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What is Dungeons and Dragons?

Dean-Reference/AV October 14, 2020

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Dungeons and Dragons (often shortened to DnD or D&D) is a Role Playing Game that has been around for a long time and has been on the edge of media attention for most of that. Recently, however, Dungeons and Dragons has been becoming much more popular outside of the stereotypical “nerdy highschoolers.”


Wait, really?” you ask yourself. “Dungeons and Dragons is a thing now? Why? What happened? Hang on, what even is Dungeons and Dragons actually? And what's a Role Playing Game?” OK, first things first. A Role Playing Game refers to a game where the players control a character and their actions for the duration. They are trying to think and act like the characters they are playing as, as opposed to themselves. Dungeons and Dragons is a type of role playing game (RPG) but there are many others, each with their own rules and background. Some of the other more popular RPGs are Call of C’thulu, Fate, Savage Worlds, Monster of the Week, Pathfinder, World of Darkness, Shadowrun, etc. As you can see, there are a ton of different RPG’s out there.

Cool, whatever, RPGs,” you say, “but what about Dungeons and Dragons? Care to tell me what that actually is?Dungeons and Dragons was initially published in 1974 and was made by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson. Since its initial release, there have been 5(ish) editions. Since its initial release, there have been several versions over a number of years. The 2nd Edition came out in 1989. Next was (you guessed it) 3rd edition which was first published in 2000, but then had a major revamp in 2003 that was known as 3.5 edition. 3.5 was the most popular edition of Dungeons and Dragons for a long time. 4th edition came out 2008 and is generally regarded as the worst, or least popular, edition of Dungeons and Dragons. The players of the game had a lot of issues with how it was run and most people played the last edition (3.5) instead. And last but not least is 5th edition, which came out in 2014. Since its release, 5th edition has quickly become one of the most played editions of Dungeons and Dragons


Alright, wow. 5(ish) editions, that’s a lot,” you say. “But why is it a thing now? I mean, it's been around for 45 years!” Well, after the current version of the game (5th edition) was released in 2014, it quickly became one of the most popular editions of Dungeons and Dragons. One of the reasons for this is because the rules are much more streamlined and approachable than in previous editions. 5th edition then began to gain widespread media attention due to a large number of actual play videos, streams, and podcasts. Then, in 2016, the TV show Stranger Things came out and really increased media/public awareness of Dungeons and Dragons.

Yeah, I remember those kids playing Dungeons and Dragons in Stranger Things, that's right. Hang on, what the heck is an actual play video?” I’m getting to it!  Actual Play is when a group of people play Dungeons and Dragons, either live or recorded, and publish their game for others to see/hear. An important component of Actual Play is that it is not scripted. The most popular of the Actual Play shows is Critical Role. Critical Role is a Dungeons and Dragons game that is played each week and streamed live through a website called The reason that it has gotten so popular is that the players and Dungeon Master are all professional voice actors. 

You’ve used this term ‘Dungeon Master’. What is that? It sounds kind of intense.” The Dungeon Master (DM) is simply the person responsible for “running” the game. While the other players all have their own characters that they control and play as, the DM is in charge of every other aspect of the game. Is one player having their character talk to a guard? The DM is playing the guard. Are the players fighting a massive dragon? The DM is in charge of the dragon. The DM is also the person responsible for making and managing any traps, puzzles, or other challenges that the other players have to deal with.


You've given me a ton of background stuff here, but what about the most important part?! What do you actually do?” Well, in Dungeons and Dragons you and the other people you are with play as a group of adventurers. You can fight, explore, engage in diplomacy, cast spells, solve mysteries, and overcome other various kinds of challenges. You do this by describing what your character does and rolling dice. As for the character you play as, the sky's the limit. Do you want to play as a human knight? Yup, a classic. How about an elf ranger? Can do. Dwarven wizard? Easy. A hobbit who made a deal with a fairy for magical powers? Basic stuff. How about a lizardman swashbuckler who gets through life on his charm and his sword? Totally doable. 

So I’ve got the basics of Dungeons and Dragons down now, but I still need to know how to play!” Originally Dungeons and Dragons was designed to be played around a table with a group of around 3-8 people. 1 of these people will be the Dungeon Master (or DM) and the rest are players. Part of the fun was being with your friends and reacting to what happened as it happened. However, thanks to the internet, people are now able to play online. There are a number of websites/programs (the most popular being Roll20) that enable players to roll dice, edit character sheets, look at maps, etc. online. While this tends not to be as fun as playing in person, it allows for easier scheduling for people who live far apart to be able to play.


So lets say, hypothetically, I wanted to play Dungeons and Dragons. What would I need to play? Not that I want to!” Well, hypothetically, to play Dungeons and Dragons you need a few things: A group of people to play with, pencil and paper, a set of dice, and for one of the people you are playing with to have the core books. The books you need to play Dungeons and Dragons are the Players Handbook, Dungeon Masters Guide, and Monster Manual. The Players Handbook has all the general rules for Dungeons and Dragons including how to make characters. The Dungeon Masters Guide has rules, guidelines, and suggestions for the Dungeon Master running the game. The Monster Manual has a large number of example monsters that the players can fight. This includes creatures like orcs, goblins, unicorns, dragons, Demogorgon, horses, and dozens of others. Like the Dungeon Masters Guide, the only person who really needs a copy of the Monster Manual is the Dungeon Master. In addition to the books, you need a multitude of dice with different numbers of sides. Usually you need a 4-sided, 6-sided, 8-sided, 10-sided, 12-sided, and (most importantly) 20-sided die. You can usually find a set of all of these dice online or in a hobby store for a few dollars.

OK, now that I have an idea of what Dungeons and Dragons is, I kind of want to try playing. How do I do that?” I’m so glad you asked! You can use the previously mentioned to find and play in games online with other people. Additionally, starting in November, the library will be running a game of Dungeons and Dragons online each month! Isn’t that convenient? Sign up for it begins in the middle of October. We hope to see you there!


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