Saturday, August 14, 2010

Magic Missile, Magic Missile…you’re both dead.

I have tried, on many occasions to explain Dungeons and Dragons (and role playing games in general) to my missus.

I have not had much luck.

Of course, the real way to introduce a newcomer to D&D is to invite them to a game. Unfortunately, that's not an option as absolutely no-one I know over here plays (or they live several states away).

I've tried breaking it down to the absolute basics. It's an exercise in shared story-telling mixed with a tactics board game. It's really hard to explain further than that because explaining the mechanics sounds boring (and make Sunny's eyes quickly glaze over)…and when you start to talk about the possibilities of a game and all the things you can do, it starts to sounds really, really complicated.

The thing is, it's actually quite simple. You create a character with certain skills and attributes, and throw in dice rolls to simulate chance.

Here's how I tried to explain the mechanics to Sunny:

Say the party comes across a river that has widely-spaced stepping stones you have to jump to in order to get across. The DM (Dungeon Master) has set a 'difficulty' for the jump. Let's say you have to get a dice roll of 10 or higher on one single 20-sided die (a D20) to get across. If you've made a very agile character (with points added to his acrobatics skill, for simplicity, let's say he has a +6 acrobatics skill), you get to roll your D20 and then add 6 to the total. If the result is 10 or more, you make the jump and get across.

However, if you've made a character who's not very agile at all, you may have an Acrobatics skill of 0 which means you don't get to add anything to the die roll. Other things can come into play as well. Your character may have a decent Acrobatics skill, but is wearing very heavy armor that makes them much tougher, but its weight adds a penalty (a minus score) to Acrobatics. In other words, you'd have to roll the D20 then subtract your armor penalty from the total.

That's basically the whole mechanic from the game. Your character's skills are reflected by 'points' that you either add or subtract from the dice rolls in order to simulate actions. An agile character can make a jump much more easily than a clumsy one, and it's harder to make a jump in 50lbs of plate armor than it is regular cloth clothing. However, it still makes it possible (but improbably) for a super agile character to slip and fall, or a clumsy character to get lucky and make it.

However, what makes D&D awesome (and in my opinion a million times better than any videogame RPG) is the freedom you have. Let's imagine we're trying to cross that river again. You can jump on the stepping stones, but you're free to try other things. Maybe you get a really agile character (who can get across easily) to cross the river and throw a rope back over… or, if there's trees nearby, get a strong character to chop one down so it falls and forms a bridge.

When you're fighting, you use a game board and it turns into a tactics board game. It's turn based and each of your turns you get a move, a 'standard' action (hit something, shoot a bow, cast a spell) and a minor action (draw a different weapon, use a potion, etc, etc.)

To be honest, I think it's the level of freedom that Sunny has difficulty getting her head around. I tried to explain it where the Dungeon Master has a basic plot (The characters start at A, go through B and arrive at C) but it's up to the players as to how they get there.

This is where it gets difficult to explain because it makes the game sound super-complicated. For example, a poor DM will have a very 'on rails' adventure. The characters will do this, this and this in sequence and just be told they can't do certain things if it doesn't match up with the adventure. A good DM can adapt on the fly.

For example, say I've written an adventure where a vital clue is hidden in a room under a floorboard that the characters will spot if they search the room. A bad DM will steer the players to that room and basically not let them leave or do anything else unless they find it. A good DM will let them leave and, while they search another room, maybe find a diary or something that steers them back on track, or let them overhear a conversation…or even miss the clue all together.

Basically, D&D is just like reading a really good book or watching a really good movie, only you take an active part in the story and the outcome isn't set. It's also not just about fighting monsters and finding treasure.

One of the best games I ever played was actually a classic murder mystery. The players were invited to a party in his giant mansion…only to discover shortly after dinner that one of the other guests had been poisoned and all the ways out of the mansion had been magically locked.…then the guests started getting murdered one by one. It was tense stuff. We were trying to work out if the murderer was one of the guests, or someone hiding in the house. We searched the place top to bottom, interrogated the guests, tried to lay traps for the killer, discovered secret passages in the mansion (one of which had a nasty gas trap that I nearly got killed by when I tried to disarm it and set it off) and had a ton of close calls, including one where a guest was murdered in an apparently locked room that I was standing guard outside of.


Hopefully, one day I'll actually manage to get a group together and introduce Sunny to D&D properly.



Evan 08 said...

Just give up until she can see you play.

rayray said...

i think unless you're in it from the ground level (like my buddy has been.....) you just don't appreciate it or get it as much.

MC Etcher said...

I've played a number of one-on-one, one DM and one player games and they are fun (as it can be) despite the lack of a group.

Doesn't Sunny do something security oriented? How about an RPG scenario set in the real-world, in a place like her work, where some major situation goes down, perhaps in the dead of night, in the middle of a storm and a character like herself has to orchestrate the solution?

The setting would be very approachable, and it would be a good way to ease into the world of RPG without jumping headfirst into a fantasy world.