the “weird fiction” authorChina Miéville (“The City & the City”); Brent Hartinger (author of “Geography Club,” a novel about gay and bisexual teenagers); the sci-fi and young adult author Cory Doctorow; the poet and fiction writer Sherman Alexie; the comedian Stephen Colbert; George R. R. Martin, author of the “A Song of Ice and Fire” series (who still enjoys role-playing games). Others who have been influenced are television and film storytellers and entertainers like Robin Williams, Matt Groening (“The Simpsons”), Dan Harmon (“Community”) and Chris Weitz (“American Pie”).
With the release of the rebooted Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set on Tuesday, and more advanced D&D rule books throughout the summer, another generation of once-and-future wordsmiths may find inspiration in the scribbled dungeon map and the secret behind Queen of the Demonweb Pits.
Mr. Díaz, who teaches writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said his first novel, the Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” was written “in honor of my gaming years.” Oscar, its protagonist, is “a role-playing-game fanatic.” Wanting to become the Dominican J. R. R. Tolkien, he cranks out “10, 15, 20 pages a day” of fantasy-inspired fiction.
Though Mr. Díaz never became a fantasy writer, he attributes his literary success, in part, to his “early years profoundly embedded and invested in fantastic narratives.” From D&D, he said, he “learned a lot of important essentials about storytelling, about giving the reader enough room to play.”
And, he said, he was typically his group’s Dungeon Master, the game’s quasi-narrator, rules referee and fate giver.
The Dungeon Master must create a believable world with a back story, adventures the players might encounter and options for plot twists. That requires skills as varied as a theater director, researcher and psychologist — all traits integral to writing. (Mr. Díaz said his boyhood gaming group was “more like an improv group with some dice.”)
Sharyn McCrumb, 66, who writes the Ballad Novels series set in Appalachia, was similarly influenced, and in her comic novel “Bimbos of the Death Sun” D&D even helps solve a murder.
“I always, always wanted to be the Dungeon Master because that’s where the creativity lies — in thinking up places, characters and situations,” Ms. McCrumb said. “If done well, a game can be a novel in itself.”
What makes a D&D story different from novels and other narratives is its improvisational and responsive nature. Plotlines are decided as a group. As a D&D player, “you have to convince other players that your version of the story is interesting and valid,” said Jennifer Grouling, an assistant professor of English at Ball State University who studied D&D players for her book, “The Creation of Narrative in Tabletop Role-Playing Games.”
If a Dungeon Master creates “a boring world with an uninteresting plot,” she said, players can go in a completely different direction; likewise, the referee can veto the action of player. “I think D&D can help build the skills to work collaboratively and to write collaboratively,” she added. (Mr. Díaz called this the “social collaborative component” of D&D.)
Ms. Grouling also cited “a sense of control over stories” as a primary reason people like role-playing games. “D&D is completely in the imagination and the rules are flexible — you don’t have the same limitations” of fiction, or even of a programmed video game, she said. A novel is ultimately a finished thing, written, edited and published, its story set in stone. In D&D, the plot is always fluid; anything can happen.
The playwright and screenwriter David Lindsay-Abaire, 44, who wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Rabbit Hole,” said D&D “harkens back to an incredibly primitive mode of storytelling,” one that was both “immersive and interactive.” The Dungeon Master resembles “the tribal storyteller who gathers everyone around the fire to tell stories about heroes and gods and monsters,” he said. “It’s a live, communal event, where anything can happen in the moment.”
Mr. Lindsay-Abaire said planning D&D adventures was “some of the very first writing that I did.” And the game taught him not just about plot but also about character development.
Playing D&D has also benefited nonfiction writers. “Serving as Dungeon Master helped me develop a knack for taking the existing elements laid out by the game and weaving them into a coherent narrative,” said Scott Stossel, editor of The Atlantic and author of “My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind.” “And yet you were constrained by the rules of the D&D universe, which in journalism translates into being constrained by the available, knowable facts.”
Mr. Lindsay-Abaire agreed that fictional worlds need rules. “For a story to be satisfying, an audience needs to understand how the world works,” he said. “ ‘The Hunger Games’ is a perfect example of: ‘O.K., these are the rules of this world, now go! Go play in that world.’ ”
Over and over again, Ms. Grouling said, tabletop role players in her survey compared their gaming experience to “starring in their own movies or writing their own novels.”
As for Mr. Díaz, “Once girls entered the equation in a serious way,” he said, “gaming went right out the window.” But he said he still misses D&D’s arcane pleasures and feels its legacy is still with him: “I’m not sure I would have been able to transition from reader to writer so easily if it had not been for gaming.”
