It’s The Perfect Time To Play Dungeons & Dragons

It’s The Perfect Time To Play Dungeons & Dragons

You might know that the long-awaited new edition of Dungeons & Dragons is upon us. You might be playing it right now, waving an HB pencil around, informing your friends that they’re up to their nips in orcs and should roll for initiative.

Or maybe you’re the other kind of person. Maybe you’ve never played D&D, and news that the new, 5th edition returns to the roots of the game is like me telling you that scientists have discovered a new gender of swan. You’ve got some interest, though. You’re two paragraphs into an article called “It’s The Perfect Time To Play Dungeons & Dragons.” And yes, yes, yes you should. This is the best, most exciting kind of D&D we’ve had in 20 years, and that’s not all. It’s never been more beginner-friendly.

Half of that’s down to the beginner box they’re selling, which contains a quick-start rule booklet (forget any images you might have of stacks of hardback books), a set of dice, a load of pre-filled character sheets and an epic adventure that will fill a month of pizza-powered Sundays. You just add pencils and friends.

The other reason it’s so easy is that, finally, D&D is ergonomically designed, just like video games.

You know how when movies or sitcoms depict D&D, people sit down and within 60 seconds they’re being ambushed by goblins, panickedly figuring out who they are and what they’re carrying? That’s what the beginner box offers. Printed on the back of each character sheet are instructions on how to level up, especially relevant in this version because (again, just like video games) the many and varied power trees of your character class open up gradually. Only once you’ve been playing for two evenings will you be asked whether your Rogue wants to be a Thief, Assassin or Arcane Trickster. And if you decide to pick up the Player’s Handbook for the full rules, you’ll find fantastically written charts you can roll on to help players down the unsettling path of roleplaying.

This is the best, most exciting kind of D&D we’ve had in 20 years… It’s never been more beginner-friendly.

Asking someone to pretend to be an elf wizard was always a hard sell. Now, D&D suggests that your wizard *clatter* loves mysteries more than anything else and *clatter* is adventuring to save up funds to preserve a crumbling, ancient library. Meanwhile the book might suggest to your thief that they’d run away from a fight to save their own skin, but they hate that about themselves and would never admit it.

So this edition of D&D leaves your table and floats up into your imagination with the speed and grace of a VTOL aircraft. The question remains, though: why is this something you’d want in the first place?

Until recently I’d have struggled to answer you. Many agree that D&D lost its way ever since 3rd edition was released back in 2000, something I always tracked using the odd metric of how many wizard spells were for use outside of combat. By 4th edition, D&D had become quite a focused grid-based combat game, with Wizards of the Coast making up for ailing pen’n’paper RPG sales by flogging accessories and miniatures.

The thing is, video games are already quite good at grid-based shenanigans. My obsessions right now are The Banner Saga, Invisible, Inc. and Crypt of the Necrodancer, all of which are phenomenal bits of gridutainment. And while a neat thing about pen and paper games is that players can run them however they want, the rules are always going to steer you. One of my favourite indie roleplaying games gives players a secret power they can only use when having sex for that exact reason — to encourage romantic entanglements.

(Those nice coins, by the way? They’re the handiwork of Campaign Coins. Better investment that any miniatures.)

While D&D originated as a more granular spin-off from a miniatures game, at its best it’s always offered so much more. In the modern gaming landscape, it’s relevant because of the freedom it offers players to think laterally, play creatively and tell stories.

It’s relevant because of the freedom it offers players to think laterally, play creatively and tell stories.

This is what the new edition remembers with startling clarity. It’s not just that combat’s tense and tactical, or that skill and stat checks have been given pride of place. An effort’s been made to knit it all together into something more ambitious. This is still relevant even if you don’t care about roleplaying and view D&D as a platform for fantasy adventures.

Think about everything incredible that happens between the fights in Lords of the Rings, or even Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Conan. The speeches, the confrontations, the burglaries, the agonizing decisions, the romance, the personalities — everything that lets a game *transcend combat* — that’s what keeps D&D relevant in a world where video games are getting better and better, and it’s what’s on offer again with D&D 5e.

Dungeons are lived-in places, where every room offers players clues and creative solutions to get the advantage. When characters level up there’s often the opportunity to gain non-combat powers. In the player’s handbook alone, which is little more than the jumping-off for players (with a more lateral exploration of the world and its rules coming in future sourcebooks), they find space to describe sodding Glassbowing as a hobby, craft or background for your character.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention how modern it all feels. The playable races all transcend stereotypes, the art depicts humans of all races and the section on player gender is as beautiful as it is brief.

You should take the plunge and start a D&D group because it’s back to offering the freedom that video games can only dream of; because not only can you talk to the monsters, you can decide who receives monster status.

