By Renae Failla
He’s a Computer Science University Student, specialising in Artificial Intelligence, a Real Time Analyst, an avid reader, game player, ‘The Beast’ in the final year of his high school’s theatre play of Disney’s Beauty and The Beast and he is also my brother – Josh.
But more importantly and less talked about, he’s also a Dungeon Master in the game Dungeons and Dragons.
Now from an outsider perspective looking in Josh recognises that to many “…all we are really doing is rolling dice and talking with funny accents,” but it is much more than that, it’s about creating a dialogue.
As we sat at the family dinner table, Josh provided me with some insight about the game and all the effort that goes into being the ‘Dungeon Master’ – with Mum interjecting, reminding us that “Sometimes people prefer doing that than studying.” Our discussion, in an immensely condensed version, went a little like the below.
It’s important to note my legend of Technical Terminology if your knowledge of the game stems from the little snippets that are shown in Stranger Things (referenced in the YouTube video above) – much like myself.
Party – the group of people playing the game
DND – Dungeons and Dragons
DM – The Dungeon Master
Twitch – A streaming platform for gamers
Skeletal Dragon – a dragon who was killed and brought back to life
Paladin – The paladin is one of the character classes in most editions of the game
Wizards Of The Coast – Creators of the game
Why do you believe there has been a resurgence in the game and what do you attribute this to?
The resurgence of Dungeons and Dragons (DND) has been largely due to the increased media exposure that the game has had over the years. Since it’s advent in 1974 by Gary Gygax and Dan Arneson, the game has been featured in shows such as Freaks and Geeks, Community and more recently Stranger Things.
Each of these brings new eyes on the beloved game. Wizards Of The Coast, the current manufacturers of the game, have also reached out to the creators of these shows and manufactured modules (short playable stories) that work within their created worlds.
Prominent members of pop culture have also come forth and publicly announced their love of the game, notable figures here include Joe Manganiello, Stephen Colbert and Vin Diesel. Compounding this was the creation of streamed DND in the form of visual streams on Twitch and YouTube as well as in purely podcast form.
This phenomenon was started by a group of nerdy-ass voice actors calling themselves Critical Role.
Comprised of 9 actors all recognisable from video game and anime series, the Dungeon Master (DM) Matt Mercer, is well known for voicing the character McCree in the Overwatch series. Since Critical Role these types of shows have been cropping up more and more, all fueling this resurgence.
What is Dungeons and Dragons? Can you tell us a simplified version of how the game works?
A simple version would be, the DM thinks of a story they would like to tell, this could be a pre-written official module from Wizards of the Coast, the likes of which include the Curse of Strahd, Hoard of the Dragon Queen and Storm King’s thunder or the DM could think of a story all on their own, with their own cities and characters. Once the story is decided, the group will get together and create characters. The Player’s Handbook explains the bounds in which characters can be created (races, classes and backgrounds). The characters will then play through the story, this could take weeks or in many cases span years of regular meetings to complete the story.
Give us an example of a scenario/event that has happened in one of your games?
There have been many moments over the years that have been notable, I think one that stands out was when I was playing a Dragonborn Paladin (Zylas) and the party was fighting a skeletal dragon. The dragon had an ability that causes those looking at it to become so frightened that they cannot move closer to it or look at it for too long. This means that much of the party was unable to effectively attack it. Zylas was not affected by this because as a paladin he could not be affected. He maintained the attention of the dragon and with the power of his god infused in his strikes to deal more damage he was able run up the back of the dragon and crush it to the ground nearly dying from the amount of damage that he took throughout the battle, he fell unconscious and was saved by his party’s artificer Cassandra.
Who invented the game?
Gary Gygax and Dan Arneson, it was first published by Tactical Studies Rules (TSR) and was originally 3 pamphlets, the combat was based on an older game from 1971 “Chainmail”. The game was revamped in 1989 with 2nd edition DND known as Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. Then Wizards Of The Coast (WoTC) bought TSR in 1997 and since then a few editions of the game have come out with the current edition (fifth edition) releasing in 2014.
What is the underground appeal and why did it become popular? What do you love most about the game?
I think the fact that the game is so free form with the DM being able to think up any scenario for the players, keeps the game fresh for existing players and intriguing for new players. The story can involve the party brawling with some ne’er-do-wells in a bar to doing the bidding of omnipotent gods. Also being able to attempt absolutely any action in any scenario makes the game diverse and branching. For example, if I was fighting a bear in a cave I could try to collapse the cave to get away, fight the bear head on or even try to tame the bear. These all might have varying levels of success and none of them can really be considered the “correct” option but all of them are viable.
If I wanted to start playing now how would I do this? Where can I find the rulebook and a party to play with?
There are a few ways you can try to find a party, there are online Facebook communities that are always starting new games both in person and online. Another method is to look on the Roll20 site who facilitate both playing and looking for groups. You could in theory play with someone from the other side of the world. If you aren’t able to find a group through one of these methods you could also get together a few friends and DM a game yourself, see how it feels, there is a free module that has been published by Wizards Of The Coast called Lost Mines of Phandelver. I’d recommend reading and running that module for a group and you will find your groove.
There are many free resources that are available to new and existing players such as DND Beyond which is a site (by Wizards of the Coast) that allows a user to make a character using any of the standard races and classes with purchasable expansions should that be desired. Otherwise you could purchase the core books Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master Guide and Monster Manual at Zing or any of your local gaming shops. If you are hard pressed to find them, they can be ordered online but if you can support your local shop then definitely start there.
To join the Dungeons and Dragons movement and to become a Dungeon Master like Josh, you can source your own party and use the Lost Mines of Phandelver as a starting point.
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