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Role Playing (Games) Games

Looking Back At Dungeons & Dragons 189

An anonymous reader sends in a nostalgic piece about Dungeons & Dragons and the influence it's had on games and gamers for the past 36 years. Quoting: "Maybe there was something in the air during the early '70s. Maybe it was historically inevitable. But it seems way more than convenient coincidence that Gygax and Arneson got their first packet of rules for D&D out the door in 1974, the same year Nolan Bushnell managed to cobble together a little arcade machine called Pong. We've never had fun quite the same way since. Looking back, these two events set today's world of gaming into motion — the Romulus and Remus of modern game civilization. For the rest of forever, we would sit around and argue whether games should let us do more or tell us better stories."
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Looking Back At Dungeons & Dragons

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  • by sznupi ( 719324 ) on Wednesday January 20, 2010 @04:34AM (#30829414) Homepage []

    1972, it seems.

  • by dushkin ( 965522 ) on Wednesday January 20, 2010 @04:58AM (#30829530) Homepage

    ... nobody wants to play D&D with me now that we have video games (THANKS FOR NOTHING, PONG). :( does /. want to play?

    • by mwvdlee ( 775178 )

      So? Buy some video games and people will want to play with you again. Or are video games merely the scapegoat here? ;)

    • by derGoldstein ( 1494129 ) on Wednesday January 20, 2010 @05:12AM (#30829592) Homepage
      Few people born after 1990 will likely want to touch D&D, or any other pen-and-paper RPG. I kind of feel sorry for their imaginations. At some point the saturation of visual media will reach a point where practically everything is a close derivative of some other work the artist has seen, and you'll have very little artwork that's created simply by the mind of the designer. This has implications, IMHO, that reach further than just how people draw elves and orcs. D&D made us look up at the *ceiling* and try to imagine a creature, a place, a situation, and the interaction of things that we've never encountered. Kids seeing Avatar today will be, in some way, imagination-impaired.
      (damn, I sound old)
      • by LordLucless ( 582312 ) on Wednesday January 20, 2010 @05:25AM (#30829660)
        Really? I asked around at church, and we got so many people interested, we had to rope in another DM and organise two games. Most of the people who play are in the 18 - 24 bracket. Although our assistant minister joined us for one game as a cleric of atheism.
        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by MadKeithV ( 102058 )

          Although our assistant minister joined us for one game as a cleric of atheism.

          I don't believe you. Or should that be "I disbelieve you" ?

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward
          You know what is really funny to me is that when I was growing up in the 70's and playing D&D it was declared as satanic by the church. Much the way there are churches and religious people that claim Harry Potter is satanic or is witchcraft today. I recently did a report on this for a class I was taking, which I had never thought about until I did that paper. However I remember as a child and reading all the D&D books and being told they were satanic, yet I knew better because I actually read the bo
        • Although our assistant minister joined us for one game as a cleric of atheism.

          Then I'm going to go ahead and guess that you go to a Unitarian-Universalist church. Well, that or Episcopalian.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by S77IM ( 1371931 )

          Wrong -- pen-and-paper RPGs are selling better today than at any previous point in history (well, actually I think the high point was 2008, but we can probably blame this slump on the economy). And it's not all just nostalgic 30-somethings (my demographic) either. There are a LOT of high-school and middle-school kids getting into the hobby.

          Remember, these kids grew up on Pokemon, which is both a CRPG and a collectible card game, and WoW and LotR make them very familiar with the source material. It's not

          • by S77IM ( 1371931 )

            DAMN, replied to wrong post! Curse you, threaded comments! The above post should have been for the GP...

            Failed my Preview saving throw...

              -- 77IM

          • by Gilmoure ( 18428 )

            S77IM said... Everybody's doing it. It'll make you feel good... Your first hit's free!

            Damn you Keep On The Borderlands, damn you to hell!!!

        • OK, I need to know where this church is. It sounds like it just might be the church for me...

      • You are WRONG (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        What you just said is like claiming that "no one will read books" anymore after TV was invented.