Fate robbed me of an important rite of passage for dorks and nerds. Growing up in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in the 1980’s, I never got to play Dungeons & Dragons. Sure, I played lots of dorky video games with friends, watched the Saturday morning Dungeons & Dragons TV series, and read whichever trashy fantasy novel I could find at the library. I would always see the D&D rule books, with their beautiful cover art depicting scenes such as a wizard with an octopus face firing crimson rays at female barbarian clad in a bone bikini, at bookstores and toy stores, but I never knew anyone my age who played the game. The closest I ever came to dungeoneering in earnest, was a board game called Hero Quest (which is now worth $400! Why did you throw it away, Mommy?), a sort of D&D lite which came with plastic miniatures. Though, the only person I could convince to read the 40-plus page rulebook was my cousin Chris. A few times, we played the six-player game with two-players. Sad, but fun.
Aside from its status as a game only for the biggest dorks, this was long before George R.R. Martin and HBO had made dark fantasy mainstream, D&D has also suffered from a stigma brought on by religious groups and lazy journalists (cough-cough) alike in the 1980s. References to demons and the occult within the game as well as a well-publicized suicide of James Dallas Egbert III caused an international stir. Egbert was a severely, clinically depressed individual who happened to enjoy playing D&D. The press ran with it as they’re wont to do and, as a result, many children, such as my 9-year-old self, were denied the pleasure of invading Castle Ravenloft to defeat its vampiric lord.
Then there was Christopher “Chris” W. Pritchard, convicted of the murder of his stepfather and the attempted murder of his mother. He, along with his three cronies, happened to play D&D and they also happened to covet Pritchard’s $2 million inheritance. Even the film industry got in on the act. Three movies about the purported dangers of Dungeons & Dragons were made in the ’80s with Mazes and Monsters (1982) starring Tom Hanks and based on the novel by Rona Jaffe, taking honors as most silly. The Dungeonmaster (1984) is a close second with its dazzling special effects and memorable dialogue: “I reject your reality and substitute my own!”
“You’re not getting that. It’s bad,” our mother’s would say. It didn’t matter how cool that undead castle looked or how intense the need to fight a weretiger , “…they said on TV it’s bad.”
Time went on and, for me, D&D became little more than unrealized nostalgia. Sex (or rather, the pursuit thereof) and getting high tend to replace the lust for simulated goblin slaughter. Yet, the love of fantasy persisted. Once a dork always a dork. Laughing friends would always deride my choice of fiction. Frankly, I think they’re just jealous of the cover art. Perhaps Mitch Albom would move more copies if his covers depicted a shrieking owl-bear eviscerating a hapless halfling rogue.
Then, one day, it happened again. Strolling through a Barnes & Noble while waiting for a companion, that gorgeous cover art got to me. A beholder, a creature made out of teeth, tentacles and eyes menacing a heavily armored dwarf fighter wielding a jewel encrusted maul. All the years of deferred quests came through the mists of time. Before I could make an intelligence check, I was the proud owner of the Fifth Edition of D&D’s Starter Set and Monster Manual.
After several unsuccessful attempts to convince friends and family to indulge me in my hunger for arcane warfare and pop and chips, I was forced to Google, “How to find people to play D&D.” I’d come too far and waited too long to give up twice. By all the gods I would have satisfaction! The search led me to a site called Meetup. A popular bit of social media, new to me, but used by many to meet others with similar interests: rock climbing, quilting, support groups and dungeon crawling.
Once the obligatory practice of testing the cyber waters for serial killers was complete, I agreed to meet at a stranger’s home to finally play Dungeons & Dragons. Pop and chips in tow, I expected a human horror show from which I would politely excuse myself after an hour. Instead, I pretended I was a necromancer with a heart of gold for five hours. I actually closed my damned eyes and imagined (for the first time in ages) myself creating a crew of zombies to man our seafaring vessel. Zombies work for cheap. My necromancer’s staff featured a human skull with ruby eyes that totally lit up when conjuring skeletons. The skull, by the way, belonged to a former slave master. (I may practice dark arts, but I don’t go in for that human bondage business.)
A more friendly and diverse group of adventurers would be hard to find. The owner of the house, we’ll call him Kumai from the equivalent Japanese culture in the Forbidden Realms (the setting for D&D), had prepared delicious burgers with homemade buns, tomato salad with mint, and freshly baked, crusty Irish soda bread paired with imported aged Irish cheddar. There was Gmorg, the Dragonborn raider who also repairs cars alongside computer systems and a 70-year-old “dark gnome” cleric and retired school teacher who remembered when one had to trade sci-fi and fantasy novels at book fairs and in “back alleys.” They cost 50 cents back then. Our dungeon master was a former Marine with an uncanny ability for doing silly voices and drowning careless adventurers in pools of boiling blood. The use of miniatures and game maps, which adds a board game element to D & D, was too new-fangled for this group. One had to use their imagination with a little help from the gorgeous artwork in the player’s guide.
