I NEED to make a confession. Once a week, I like to spend a
couple of hours with like-minded individuals, listening to strange
music, poring over arcane volumes, and re-enacting rituals that are
incomprehensible to the outside world. Yes, I play Dungeons and
But what exactly is D&D, as players call it? Ask around, and
the answers will probably be confused. Does it have something to do
with dice-rolling? Wasn't there a cartoon? Isn't it associated with
D&D is a role-playing game - the first ever to be published,
in fact - although now it is just one of many games on the market.
In it, players create and act out a character in a fantastical
setting, typically Tolkien-inspired high fantasy, with elves,
dwarves, wizards, and plenty of monsters.
The game is run by a games master (GM), who controls the
narrative. He or she describes surroundings, acts out characters
that the players meet, and referees any fights that occur.
Important actions, such as launching an attack or casting a spell,
are dictated by a complex set of rules, with success or failure
judged by the roll of a die. The result is an addictive cross
between amateur dramatics, Jackanory, and a board
D&D has had a chequered past in relation to Christianity.
Its huge popularity in the late '70s and early '80s attracted the
ire of fundamentalist groups, who were nervous of its "pagan"
fantasy setting. D&D was accused of encouraging everything from
witchcraft to teenage suicide. Now, most of the arguments against
D&D have been refuted, but the stigma remains.
What is true is that D&D can be time-consuming - although no
more than many modern console-games. And, unlike computer games,
D&D's tone and content is shaped entirely by its players. You
could play a violent, depressing game, but you could equally create
something more uplifting. The story you tell is your choice. Even
the high-fantasy setting is optional: the D&D rules can be
adapted to any setting.
For me, it is a chance to tell stories in a truly immersive way.
It is more exciting than a board game, more sociable than a novel,
and more interactive than an Xbox. It allows a freedom that you
probably last felt in a game of make-believe in the school
playground, coupled with structure, problem-solving, and strategy.
Most of all, with a friendly set of players and a talented GM, it's
just sheer, unadulterated fun. Role-playing seems to touch
something in people, the part of them that longs for adventure, for
the classic battle of good versus evil.
D&D can become expensive, but all that is really necessary
is a set of core rule-books, which can be bought online or from a
specialist gaming shop. Wizards of the Coast (the publishers of
D&D) provides online lists of clubs that are open to new
members. Or you can find some like-minded friends, and try running
a game yourself. Just don't forget to buy plenty of dice.