        Pen and Paper Roleplaying games offer a completely different kind of experience that you get from books, movies, computer games.
        It has it's own advantages and disadvantages and offers a "unique" kind of entertainment - just as all other forms as other "unique" kinds of entertainment do as well. I really do not see why those cannot co-exist. And as we are it I'd also say that LARP will also be around in the years

      • by Paltin ( 983254 )
        ... and few people born before 1990 want to play D&D either! (Perhaps 10% based on the numbers in the article).

        If you think that pen-and-paper RPG's are dead, you're sorely out of touch. WoTC has literally lead a resurgence in popularity of D&D w/ their new products, and today's 20yos play as much as they ever did. Want evidence? Go to your local university and look up their gaming club. It'll be packed full of nerddom. Go to your local game store's RPG night and look at the crowd... you'll see
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Knyterage ( 1365183 )
        I don't see this as totally true. My one cousin was born in August of 1990 and she keeps hounding me when we are going to be playing D&D again. Granted it started with me running games with her brother and his friends when they were in high school. She's been playing since she was around 10 and has a very good imagination. However I am not saying that all this cgi and special effects won't hurt others of that generation but I know when I have kids, it will not be the case. Also my friends kids, whe
      • by Sandbags ( 964742 ) on Wednesday January 20, 2010 @09:32AM (#30830948) Journal

        The kids of all the members our our active game groups are starting to become interested. The oldest is only 8.

        Kids imagine more than you know, and given the wealth of influence from media, movies, stories, and more, they can come up with some pretty hard core stuff.

        We didn't "imagine" as much as you think with D&D either, we had pictures of monters to look at, descriptions and detailed accounts to reference, the only one doing any real imagining was the DM and only if he wrote his only story, or more commonly augmented one to better suit tyhe group). The rest of us were simply "role playing" which is what it's all about. Reacting to events and scenarios as someone else might react instead of yourself. The rest was all simply in the rules. It's a scripted session of pretend, not very far different from the choose-your-own-adventure books from the 70's and 80's. The advantage of it was simply that the rules were basically wide open for any conceivable action to be done by a player instead of a strict set of options on your turn.

        Today, it's better. We have actual play maps (which were allways optional back in the day, and rarely used because of the massive time investment in making them and expense of miniatures). The TV is a central view of the action, initiative, and quest notes. Players use laptops to manage their character and move them about on the screen by joining the server. They can see what monters look like (currently they're simply icons, scanned from the books, so it's really not all that different) Rolling and to-hit calcuations have been replaced by macros which makes combat MUCH more efficient and lets us "play" more and roll less (though some still prefer real dice). It's easier to get a mental image of what's going on, and there's less "narrative" as the GM simply explains your surroundings and relative position to each other.

        We're still huddles in a room over character sheets running through adventures led by a GM pulling the strings of NPCs. The stories now are not much diferent than they used to be. It's quite entertaining, and action happens a lot faster than it used to.

      • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) * on Wednesday January 20, 2010 @10:06AM (#30831256)
        Try growing up in a hick town where you're the only D&D fan. Then you won't romanticize it so much. At least the CRPG's gave me someone to play with.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by maurert ( 515791 )

        I disagree that noone born after 1990 wants to play pen and paper D&D. My two boys ages 9 and 13 are hooked. My 4 year-old daughter wants to play SO BAD. There is a whole gaggle of boys at scouts that have been roped in. Of course maybe that's because ipods, cell phones and computers are banned at overnighters! But that's not really the reason.

        Why did I show D&D to my boys? The answer will surprise you. My older son was then 8. He was an advanced reader, but he much preferred books on tape, C

    • by Bigbutt ( 65939 )

      Well not D&D but you're welcome to lurk at our Google Wave Shadowrun game.

      If you're actually looking for someone to game with (and there are a whole lot of us out here), check out []

      Farcaster has an excellent gamer registry. Assuming you're not in an area with 5 people in it, there's a good chance there are a few folks local to you.