It didn’t matter that I was clueless to the process of rolling polyhedral dice to determine character stats such as dexterity, charisma. Nor did it matter we were five completely different people of vary ages, cultures, and socio-economic backgrounds, who, truth be told, would have never uttered a word to one another outside of this gathering. We had a fucking blast and we’re doing it again next week.
Mostly, social media gives one a depressing glimpse into the cesspool of humanity. A scrying pool into a lich’s jerk-off session where you can witness a grown man refer to a group of first graders in a Christmas pageant as “bitch-ass faggots.” But this time, perhaps the only time in my memory, cyberia came through for me. I played Dungeons & Dragons with a group of strangers and it reaffirmed my faith in humanity.
“It sounds ridiculous, but it’s like a mental vacation,” said the dark gnome cleric. “You’d be surprised by how a spot of imagination can do you well.”
The detail was revealed earlier this week when D&D Lead Designer Mike Mearls was asked about the matter on Twitter. “The person who needs to do the final approvals on them is serving on a jury that will take another 4 or so months,” Mearls confirmed. “Sorry!”
That’s a completely reasonable hiccup in development, even though four months feels like a long time to wait. At least releases like the Eberron update guide will give players a place to start for now. Hopefully by the time we’re all finished with the Elemental Evil campaign we’ll be able to dive into some classic D&D worlds.
When you hear about role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons, you probably picture a dimly-lit basement filled with people in silly robes rolling dice, but there’s much more to it than that. Not only are role-playing games incredibly fun, but they can actually teach you skills you’ll use in the real world.
When I first heard about role-playing games, I immediately thought it was something that was just for the nerdiest of nerds out there. I could only imagine how ridiculous it would feel to sit around a table with other people and act like someone—or something—else, pretending to fight goblins and dragons. The entire premise just sounded way “too geeky” for me—even as someone who was way into video games and other “nerdy” things.
Fast forward a couple years, and I found that I was completely wrong. As soon as I took a moment to strip away the facade of monsters and swords, role-playing games revealed themselves to be something far more interesting than other traditional games. Behind the fantasy adventures was a fun social gathering that required you to think on your toes, solve problems, be creative, and ultimately learn how to become a team player. Sound familiar? Yeah, that’s because it’s like every job out there. It turned out that it really wasn’t about the dungeons or the dragons at all—it’s about thinking critically and working like a team.
Now I indulge in role-playing games as often as I can. It’s nice to have an escape from the toils and troubles of the real world, but with every game session I play, I find that I actually learn something as well. Maybe it’s about myself and the way I think, maybe it’s something about one of my friends that brings us closer together, or maybe I just find a new way to look at something that I hadn’t thought of. I’ve learned that role-playing games are about more than playing a game, and more importantly, that they are for everybody.
Playing Cultivates Creativity
Creativity is the bread and butter of role-playing games. They have a certain quality that allows you to transcend typical game interactions. You have real freedom and the ability to move the story forward how you see fit. There are rules for each game, but they are merely the skeleton to whatever story you and your team want to create.
Storytelling is one of the most powerful ways to activate our brains, and role-playing games do this incredibly well. When we tell stories—or experience them—our brains have to process language, the cause and effect of events, and also relate it to our own pre-existing experiences. While you’re playing a role-playing game, your brain is firing on all cylinders.
It’s good for you, the same way socializing or reading a book is good for you. In fact, as Jon Michaud of The New Yorker explains, reading comes with the territory:
…D. & D. is a textual, storytelling, world-creating experience, a great apprenticeship for a budding author. But, more fundamentally, you cannot play D. & D. without reading—a lot. Ed Park, in an essay on D. & D. (included in the anthology “Bound to Last”), celebrates the magnificent vocabulary of the game… Combined, the player’s manual, the Dungeon Master’s guide, and the monster manual (the core books of advanced D. & D.) add up to four hundred and sixty-eight pages of small-print, double-column text. I read them with studious devotion and headlong glee. Almost immediately, television all but disappeared from my life.
Before Michaud started playing, he spent his days watching TV while his grades were plummeting. As soon as the fantasy of D&D came into his life, however, that all changed. Michaud even goes so far as to say that Dungeons & Dragons “saved his life” because it got him on a better life track after reading more and finding something that excited him. Perhaps it won’t save your life, but it can still enhance it. As you play, you’ll develop creativity in a way you might not have experienced before. Whether you’re running the game as the “Dungeon Master”—controlling what happens to the players—or simply playing as one of the characters, your storytelling ability will increase.