In my very first session, my group emptied a goblin lair by working to scare the crap out of them, defeated a bandit boss by simply going in the back entrance, talked their way around paying for the inn and they’re already talking about simply giving the quest-giving town mayor’s job to somebody else. As heroes, we’re free to decide what saving the world means, and how to go about it. If you haven’t experienced that, you should.

Failing that, try this on for size: You should play the new edition of D&D because it’s kind of like Dragon Age except this time you can have sex with everything.

Quintin Smith is a writer able to identify different board game manufacturers by their scent. He is not proud of this. You’ll find the rest of his board game covereage Shut Up & Sit Down, and catch him on Twitter as @quinns108.

Picture: Jim Cooke


    • w00 IKRPG!
      First pen and paper I’ve played and excellent fun, including hilarious mishaps where pranks have almost gone seriously wrong…
      One party member glued anothers rapier into its scabbard and this was only revealed during combat when he went to draw it and the GM goes “roll a strength check”, he didn’t pass and had to change his plans rather quickly…

    • Same. I love the idea, and I know I would totally committ to the fantasy in a group session, but alas, my friends are not at all interested in this. Neither is my girlfriend. Neither is ANYONE I know. I know very few people like me…

      • Online is your friend there. There are some pretty great reddit communities for D&D and is a nice place to go if you’re looking to play something.

      • Same. I’ve got manuals laying around. I’ve the beginnings of a good Warhammer 40K army buried in my closet. It just never goes anywhere beyond starter kits. Admittedly I’d take a sci-fi d20 game over fantasy. D&D seems interesting enough to get me past that preference but really when it comes to fantasy I like Warcraft and that’s about it.
        Doesn’t help that I’m in my late 20s and require a bit of a push to be social. I’m not old but I’m old enough that trying to make new friends in table top gaming communities is sort of creepy. =P

        • It’s not so much creepy but trying to join an established group is kind of like a job interview and being on probation if you get in. You really have to respect the dynamic of the group and try and adapt your natural tendencies to fit in. That said, if you find a good group of mature age gamers, you will likely have a home for life.

    • Agreed when 4th edition hit, they lost my friend and I, so we moved to Pathfinder, We don’t want to go back.

      • Same here. Although Pathfinder is falling prey to the same malaise that saw 3.5 corrupted by a million splat books. Not as bad yet and I have to say that the 3.5 rule-set as adapted by Pathfinder is really refined yet flexible. That being said, I’m still interested in checking out D&D 5th Ed to see what it’s like.

  • Our small group could never really get into the rules/stats of D&D, would love to play an actual game of it. In the meantime we just used Hero Quest as a basis for the dungeons and where mobs/bosses are.

  • Our group has been playing version 3 and 3.5 since it was released and have a deep understanding of the rules. Although version 5 sounds awesome its just so much easier to stick with what we already know.

  • Having too much fun with Pathfinder to switch back to D&D. Hell, I’m even toying with the idea of launching a new campaign some time next year. (Don’t quote me on that.)

    • I’ve played both and D&D 5th edition is much more rules light than anything since AD&D. I personally prefer Pathfinder because it is so inherently customisable and there are so many options to choose from. That and the feeling I get is that D&D is when you are always going to be the great big heroes whereas Pathfinder can be a little more grounded.

      • D&D has been shying away from anything in-depth and towards “hack-and-slash forever” – they’re pretty much the gateway to pen-and-paper RPGs now. Give you a taste of what can be done but for the really good stuff you’re going to have to move on.

  • For those that are interested, D&D is just one branch of a giant forest full of pen-and-paper roleplaying games. There are so many different variations on what you can play, ranging from sci-fi to fantasy to present-day to neolithic to occult. Seriously, if fantasy D&D doesn’t apply to you, have a look around for something that you might enjoy. Chances are you’ll find something that appeals to you.

  • I never liked the idea of grid maps and miniatures. It feels to me like it robs the game of some of the imagination and encourages rule sticklers and combat instead of creativity and role-playing.

  • Played this on the weekend. Was the best time I’d had playing a D&D/Pathfinder game in quite a while. I like how its been streamlined and look forward to playing more.

  • If anyone needs more motivation to play dnd, watch the dorkness rising. That’s basically how our dnd campaigns have ended up anyway :p

  • Give them time and there will once again be more expansions than the entire Sims series.
    The whole “video game” and “beginner friendly” phrases reminds me of bad memories playing 4th, which was supposed to be beginner friendly and seamless for video games.
    I’ll wait for other opinions and a year I think.

  • in my youth our dnd group would do 3-4 day benders no sleep and end ip hallucinating dragons and fairy’s, was a much safer come down from 8 litres of jolt……. i miss jolt, i do not miss the smell of 4-6 teenage boyz who havent showered 4 days into wreaking havoc in the name of maidens and loot

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