      And of course, check out the local game shops. Here in the Denver area there are 11 that I'm aware of. []


      There are many local gaming groups.

      I run two D&D games and will probably start a third later this year.

      I play a home brew Cyclopedia version. It has about 400 pages of rules, all in Openoffice.

      My game has a lot of concepts later added to AD&D. I suppose they had to solve some of the same problems I did.

      I've been playing since 1976 after hearing about the "D&D Room" at a convention. I bought a whitebox set and Greyhawk.

      I tried AD&D and the first PHB killed that campaign (it h

  • That article links to this image (NSFW) [], which I'll now have printed, poster-sized, and paste on my apartment door. No one will ever knock on that door again, ever.
    • by cfalcon ( 779563 )

      Why is the half-orc circumsized? Hebrew half orc mayhaps?

      • I think it's a genetic thing. I mean, I don't see a kippah on him.
        • by cfalcon ( 779563 )

          Shouldn't he have at least *half* a foreskin?

          And wouldn't an orc, being more bestial anyway, have like, MORE foreskin? Certainly he couldn't have NONE right? Even if orcs don't have any, humans sure do.

          I'm going with, it's easier to keep kosher if you yourself are part pig, so that's probably a Jewish half-orc.

      • I think the author explains this one. On his take of orcish culture there is some latent barbarism and, like several primitive tribes of humans, they practice genital mutilation (in this case as part of a coming-of-age ceremony).
    • Wow, I am hung like a half-orc.
  • Rogue-like (Score:5, Interesting)

    by VincenzoRomano ( 881055 ) on Wednesday January 20, 2010 @05:38AM (#30829742) Homepage Journal
    Rogue-like [] games are here since 1972!
    And you have been killed by a troll!
  • Nothing more fun? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by kieran ( 20691 ) on Wednesday January 20, 2010 @05:50AM (#30829788)

    D&D taught a generation of kids that they could make the games they play, and that nothing was more fun than getting together with friends for an evening of games.

    Utter bollocks - an evening of games pales in comparison with a day-long pizza-fuelled session at the weekend.

    • by imakemusic ( 1164993 ) on Wednesday January 20, 2010 @06:40AM (#30830032)

      Just as the players themselves paled in comparison to their peers.

    • by TomRC ( 231027 )

      Hah! Princeton University used to have a group that ran full weekend, 24-7 games all around a central story for a hundred or so players with many GMs. Pale That!

    • Re:Nothing more fun? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by CodeBuster ( 516420 ) on Wednesday January 20, 2010 @12:45PM (#30833670)

      Utter bollocks - an evening of games pales in comparison with a day-long pizza-fuelled session at the weekend.

      ED: You see a well groomed garden. In the middle, on a small hill, you see a gazebo.

      ERIC: A gazebo? What color is it?

      ED: (Pause) It's white, Eric.

      ERIC: How far away is it?

      ED: About fifty yards.

      ERIC: How big is it?

      ED: (Pause) It's about thirty feet across, fifteen feet high, with a pointed top.

      ERIC: I use my sword to detect good on it.

      ED: It's not good, Eric. It's a gazebo!

      ERIC: (Pause) I call out to it.

      ED: It won't answer. It's a gazebo!

      ERIC: (Pause) I sheathe my sword and draw my bow and arrows. Does it respond in any way?

      ED: No, Eric, it's a gazebo!

      ERIC: I shoot it with my bow (roll to hit). What happened?

      ED: There is now a gazebo with an arrow sticking out of it.

      ERIC: (Pause) Wasn't it wounded?

      ED: Of course not, Eric! It's a gazebo!

      ERIC: (Whimper) But that was a plus three arrow!

      ED: It's a gazebo, Eric, a gazebo! If you really want to try to destroy it, you could try to chop it with an axe, I suppose, or you could try to burn it, but I don't know why anybody would even try. It's a *)@#! gazebo!

      ERIC: (Long pause. He has no axe or fire spells.) I run away.

      ED: (Thoroughly frustrated) It's too late. You've woken up the gazebo, and it catches you and eats you.