Dungeon Masters—also called Game Masters in some games—must be particularly good storytellers. Even if you’re using a pre-made adventure with most of the work already done, you still have to be ready to come up with dialogue and personalities for the non-player characters, and be able to vividly describe the world your players explore. As a player, you have to find ways to make your character more interesting by creating personality quirks or a rich backstory.
Role-playing games force you to draw from what you know and create something that you and others can enjoy. A lot of famous creators have been influenced by Dungeons & Dragons as well. Comedian Stephen Colbert, writer George R. R. Martin, comedian Robin Williams, Simpsons creator Matt Groening, and Community creator Dan Harmon all played at one time or another. Storytelling is the one of the most basic creative skills that you can draw on for so many other skills, and being a good storyteller can even make you a more charismatic person. Dive in to another world and see what kind of cool stuff you can come up. You might surprise yourself with what you come up with.
When you think Dungeons & Dragons, you probably don’t think social skills—but once again, that’s a stereotype that doesn’t necessarily hold true. Role-playing games are 100% social. You need to be able to talk to other people, express how you feel about certain situations, all in a group of people. Role-playing games come with a social network built directly into them.
Sure, to an extent, video games do the same thing—but it isn’t quite the same. Role-playing games bring the interaction right to your face, no screens between you. Plus, you get to hang out with your friends. Before and after a play session, you can catch up with what they’ve been up to and share what’s going on in your life. Once you know the rules for a particular game, you can easily make new friends too. You can hop into other game groups and make new friends; the process being easier because a giant plot of common ground is right out in the open. Making friends when you move can be really tough, but you can hit up a local game and hobby shop to see if there are any groups looking for more players.
This engrained social network can be particularly helpful for kids too. Making new friends can be more difficult for some people, and the forced social interaction of role-playing games can help them find people that share their interests. Additionally, kids and adults alike can use role-playing games to combat shyness. Players are given a mask in the form of their character that allows them to feel less vulnerable. Using my characters as a vehicle helped me feel more comfortable talking to others. Over time I got over shyness and felt comfortable cracking jokes and starting conversations on my own. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with being shy, but for those that do want to get out of their comfort zone a bit, role-playing games can offer some help.
Playing Encourages Teamwork and Cooperation
Most role playing games don’t end in a “win” or a “loss”, but they still require teamwork. The events depend on players’ actions, just like any other game, and failure to work with other players will guarantee a not-so-fun time. Role-playing games are designed from the ground up to be cooperative and it can be a lot of fun to play a game where there are no winners and losers.
A lot of games strive to be competitive, but life can be competitive enough, and role-playing games provide a refreshing change of pace. Additionally, learning to be a team player is highly important in the professional world. You take on a role at work and do the things that you’ve trained to do, and it works the same way in a role-playing game. Your character normally has a particular skillset, and that fills a role on a diverse team. Just like at work, if you don’t do your job, the whole team can suffer for it.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that role-playing games are as serious as work. They can just help you learn the basics of working with others. You get a feel for how you handle interactions in stressful settings. Maybe you’ll find that you’re a good leader, choreographing a perfect battle where nobody gets too hurt. Or maybe you’ll find that you’re more of a support-type, ready to jump to someone’s aid when they need it. Perhaps you can just think outside the box better than your peers, and figure your way out of complex situations. There are no good or bad roles, just the roles you can fill. By learning to play with a team, you can learn how to work with one.
Problem solving is what makes the world go ’round and role-playing games are filled to the brim with it. Layers upon layers of problems stand in front of you and your fellow party members. You could be trying to solve a riddle, while navigating a labyrinth, while deciding the best way to take out a band of goblins, while trying to solve a murder mystery, all while preventing a dark lord from taking over the kingdom. Talk about problems.
Role-playing games and their campaigns are problem after problem, all just barely solvable. As each event of your game unfolds, you’re forced to think on your feet and react. You develop some improvisation skill and feel a rush whenever your group finds a clever way to tackle a tough problem. In fact, some of your most memorable moments will likely end up being times that you felt like your back was against the wall, but you managed to pull through using your wit.
Learning how to solve problems develops your critical thinking and can help you approach problems in the future with the right mindset. In role-playing games you’re simultaneously the chess player and the chess piece. You learn to see problems from multiple perspectives and realize that there’s always a light at the end of the dark, goblin-filled cave.
Playing Is Fun
Seriously, playing role-playing games is an absolute blast. Try this: Imagine a time in your past that you did something that felt a little silly. Maybe you were at a party, or maybe you had a couple drinks and hit the dance floor at a wedding. Something you were worried about being embarrassed about it at first, but as soon as you gave in, it was some of the most fun you’ve ever had. That’s what role-playing games are like.
