[Mercurio Silver, gentleman critic. Discovered mining for quicklime in a quarry in the north of Somerset, Mercurio Silver used his sizeable fortune to fund The Reticule for three whole minutes. As a mark of gratitude we gave him his own article.]
I was introduced to Dungeons and Dragons a few years ago via the medium of Neverwinter Nights on the PC. Not a bad game, half-decent storyline and a lot of call to throw fireballs at people. Then again, I was younger and more stupid in those days. Even my youthful idiocy, however, could not save Dungeons and Dragons when I came to play the expansion packs.
You see, back at the start, I was of the opinion that Neverwinter Nights was largely acceptable. Yes, there were lizard people, the odd black/white moral choice and stupid quests, but you expect them in a fantasy game. Magic and stupid quests. So I forgave Neverwinter its dozy flaws, until Hordes of the Underdark.
This, the second expansion, gave me a window into what Dungeons and Dragons could be. Now, I have never played a pen and paper RPG in my life (because I have one), so I have never cracked open the ridiculously oversized “player’s manual” and sifted through all the rules and spreadsheets needed to craft a Dungeons and Dragons story. What I learned from Underdark was that the majority of this manual was probably a great big list of clichés for you to pick from.
This is how I would imagine a standard “campaign” (yes, I believe they call them that) would go, as following the rules set down in Underdark. Pay attention.
It is a dark and stormy night in a town whose name has too many vowels in it. You, a firmly established adventuring hero and sex symbol, are having a few drinks by the fire in a local tavern. The wenches are enjoying serving you, stuffing their tunics with leeks to make themselves appear even more buxom. You’re not complaining.
Just as you finish beating the third successive Dwarf in a drinking contest, the tavern doors are blown off their hinges by a magic spell! Evil has arrived! You scoop up your magic sword/ancient bow/knobbly wooden stick and charge into the fray.
You kill them all. Others are helping, sure, but they aren’t world renowned heroes that all the ladies love to swoon over, so you get the credit. You leave one alive, the one you know will be the most talkative. You can read people well, you’re a fantasy hero.
Half-dead villain sings like a canary then either dies or you kill him. Naturally, the evil villain needs you for an evil ritual to bring evil to the world and make it evil, and he lives in a cave or a mountain fortress. You kiss the wenches goodbye over a period of hours, then go searching for the evil villain.
Along the way, you bump into an evil race. Fantasy worlds are littered with races that are naturally evil, so you ready your magic sword/ancient bow/knobbly wooden stick and prepare to fight them. Out trots a scantily clad, almost illegally young member of the evil race. She flutters her eyelashes at you and says how this is a sect of good-evil race. You believe her.
You continue on your quest for a while, then good-evil race girl turns out to be evil-evil race girl after all. She stabs you in the back while you are shopping in the completely-at-home underground marketplace. You die and bump into Death.
You have a nice little chat, joke about playing chess for your life, have a beer or two, then he sends you back to your body with a get-out-of-death-free card. You are so famous even natural forces of the universe are your fans.
You wake up, avenge your death, save the world, attract thousands of women, blah blah blah.
I think you get the picture. Dungeons and Dragons is all about making you think you are a world famous person of godlike beauty, instead of an average looking fellow hunkered in a basement speaking in the third person about an elf you’ve scribbled on the back of a paper napkin.
Look, gentle reader, I understand I may be coming across as a little harsh, but I’m right.
After I played Neverwinter Nights, the world of Dungeons and Dragons started to converge on me, as though the game had made me a magnet for other players. I was forced to listen to them planning their campaigns, the infant-school Tolkien mixed with the above example, it was unbearable. They were the sort of people who would make up new rules, new classes, and enjoy balancing them.
I try not to do more than one example per article, I feel it runs the risk of actually detracting from my point, but I must make an exception here. This is a game that yabbers on about “D’s” and “rounds” and all that, yet there are people that will make rules just like this:
Sarcasm roll: When in conversation with a different race, any sarcastic dialogue is subject to a Sarcasm Roll. The player must roll 2d6, a d9, 4d3 and a d12, then add up the scores, remembering to include any modifiers (detailed below). If the total score exceeds the level of the other character, plus his/her age and sexual orientation, and his charisma roll, the sarcasm succeeds.
If you can understand that rule then you have a problem. In fact, you probably play Dungeons and Dragons on a regular basis, which will be the problem.
These new rules, do you know what they are? They are very nearly maths. Maths is not fun, you must remember that from school. The graph paper, quadratic equations, calculator tests, nowhere in there do I see “fun”.
It’s a small step from enjoying maths and making rules to the ultimate sin of Dungeons and Dragons. It is a sin I observed watching a cabal of rulesmiths, all of them male, playing female elves.
I speak, of course, of making rules regarding sex in a pen and paper RPG.