I started playing Dungeons & Dragons in the 1980s, right at the height of its popularity. There was a D&D club at my high school. We used to play on Mondays, after classes, in one of the science labs. I was 15. I developed a crush on the DM (that’s Dungeon Master, for the uninitiated – the person who runs the game), who was a classmate of mine. Sadly, beyond the fact that we played D&D together every week, he barely knew I existed, and my affection was entirely unrequited.
I first met my husband 22 years ago, also through playing D&D. He, too, was my DM. Clearly I have a thing for DMs. I think it’s all about the power. The DM has god-like power, controlling the game and having final say over what happens to the characters. If you’re staring down a dragon and you fail all your saving throws, the DM has control over whether your character lives or dies.
We still play D&D, and my husband is still the DM. About once a month, generally on a Sunday afternoon, our dining room table becomes the games station, covered in coffee-stained character sheets, dice, lead figures, pencils, and snacks. Don’t forget the snacks. They are a vital part of table top role playing. The unhealthier, the better.
I have noticed that the vast majority of table top role players are my generation – those of us who grew up in the 70s and 80s when D&D was all the rage. The generations that have come after are more interested in the online role playing games than those that require dice, pencils and calculators. There’s also a trend amongst 13-year-boys nowadays for Warhammer, which seems to have come out of D&D, but is more about building an army big and powerful enough to smash your opponents, and less about strategy.
D&D is more than just combat. It’s also about strategy, decision making and role playing. And the role playing is a big part of its appeal. When you play a D&D character, you can become someone you’re not. It’s all about escapism. My current D&D character is a kick-ass warrior woman. She has incredible strength, she wears plate mail, specialises in the quarter staff and is a one-woman killing machine. She wades through the beasties smashing them to a pulp whilst barely breaking a sweat. The down side is, she really isn’t very bright. So when the group is discussing strategy, I sometimes have to remember to keep quiet. Sara might have this idea, but Hylla probably wouldn’t. Therefore I should stay in character and not vocalise it.
Playing a character that’s so far removed from me, though, is rather fun. And orc-bashing is a great stress reliever – almost as good as zombie slaying.