Saturday, April 21, 2012

Dungeons and Dragons Winterim By Chad D.

For my last year at OES, I wanted to do something special for Winterim, something unforgettable.  While I was sitting in chapel so many weeks ago I was bombarded by a plethora of options, each intriguing in their own way.  From strategy games to rock climbing to big trips, this year’s batch of options seemed especially difficult to decide between, and I began to feel that I might have to go as far as rolling a dice to make a decision.  Right as that thought entered my mind, as if on cue, one Winterim option appeared on screen that threw all of my former choices by the wayside: Dungeons and Dragons.  As a gamer, I was quite familiar with the Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) franchise, and had played a good many of the video games that were based on D&D rules, such as Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale, and Planescape: Torment.  I had also played a few games of actual D&D with a small group of friends, but never felt like I was playing the game correctly.  The opportunity, therefore, to play D&D with a host of other people and experienced adult leaders was too good to pass up, and I was sold immediately...

For those who don’t know, Dungeons and Dragons is the quintessential tabletop roleplaying game (RPG), and was created by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson back in 1974.  The game itself has gone through several updates and changes as time has progressed, so in the Winterim we used 4th edition, the most recent version available and the only one currently in production.  The game itself is quite complicated, and necessitates a range of skills, including arithmetic, teamwork, acting, problem solving, and the ability to think in character.  Yes, each player plays as a distinct character in this game, designing him or her from scratch and then playing as him or her in an infinite amount of quests and adventures.  While the vast majority of the players play as the “protagonists” of the game, one player takes on a position known as “Dungeon Master” (DM), and serves as a sort of “referee” for the game as well as controlling the enemies.  A player is free to do whatever he or she sees fit in the world the DM creates and describes, and the DM has final say on whether the action succeeds or not.  Die throws are often used to determine success, but the DM can modify them as he or she see fit in relation to how difficult the action is.  In effect, the game plays like a fantasy video game with all restrictions on player actions being removed; in fact, D&D can be considered the grandfather of video games, and continues to be relevant today.

During the Winterim, I took on one of the three DM positions open, as I felt that I could use my creativity and writing abilities to create a convincing world as well as an interesting story to follow.  I spent day upon day planning out my campaign, creating locations and lore for the world I had in mind, and trying to account for as many player choices as I could to be prepared.  What I learned as DM, however, was that anyone in the position could never be prepared.  On the first day of the course, I was introduced to my first group of three, mostly comprised of Juniors.  The location they were to investigate was a decrepit sewer system, and things started off fine, with the party successfully making their way down into the sewers and fighting off a swarm of diseased rats.  The players were able to bring down all but one of the rats, which was trying to escape down a far corridor.  To try and turn the rat around, the players employed the “genius” tactic of casting a spell to create the illusionary noise of an army coming down the corridor that the rat was trying to escape through.  Sure, the rat almost died in fright, but the immense noise generated by the spell reverberated throughout the rest of the sewer, alerting every monster to the location of the players.  I had never planned that the players would do this, and had to work on the fly to think up the consequences any how they might affect the rest of the campaign. 

The players strayed even farther from my plans by deciding not to fight the monstrous bat in the next room, but instead make it their pet.  The Halfling rogue acted first, attempting to use her superior acrobatics to spring up and pluck the bat from the air, and rolled a natural 20 (instant success).  If the roll had been even one lower, I would have told them they were wasting their time, but, of course, fate had it differently.  The bat thus downed, the human fighter pulled out a 50 foot length of rope and attempted to tie up the bat, again rolling a natural 20.  The elf wizard then cast a paralysis spell on the bat, and proceeded to stuff it into the rogue’s backpack.  Through their teamwork, the group had not only gone against what I had in mind, but had acquired a handy bat pet in the process.  Even though the bat had to be put down shortly thereafter due to calling to its kin for aid, the players’ actions in capturing the bat really drove home to me just how dynamic the game is, and how exciting it can be when the players are all working together and acting in character.  Overall, if you are a fan of video games or even complex board games, I highly recommend that you get some friends together and try out this great game.  You won’t regret it!

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