Half the fun is letting go of the heavy world around you and playing like you’re a kid again. You sit down at that table and suddenly you’re running around the playground, having adventures and saving the world. Can you honestly say that fun like that isn’t for everybody?
How to Get Started
Getting started can be the toughest part, but there are some things you can do to make it a lot easier. Unfortunately, there’s no way I could even come close to explaining how to play all of the role-playing games out there, but I can point you in the right direction.
First, you want to find a game that would interest you. The world of role-playing games can be very overwhelming, but it also means that there is literally something for everyone. If you like sci-fi, there’s plenty of that. If you like fantasy, there’s plenty of that too. Vampires? Check. Werewolves? Check. Super heroes, Lovecraft, zombies, aliens, Star Wars, wrestling… You name it, there’s probably a role-playing game for it. Heck, I’ve even played a role-playing game based around the movie Mean Girls (and it was, like, so fetch). So don’t worry if Dungeons & Dragons doesn’t sound like your cup of tea.
Do some research and see what you can dig up. Google “[thing you like] role-playing game” and you might be surprised at what you find. Certain games are going to be more popular, however—which means it might be easier to join or start one of those game types—but see what you can find that excites you. If you’re not into the world the game is portraying, you’re probably not going to enjoy yourself. As far as recommendations go, check out Fate, Pathfinder, Star Wars: Edge of the Empire, Call of Cthulhu, and (of course) Dungeons & Dragons fifth edition. You can even get a large taste of what D&D is like without paying a cent. If you’re still lost, hit up a game and hobby store and ask around. You’re sure to get more recommendations than you’ll what to do with.
When you find something that interests you, see what materials you need. Most role-playing games require that you at least own a copy of its player’s manual. Some games may require additional books as well, so make sure you’re getting what you need. These books can be very expensive—usually $40 and up—and the go-to, Amazon, won’t necessarily hook you up. Shop around online and check local game and hobby stores to find the best deals. You can also find digital versions of almost every current game and those can be significantly cheaper. There are a few other things you’ll need to play as well:
DM or GM guide: The Dungeon Master (DM) or Game Master (GM) usually can benefit from having this additional book.
Dice: You’ll usually need more than the standard six-sided (d6) dice. Some games require sets of their own special dice. Always check to see what you need.Character Sheets: You can normally find these in the back of the player’s manuals, but you can also find them on each game’s web site for free.Pencils:Not pens—especially if you’re just starting out.A table: The more space you have for books and character sheets the better. Some people like to use grid mats and figurines, but they aren’t completely necessary.People: Alas, you cannot play these games alone. Trust me, I’ve tried. It’s not nearly as fun. Two people will work in a pinch, but a group of four or five tends to be way more fun.
Once you have all of those things, you need to read. A lot. Role-playing games require some investment. The rules for each game can be complicated, and even though you shouldn’t let rules be the focus of your game sessions, you should get a basic idea of how they work. If you know someone that knows how to play, ask them to teach you! They’ll likely be glad to show you the ropes. They may even have their own group and invite you to join, even if it’s just for a few sessions so you can learn.
In the same vein, it doesn’t hurt to ask around if you’re looking for a group to play with. If none of your current friends play, ask around your local gaming stores. A lot of stores have regularly scheduled sessions in-store, and it’s a great way to learn to play without having to buy a rulebook or convince your current friends to come play with you. At the very least, someone might be able to point you in the right direction. You can also find playgroups online. Web sites like Meetup.com can help you find other people in your area that are interested in playing the games you want to play. It never hurts to check out the forums of big role-playing game publisher web sites—like Wizards of the Coast or Fantasy Flight Games—in search of players, either.
Lastly, if you’re having trouble understanding how things work, YouTube is your friend. You can find countless videos of real gameplay and rules explanation for whatever game you’re interested in. Watch a few games and you’ll start to see how the flow of a game should feel. This can be especially helpful if you want to run the game too.
Role-playing games are fun, exciting, and can actually help you learn a thing or two. So get out there, find a group, and don’t let the concept overwhelm you. Ease into the games and you may even make some new friends along the way. Role-playing games really are for everyone, especially you.
Romans may have used 20-Sided die almost two millennia before D&D, but people in ancient Egypt were casting icosahedra even earlier. Pictured above is a twenty-faced die dating from somewhere between 304 and 30 B.C., a timespan also known as Egypt’s Ptolemaic Period.
According to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, where the gamepiece is held, the die was once held in the collection of one Reverend Chauncey Murch, who acquired it between 1883 and 1906 while conducting missionary work in Egypt.