      ERIC: (Reaching for his dice) Maybe I'll roll up a fire-using mage so I can avenge my Paladin.

  • For the rest of forever, we would sit around and argue whether games should let us do more or tell us better stories.

    Uh, which one is Pong supposed to represent? Aren't "can do more" and "have actual story" the two historic strengths of RPGs?

  • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Wednesday January 20, 2010 @11:35AM (#30832416) Homepage Journal

    I was a DM during the heyday of AD&D 2nd Ed. I ran successful AD&D and Traveler campaigns for several years, until work commitments and the old gang moving away put and end to that. After ten years of my old roleplaying stuff gathering dust I put it in the library book sale.

    When I was running campaigns, I quickly realized that the rules were not really workable from a DM's perspective. The roleplaying aspect of the game was too open ended to be practical for this set of rules. That's why the ridiculous "dungeon crawl" campaigns were so popular, because they paid back *all* of the DM's work. If you filled a hundred rooms with treasure and monsters, the players would methodically clean out each level.

    In a sense this recaptured the old strategic simulation games from which this kind of thing evolved. If you set up Napolean vs. Wellington at Waterloo, you didn't have to worry about players saying, "I think I'll take my army and move back over Belgian fronteir, then negotiate a treaty which will apparently give Britain what it is looking for, under the cover of which I can build other geopolitical alliances that will undercut her." After you did all the work of researching and setting up the initial conditions for an elaborate battle simulation, the players were jolly well going to play out *your* scenario. But the freedom to do something unexpected is the essence of roleplaying.

    That the rules were really not very adequate didn't hurt, because short of simulating the whole world, they couldn't possibly be. The DM makes up rules governing outcomes as he goes along, and if he does it skillfully the players don't even notice. In fact once I got very experienced at this *most* of the campaign, and usually the best parts of the campaign, were improvised on the spot. Instead of spending five hours preparing for a five hour session, I could spend one hour on something that would make a really big difference.

    The key insight I got was this: roleplaying games aren't simulation. They're "cops and robbers" or "cowboys and indians" with just enough structure to make them interesting and challenging. It's group story telling, not for the end product but for the experience of being in the story.

    Now recently my teenaged daughter expressed interest in learning D&D, so I picked up the latest books. Now before I start yelling at all you kids with your newfangled systems to get off my lawn, let me say that the new rules are impressive. Clearly a lot of thought has gone into them, and they cover contingencies a lot more clearly, and tweak some of the things that were illogical. These are much better *simulation* rules. But they aren't necessarily better roleplaying rules.

    Perfect, even *reasonably good* simulation rules for roleplaying are impractical, in my opinion, because such rules would have to be a reasonably good ontology of some world. Well before you'd get to "reasonably good" you'd reach the point where the rules are cumbersome. What rules ought to do (in my opinion) is provide a framework in which players are forced to make decisions that are meaningful to them (e.g., "Am I up to fighting this guy, or should I run away and heal up?"; "If I want to steal the jewel from the idol, how should I prepare my escape?").

    It seems to me that roleplaying rules should focus on (a) forcing player decisions, (b) being convenient to use and (c) being easy to learn for both gamemaster and player.

    It seems to me the new D&D rules are no better at A, not significantly better at B, and a lot worse at C.

    It used to be that you could bring up a new player with about fifteen minutes of explanation and another fifteen minutes of walking him through his character generation. That coincided with the phase of the evening's entertainment that featured pizza and chatting for the other players. If you wanted to bring a whole group up, you took them all through the half hour orientation then treated them to a one evening dungeon crawl, after which they'd know everything th

  • My wife and I were in college at the time we discovered D&D back in the late 1970's. We found a gaming shop in town and got interested in the miniatures they had, as well as the fact that various games involved science fiction or fantasy. One of our first purchases was the D&D rule set in the blue dragon box. We also picked up a few sets of dice, all of which were single color and many of which had sharp edges.

    We've continued D&D over the decades, in addition to other role playing systems, in

God made the integers; all else is the work of Man. -- Kronecker