A Brief Love Letter to Dungeons & Dragons

There are many reasons why people love to play Dungeons & Dragons. The amount of campaigns and worlds to explore, variety of ways to play, and the ability to be as creative and expressive as you want makes the enormously complicated game one of the most popular in the world. While I’m not an expert on the lore or gameplay mechanics of Dungeons & Dragons and probably never will be, I still consider myself a casual enthusiast of the franchise. My personal history with Dungeons & Dragons is often playing with friends or strangers who later became friends. Naturally, most of my memories of Dungeons & Dragons are positive and therefore strengthens my fondness towards the game.

Upon first playing Dungeons & Dragons, I knew what I was getting myself into. I was acutely aware of the amount of information was required to complete your character sheet. While setting everything up for the campaign can be time consuming, especially if you’re playing as a Dungeon Master (DM), it’s worth the investment. Even if you barely put any thought into it and make an ambidextrous bard with mediocre charisma, like I have, you can still produce a compelling character. Of course, your character on their own does not fully complete the D&D experience. Your character needs a party, which is the primary source of entertainment for me. The in-game interactions between the characters and NPCs (non-playable characters) yields a variety of amusing results. While some would rather play seriously and progress through the story as efficiently and productively as possible, others would rather make a fool of themselves and bastardize the entire scene.

The Dice Never Lies

The sheer flexibility and versatility of D&D, no matter how rigid the rule set is, coupled with the inexorable randomness involved in the gameplay culminates in one of the most unpredictable games you could ever play. For most board games, there is a set of limitations of what a player could accomplish. There is a limited amount of properties you could own in Monopoly and a limited amount of moves you could make in Chess. Consequently, these limitations compels the player to strategize within the boundaries of the rules. However, Dungeons & Dragons, despite being filled to the brim with complex rules and stipulations, is one of the rare games where players don’t have to work within boundaries. Essentially, the players themselves have the agency to play the game however they want.

They could orthodoxically adhere to the original game design’s rulebook, or they could modify it to however they see fit. Despite role-playing as subordinates of a larger realm, the players are the gods of this universe. There is no legitimate way to play Dungeons & Dragons. While owning copies of the monster manuals and campaign books are helpful, there is no reason to treat them as gospel in order to have the D&D experience. What is needed is the party to accompany you along with this adventure. The role of the DM is crucial as well. Narrating what is happening and role-playing the NPCs also contributes to the entertainment value of the game, but the unconventional nature of D&D is one of the main reasons why I enjoy it so much.

Nobody would like playing Scrabble if people could disregard the seven-letter limit and make whatever words they wanted wherever they wanted. A game like Scrabble simply needs those limitations in order for the player to think and strategize accordingly. D&D doesn’t require a specific method of gameplay or format to be enjoyable. You just need to build a structure that works for you and gather a group willing to play through the adventure. Cohesion and conventions are not necessary, but having a communal, collaborative gameplay experience is. While the in-game characters may not like each other or even turn against each other, D&D isn’t a competitive game by nature. The challenge of the game stems from surviving the adventure. Permadeath exists in D&D and players could have their characters killed, thus no longer being able to play. Fortunately, death is a rarity, but it certainly has its consequences.

I could talk for eternity about the small details of the game. For instance, I could talk about the importance of having a DM willing to role-play and perform other characters well. Having a sterile narrator uninterested in portraying NPCs would make for a dull adventure, so the DM should have some exuberance behind the performances. They are the storyteller, after all, but the players are the writers. That dynamic is critical in sustaining in order to have a good D&D experience, which is why I stress the need to have the right kind of people above all else. You can have all the books and materials necessary to play the game, but if nobody seems engaged in the game, why bother doing the adventure? Investment is paramount and that investment is expected of players throughout the adventure, which could last months or years depending on what kind of party and campaign you have. D&D is not a one-and-done game. I could argue it’s less of a game but more of a fully interactive story.

Beyond the daunting nature of D&D to many non-players, I should stress that you don’t need to be a geek to play this game. You don’t need to be a huge fan of the fantasy genre (though that certainly helps) and you don’t need to be a huge gamer in general. All you need is some imagination and commitment to experience an adventure with friends, family, or strangers who will become friends later on. To me, that’s the true spirit of D&D and it’s why I will always consider it a favorite of mine.

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Peter Finaldi

Graduate at Rutgers University. Writes about movies, video games, and anything else that I find interesting. My twitter: @PeterJFinaldi