Got a 20-sided die that predates the Ptolemaic Period? Post about it in the comments.
“I love video games, but you can’t beat the magic in the personal interaction around a table.” — Filamena Young
Just as there really is no such thing as a best book or movie, there is no best roleplaying game, or even best in a particular category. But if you’re looking for something new to try, this selection of games will help. The games were selected to cover a wide spectrum of game mechanics, settings, and play styles. Some are well known, others relatively obscure. Some are licensed from video games, movies, TV shows, or books. Some are free for download, and several provide free quickstart PDFs.
Select an image to read a full page writeup about that game, including overview information, three of the things that make the game stand out out, purchasing information, and links to reviews and community sites.
THE ABILITY HOARD – AN INTRODUCTORY ESSAY ON PERSONAL AND CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT
When it comes to my own characters (be they fictional or gaming) and even the players and characters I DM I think of Skills, Capabilities, Abilities, Attributes, (innate personal and individual features) and so forth as much more important character elements and possessions than magic items, spells, money, and other types of what is normally thought of as “standard treasures.”
To me the single greatest types of treasures a character (or a real person) can possess are what they can actually do for themselves (and for others) in the world, devoid of all outside help, material/materiel, and extraneous accoutrements. So I’m going to call this idea and post the Ability-Hoard, or the Treasure of Personal Capacity. I think that this is where the true emphasis of “characterization” should be evident, and most brightly shine.
Let me, at this point, briefly define the Ability Hoard.
The Ability Hoard is that accumulated set of skills, talents, abilities, capabilities, extraordinary qualities (be they physical, mental, psychological, or spiritual), educational and individual merits, virtues, and sensory capacities that a character or person possesses which allows them to resolve difficult problems or to gain some beneficial advantage over others or over a particular set of circumstances.
Now I realize that this may be an entirely personal opinion, or at least very probably a minority opinion, but to me the Ability Hoard (similar to the poetic term Word-Hoard in this respect), be that in a fictional world, a gaming environment, or in Real Life is by far the greatest wealth a person may possess, and as such accumulating and developing and increasing your own Ability Hoard is of paramount importance to both your success in this world (or in any fictional world) and to your favorable development as an individual.
(At least in the gaming world, it has been my observation, and far too often in the Real World, possessions, especially powerful and valuable possessions seem to consume much of the emphasis and interest in any setting. However the Ability Hoard is not only a treasure and a possession in its own right, it is the one possession you own which actually allows you to grow and multiply all of your other possessions – be they physical, financial, material, mental, psychological, or otherwise.)
Thus in my opinion, whether you are speaking of gaming or Real Life a person’s Ability Hoard is their Chief and True Treasure, and the one source of wealth that is never subject to theft or plunder by another. (Unless, of course, you intentionally allow some particular element of your Ability Hoard to be stolen by another.)
I will return to the idea of the Ability Hoard in later posts, because for one thing, it constitutes a vital and fundamental part of my Games of Personal Advancement and Development series. For now, however, I just wish to introduce the concept.
In closing, what is your opinion – is a character’s or an individual’s Ability Hoard their single greatest source of treasure, or do you consider some other form of treasure a more valuable possession?
I’ve made a couple of changes to my live Hot Roleplaying Games chart. The chart monitors over a quarter of a million forum members and approaching a thousand blogs on a selection of major independent RPG discussion forums to create an overall sample of what games are being discussed on the web. The changes I’ve made are as follows (they will take 90 days to fully reflect, though):
•OSR games are now counted via a public system datafile which you can find here. You are able to edit and add games yourself. The system currently tracks over 160 OSR games. If something is missing, you can add it right there by editing the wiki page. The system updates itself monthly.
•There are now separate entries for Paizo Official and WotC Official to the entries for D&D and Pathfinder. This is because the system does not typically measure a company’s official forums, and as such figures would skew the samples unless *all* official forums could be included. However, folks did ask for them, so I have included scanning of WotC’s and Paizo’s official forums. The reason it’s separate is so that you can exclude it for comparison purposes, as those are the only official forums included. Therefore, treat those entries simply as being for information purposes, and feel free to compare the two to directly *each other* but your shouldn’t count them when comparing overall brand traffic. It’s important to realize that those two companies will be over-represented if you include them when comparing against games other than Pathfinder or D&D.
•That said, the data’s there, so you can add it to the other entries if you want to. Up to you what you do with the raw data! Enjoy it, ignore it, announce loudly why it’s wrong, whatever you like!
As a reminder, it’ll take 90 days for the stats to fully catch up with the changes, as the new tracking began today (thought the OSR list shouldn’t change much – it’s the same list it was using before, but is public now).
