When someone asks me what I like to do for fun, my answer is always simple. One word is all I need. While I do have various hobbies and activities I love to take part in, when it boils down to just plain “fun” the answer is easy enough – I’m a gamer.
Now while that sentence is simple, the fact is I do not choose that specific word lightly. Gamer. I don’t say “I play D&D.” I don’t say “I like the Xbox.” I don’t say “I enjoy board games.” I simply say, gamer. Because I love all sorts of gaming. Video games, board games, card games, puzzle games, tile games, and of course table top gaming. Above all else though, table top gaming is my favorite. The question posed today is . . . why? One of the things we like to look at here at For the Love of the Roll are the various reasons Dungeons and Dragons, among other tabletop games, has stood the test of time. Why table top gaming that came about in the 70’s is still being played today. And being played currently not just in old retro formats the way there are still people out there who enjoy a good game on the Atari 2600, but with new gameplay mechanics being created every day and official updates still happening to the game. It is a living, breathing game that has stood the test of time and maintains a large following from all sorts of people. How has it done so?
The fact of the matter is that generally speaking, of all the types of games I can think of D&D is the one that takes some of the most effort. I mean think about what you have to do to play. First, you have to have a group of people all able to get together. When everyone is having to work for a living and raise families and pay bills and all the other things that come with adulting we deal with on a daily basis this is much harder then it would first appear. Running a games takes time. At least an hour, usually more. A campaign can take even longer, days, weeks, months, even years to complete. That takes a lot of effort by the parties playing the game. You have to have someone who will DM the game. They have to know the rules. They have to know, and in some cases, build the adventure that everyone will be playing. Depending on how the game is run you may need all sorts of equipment. Perhaps you need maps drawn, or a grid board. Maybe you need miniatures or spells cards made. Some DM’s run the maps through Photoshop and on large digital displays, and everyone needs dice and they have to take the time to build a character sheet. And all of this is required to play the game. Compare that to poker, where you need a deck of cards and players. Or Monopoly, where everything is in the box and you are set up in minutes. Even faster, video games. You turn it on and are playing in minutes, you don’t even need other people for that. Yet, even with all that, table top is still alive and kicking. Thriving even I would argue. So then, if it’s not for it’s simplicity . . . there must be something it offers. Something that makes us want to play it.
D&D is like a lot of things in life. The more you put into it, the more you get back out of it. If you throw together a character and don’t care to really put into thought into who the character is and just look at her as a collection of numbers on paper you may still get to play and have a good time. However if you put thought into the characters drives and desires and personalities you are more then likely going to have a better time. There is a reason it’s called a “role-playing” game. You both have a “role” for your character to “play”, but you also get to “roleplay” your character as little or as much as you wish to. The same goes for behind the screen. If the DM just throws a few monsters into a few rooms you may have fun playing that way, but if the DM thinks it through and makes the characters have a purpose and personality and they think about why the characters are here and what they get if they make it out, then the whole game can be so much more enjoyable. And for the DM, that’s even more important because it’s not just their fun that is on the line, but their players fun too. I follow Matthew Colville on Twitter and YouTube (@mattcolville if anyone is interested) and he has a series of YouTube videos on how to DM. Now he has more experience then I do and is probably a much better DM then I will ever be, so I highly recommend anyone interested in DMing or who wants to improve at it, to check them out. But one of the things he said really stays with me, and bare with me as I’m paraphrasing here, “If your players have a good time, then you did a good job.” He even goes a bit farther and says, again, paraphrasing here, “If they have a good time, I have a good time.” And I agree completely with both those statements. Above all else D&D is a game. And games are supposed to be fun.
If you stop and think about it, what other game can offer so many things to so many people. It can be enjoyed by all different types of gamers and fill their needs for a good time. You have social interaction with your friends, or maybe even with strangers who become your friends. You have puzzles, you go on adventures, it promotes problem solving and critical thinking and creative solutions. It gives a chance to escape from your every day mundane tasks you have to do day in and day out. You can make plans and create strategies and then when those plans fail in spectacular ways, you can work together and try to come up with more spectacular solutions to get out of a jam. You can roleplay things, you can investigate and solve mysteries and you can get into combat with things. You can create any character you want, you can be any character you want. You can be serious or funny and anything in between. The list goes on and on and on. And many of these things we will be going into more depth on in coming posts. But the bottom line is that it really all comes down to one word. A word that Matthew Colville and Chris Perkins and Matthew Mercer and thousands of players and DM’s around the world will use to describe why they play and continue to play. And it’s a word I echoed at the start of this writing.
Because it’s Fun.