Five reasons to play D&D

I thought Grimm Wisdom's "5 reasons to play D&D" was a great list -- and it made me want to get my 4-y-o out of bed and have a go at the stripped-down version we play with random toys, polyhedral dice, and miniatures. But I blogged it instead -- here's the first three, I'm gonna get the kid up:

1. Dungeons and Dragons is about imagination. It is sitting at a table, with some books, paper and pencil (or their electronic equivalent, PDFs and spreadsheets), and using the power of your mind to throw yourself into a fantasy world. Everything that your characters do is something you decided for them to do. This is no video game designer laying out choices for you. In my 20-plus years of gaming, our characters have started wars, ended wars, rescued people, killed monsters, started towns, started criminal organizations, thrown parades, stopped parades, bought bars, built temples, in addition to countless other things.

2. Dungeons and Dragons is structure. No creative endeavor, be it art, music, writing or performance, can exist without a framework of r

ules and boundaries. Our English language is built on 26 letters and our music 12 notes. It is the creative person’s mission to build something in the context of that structure that is worthwhile and maybe even entertaining.

3. Dungeons and Dragons is social. You can’t play this game alone. It requires at least two people, and typically four to eight. Interacting with other people, especially face-to-face, is important. It just is.

5 reasons to play D&D (via Wil Wheaton)


  1. Dungeons & Dragons didn’t give me a love of acting and improvisation, but it certainly helped foster it and gave me an outlet. For several years I went to a gaming/science fiction convention in Evansville, Indiana. Prior to my first convention I’d enjoyed playing D&D with my friends, but never made the connection between gaming and acting. At the first game I sat down to at my first convention I was handed a detailed character description that covered an entire page. Playing D&D with my friends was fun, but this, I felt, was what had been missing. From then on if I wasn’t given a character I worked very hard at creating one.

    I don’t know if developing a love of acting and improvisation could be considered a reason to play D&D, but it sure doesn’t hurt.

  2. It’s important to note that D&D is one of many tabletop roleplaying games  — even if it’s not your cup of tea, there’s a broad spectrum of different styles of other games out there.

    From a roleplaying perspective, D&D is very much at the structured end of the spectrum — the system (rolling dice and comparing to skill scores) is “front and centre”, and strongly informs the sort of stories you end up acting out. D&D games are usually focussed around combat, as that’s where the system particularly shines, and D&D doesn’t demand as much in the way of imagination and acting as other games.

    For people who’d like to play something a bit more thespian, or less about bashing your way through a dungeon full of monsters and taking their stuff (not that that isn’t great fun), I recommend Legend, by Mongoose Publishing. It’s my favourite go-to system for fantasy settings; it’s at least as polished than D&D, being based on the venerable Call of Cthulhu RPG system, which is still going strong after 30 years; and the PDF’s only a dollar!

    Striking a similar balance between dungeon-bashing and acting, there’s Savage Worlds, which is a bit of a newcomer on the roleplaying scene, but has really caught on quickly — SW benefits from having a huge selection of pre-made settings already available for it, of all genres, be they fantasy, sci fi, horror, …

    Going right to the other end of the structured/thespian spectrum of RPGs, there’s games like Fiasco — it’s not about winning fights, getting fat loot, and improving your character; it’s all about telling a story. In particular, a story in which everything goes utterly and hilariously wrong.

    So I figure there’s something for everyone.

    (Full disclosure: I have no professional relationship with Drive Thru RPG, but I have bought a lot of things off them; and my relationship with the above games goes no further than enjoying playing them.)

  3. I’ve been running Earthdawn, from Redbrick LLC, since it was first published many years ago by FASA. (Disclaimer: I’ve written for both FASA and Redbrick for this system.) Our eldest son and middle son have grown up playing in our campaign. Youngest son says he doesn’t have the attention span for it, and we have to respect that he’s able to assess himself that well.

    We’re homeschoolers, and have used our campaign to teach all sorts of things, from teamwork and basic math to the Fibonacci series and metallurgy to Mayan and Chinese history and culture. While in Chicago, we founded a ship (equivalent of a troop) of the Sea Scouts, spun off from our gaming group, that took the players’ interest in sailing (the characters had a ship) out onto Lake Michigan, aboard a sailboat owned by the Boy Scout Council. Last I heard, even though my family left Chicago years ago, the ship is still active, and still sailing the Lake.

    I’ve run rolegaming campaigns for other groups of homeschoolers as well. In Rockford IL, I ran Blue Planet for a group of 8 to 12 year old boys, and used it to teach them science. They got to level up their characters’ skills if they brought me research papers on an appropriate topic. I had one kid who brought me a writeup on the Watergate break-in to advance his character’s electronic surveillance skill. I ran another group that was parents and kids, in an exploration themed campaign, that put them all together working for the survival of the team and the success of the mission.Heck yeah, I’m all for using roleplaying games as a teaching tool. The opportunities for learning within a campaign are massive. The concept of skill transference from a roleplay to real life is well documented in psychological texts.

  4. D&D is only as good as the DM and great DMs are few and far between. I was fortunate to have a experience with a good one and an amazing one but without a good DM D&D can be really bad. Not to discourage anyone from trying it . Just be aware and if you find a good DM encourage them all you can.

    1. This. I’m DMing a campaign right now and I’ve got to say that when I’m assessing myself most charitably, I’m pretty bad. It’s fairly easy as a player to carp about what your DM is doing, but the skill set it requires is shockingly wide. In addition to crafting quality narrative, providing challenge within whatever sort of rule set you have, and nominally acting out the NPCs, you have to be a flexible enough and fast enough thinker to deal with your players going off the reservation. After a few weeks, I started writing up multiple hooks to get the party interested. The first week I did it, they ignored the three hooks I’d thrown their way, decided to strike off on their own, and looked at me expectantly.

  5. I’ve always been more of a Champions girl, myself.

    Our Champs universe has been going on for about 32 years now. We’ve been through universe reboots (a’la Crisis on Infinite Earths), alien invasions, plagues, economic apocalypse, zombies, time travel, and a ton of other stories. Some of our main PC characters are even still around ^^

    1. It’s also interesting to read snarky comments about literacy from someone who doesn’t seem to know the difference between reading and writing, nor heard of capital letters or commas.

  6. In 1979 I played an enormous amount of D&D (specifically AD&D 1st ed) with my friends.  It was an amazing experience that gave me an unrivaled creative and problem solving opportunity as a player and world designer.

    Thirty years later, in 2009, my son was getting tired of the high cost of some of his Magic card games – with planned card obsolescence and card power being driven by card cost.  I showed him and his friends my old D&D books from thirty year prior, got them started on a simple initial game and they took it over from there.    Those books had seen an incredible amount of use, and are now going through it all once again.    Just last night the kids played through dawn with my son running an adventure intended to challenge their skills and imagination.   I could tell from their laughter and discussion that it was successful.

    This summer my son while on a family trip back to my old homeland of Michigan connected with the sons of my high school D&D friends.  Like my son, they’re also playing – using their dad’s old books.  His all-night adventure playing with some great new friends, the second generation of players using those old materials, was the highlight of his vacation.    It sounds like we might all get together next summer for a weekend.  I’ll probably create an adventure in which the old codger characters of my generation must be rescued by this new generation.

    These old books may not seem as sexy as new technologies like World of Warcraft, but they offer something different that continues to be compelling:  wide open story-telling in an immediately social environment. 

    1. The question mark requires use of the shift key. Gotcha.

      So did the ampersand in your first comment, now I think about it.

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