This article was originally published in forum thread: Hot Roleplaying Games started by Morrus View original post
This is a list of my Gaming Campaign Types. These are the types of Campaigns I develop for my various games. It can be applied to any type of game, from RPGs to Alternative Reality to Video Game Scripts.
You might also find it a useful guide-typology for your campaigns, games, and game designs. Or even for your fictional works and writings. If you have another type of Game Campaign you’d like to list then please feel free to do in the comments section.
GAMING CAMPAIGN TYPES
Historical Campaign Alternative History Game War or Wargame Campaign (Offensive Warfare) Invasion Campaign (Defensive War) Ethnic Cleansing Campaign (Genocide) Quest Campaign Diplomatic Campaign Agency Campaign Personal or Character Driven Campaign Achievement Campaign – first one ever to do it, or one of few to ever do it Training Campaign Frontier’s Campaign Psychological Campaign Thriller Campaign Criminal Campaign Law and Order Campaign Hunt Campaign Monster Campaign Geographic Campaign Political Campaign Mystery/Detection/Investigative Campaign Academic or Scholarly or Research Campaign Transferable Skills Campaign – relate game to real world interest of players Mythological Campaign Status (Kingmaker) Campaign – where one of more players seek power, status, wealth, or influence Legacy Campaign – fulfilling a personal or family legacy Heirloom Campaign Religious Campaign Ritual Campaign Occultic Campaign – hidden or secret knowledge Horror Campaign Clash of Forces Campaign – clash between opposing groups, powers, interests, or parties Nemesis Campaign – campaign against your nemeses Illusion Campaign Magic or Change in the Nature of Magic Campaign, also called an Arcane Campaign Nature or Environmental Change Campaign Fate Campaign – one or more party members has a particular Fate to fulfill Scientific or Technological or Invention Campaign, also called a Progress Campaign – where some scientific, technological, magical (a new spell or device or artifact is created), or invented machine, device, artifact, or discovery threatens to fundamentally transform or alter the world Geographic Campaign Relical Campaign – involving some ancient and powerful relic, artifact, or ancient device Disaster or Catastrophe Campaign Discovery or Exploration Campaign – discovery of some new area of the world, or of some ancient yet unknown/little known section of the world Heroism and/or Self-Sacrifice Campaign Disintegration Campaign – slow disintegration of a structure or system or government or a nation Rebirth or Renaissance Campaign New Race or Species – discovery of a new race or species Weird Campaign
Fighters. Mages. Priests. Rogues. These are the primary four character classes in Dungeons & Dragons, and they have served the role-playing game well for over 30 years. But there are many others in addition to these — some awesome, some weird, and some just ridiculous. Here are 24 real D&D specialty classes that should force any player to make a saving throw against shame.
1) Fighting Man
In the original Dungeons & Dragons game, there were three classes: Magic-User, Cleric and Fighting Man. How Gary Gygax came up with “Fighting Man” as opposed to “Fighter” is unknowable. A Fighter is a profession. A Fighting Man is basically a violent drunk. It’s no wonder this class changed names at the first opportunity
This is not a joke. AD&D really gave you the options to willingly play a beggar. Beggars had recommended skills, like “Seamstress/Tailor.” They had to be Chaotic in alignment. It was suggested they take the Inherent Immunity to Cold and Heat traits. This is insane.
“The Blood of the monster is the doom of the unwary.”
“He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”
“Fantasy, abandoned by reason, produces impossible monsters; united with it, she is the mother of the arts and the origin of marvels.”
“History is not the story of heroes entirely. It is often the story of cruelty and injustice and shortsightedness. There are monsters, there is evil…”
“… I prefer the monsters of my fancy to what is positively trivial.”
Synopsis: The Blood of Monsters is far more than the blood of simple animals, or the nerveless sap of tree limbs. The blood of the monster is a deep, potent, ancient, terrible thing, capable of warping the world, and either wondrously enabling, or viciously crippling and killing, the Hero. Beware the blood of the monster, and do not easily discard the tremendous potential it encloses within itself.
Essay: In myth it is often the case that the blood, tissues, organs, or parts of a monster have unique, if not astounding properties of their own, quite apart from those possessed by the whole or intact, living creature itself.
