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What is Dungeons and Dragons, and why should I care?

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Dungeons and Dragons is a tabletop game that was created in the 1980s and has lived on in living rooms and gaming stores ever since. But what is D&D exactly?

D&D is a roleplaying game (or RPG) which involves dice rolls, modifiers and a whole lot of improvisation. In RPGs like D&D, players improvise with prompts from their Dungeon Master (DM), who acts as the narrator, puppet-master and all of the enemies that the group may fight. Your group of players must work together to fight dragons, persuade NPCs (non-player characters) and defeat the forces of evil.

The game is classified as a tabletop game because it started its life as a pencil and paper physical experience, and you can still play that way today. But many players have decided to embrace the digital age and play with D&D enthusiasts from all across the world using websites like Roll20.

The setting is generic high fantasy, á la Lord of the Rings, but can be adapted to suit your own preferences if your DM is willing to put in the extra work, and the character options are almost limitless. There are many classes to choose from, most of which will feel familiar to anyone who has played video games in a fantasy setting.

You can play as the bumbling wizard, akin to Rincewind from the Discworld universe, or as a dastardly rogue who steals everything they can get their hands on. Your character can be an elf, Dragonborn, half-orc, or even just an ordinary human who’s a little bit lost in the chaos. Everything is flexible and you get to decide all of the nuances of your chosen character.

But why should you invest time in Dungeons and Dragons, when you could play any other fantasy game? 

Well for one, the cooperative element of D&D is something very special. Bonding with your friends over make believe raids and treasure seem ludicrous if you haven’t experienced it, but the people you play with can become lifelong friends. There’s something to be said for teamwork, even if it’s imaginary, and the effects last longer than the game sessions themselves.

In addition to this, acting as a character and getting to behave abnormally can be very cathartic, and can enable you to work through problems in your own life. There’s an element of ‘fake it till you make it’ – role-playing as a confident character who isn’t afraid to confront people can increase your social skills and improve your own confidence outside of the game.

Whilst the rulebooks for D&D admittedly have a sizeable price tag attached to them, many resources are available for free and you don’t have to invest your hard-earned money into a game you haven’t yet played. Wizards of the Coast (the company who produces D&D) have sections on their website where they outline the ‘Basic Rules’ and game mechanics so that you aren’t running in blind, and many third parties offer explanations and time-saving tools for the character creation process.

If you’re still not convinced that you should give D&D a try, then I have a recommendation for you.

Critical Role is a show that airs once a week on Geek and Sundry’s Twitch channel and involves a group of voice actors playing their D&D game live on the internet for thousands to see. Matthew Mercer (the voice of McCree in Overwatch) is their dungeon master, and he is joined by his friends Laura Bailey, Travis Willingham, Sam Riegel, Liam O’Brien, Marisha Ray, Ashley Johnson and Taliesin Jaffe for a game full of memorable characters and hilarious antics.

For newcomers, start with Trial of the Take: Part 3, as it’s a great chunk of the show featuring a self-contained story which won’t spoil you for the rest of the fun. The running time may seem like a lot, and feel free to skip past sections that bore you or only watch the beginning, but it’s worth watching at least partially, to see how seasoned players tackle the mechanics and play with the freedom that comes with them.

So there you go; a short introduction to Dungeons and Dragons, and why you should play it. Now all that’s left is for you to find yourself a dungeon master and group of friends who want to join you on the journey.

Godspeed my fellow adventurer!

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