Yet far too often these additional (or inherent, really) “monstrous characteristics” are overlooked (sometimes entirely) in fantasy, mythological, and magical gaming. Monsters are slain, their blood washes over the characters to no real effect, and the monstrous bodies or corpses thereafter simply discarded, as if they were the inconvenient, tiresome, or useless detritus of the true business of adventuring. No real consequences ensue from, or for, the slaying of monsters, from being in close proximity to them when they are killed, or from being washed and covered in the gore and curses and hatred and pollution and ferocity of their ultimate demise. The death of monsters becomes a mere mathematical and mechanical expression of character survival beyond beastly endurance, rather than a fascinating cosmic struggle between weird and uncanny physical, supernatural, and magical forces and the life-force of men. And the killing of monsters likewise has either no additional benefit, nor any additional consequence, other than the taking of their treasure or the removal of their objection to whatever goal(s) the hero currently or ultimately pursues. In short the monster is far less a real monster, far less a real threat, far less weird and far less dangerous, than if hunting and killing monsters implied nothing more mysterious, fantastic, and potentially lethal than a mere exercise in hit point reduction to “less than zero.” As a matter of fact killing most monsters in many role play games implies a level of danger and consequence that is exactly that, less than zero. Once slain or nearly slain a monster is then no more of a real threat than the paper-tiger number stats used to summarize his imaginary existence. But is this really a proper expression of the idea of monstrousness? In the imagination? In myth? Or even in-game?
Certainly not so in myth, where the blood of monsters and weird beings often has dramatic (and even sometimes life-long) effects upon the heroes who encounter such marvels, perhaps even upon nearby observers, other monsters, or the very landscape itself. In this respect I think myth is often far more engaging, richer in content and implication, tremendously more interesting, and far more versatile than typical fantasy (or other genres of) role play gaming. Monsters actually mean things in myth. They are not simply the enemy soldier du jour, dressed in some fantastic garb of hoary yet impotent flesh or rotting, undead sheets of nothingness. They are not merely “tactical challenges” as would be the case as if an infantry battalion in a wargame were suddenly compressed into a single fearsome body and sent forth to fight tooth and claw against armed adventurers. Instead monsters are “danger incarnate,” they are a warping of the woof of existence, their being alters and changes things around them, they bend reality, sicken or extend it, they reshape nature (physical, mental, and spiritual) into a monstrosity of devastating potential. In myth (from which spring the sources of the idea and shapes and names and forms of monsters in role play games) monsters are dangerous, deadly, uncanny, they distort the nature of the things they encounter, and they do all of this both within and well-beyond the very narrow confines of combat. It seems to me then that the monster should be returned to his more natural (or unnatural, depending upon your point of view) state(s) of being, a being that exudes, reflects and engenders corruption, weirdness, lethality, and real, unremitting and unrepentant peril. Both in life, and in death. *
In short I am advocating the idea that even the blood, tissues, and corpses of monsters might very well, and even in some cases definitely should, have effects both upon the characters encountering them, and upon the entire atmosphere and environment of the role-play milieu. That monsters become far more than mere combat automatons, far more than just tactical challenges, far more than an enemy in a rubber mask and a plastic suit of armor who can execute feats of multiple backflips or shoot acid from a naphtha gland in his mouth.
Monsters are not simply monsters because they look weird, because men find them to be distasteful, evil, ugly, frightening, gigantic, or unique adversaries. Monsters are also monsters because of their peculiarly monstrous qualities, which extend far beyond motive and appearance and down to the very marrow of their bones, as well as throughout the blood or ichor that washes unseen through their twisted veins. And that when this blood (and/or body) becomes exposed to the world at large, when it stains the flesh of the hero, and when the bones of monsters litter the landscape, other things occur of definite and noticeable effect. Things that are sometimes wondrous, things that are sometimes terrible, occasionally even more horrifying in implication or outcome than the threat of the original monster itself. (I use the term monster in this respect in a very generalized sense. Of course the same “monstrous properties” might be said to exist for supernatural beings and alien creatures, in horror/supernatural/adventure/superhero, and sci-fi gaming. And I would hardly argue against the same types of monstrous properties I am advocating for mythological and fantasy based monsters is such cases. Rather I would just expect that given the nature of the creature in question that such properties would manifest differently, but also quite obviously, in those other types of circumstances.)
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– unless otherwise acknowledged, expressed, or specified all materials on this site (or any of the other sites I inhabit on the world wide web or similar communication structures) that were composed, created, designed, devised, formulated, or produced by me, be they in the form of Artwork, Business Ventures, Capital Projects, Career Activities, Designs, Game Materials, Inventions, Mathematical Equations, Musical Compositions, New Theories, Poetry, Scientific Works, Songs, Unique Innovations, Writings of various kinds, or any other intellectual property I own or retain control of, herein and henceforth shall be considered possessions under my sole authority and are fully protected by copyrights, trademarks, registrations and any and all applicable laws, local, national, and international, and any violation of my rights regarding any of my property, intellectual or otherwise, will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. All rights reserved.
I am very happy to openly share ideas and to work collaboratively, I encourage that, but I do not like the theft of my ideas and property, and that I will pursue and prosecute.