Dungeons & Dragons in a Nutshell

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Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) was created in 1974 by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson and has become one of the most popular role-playing games in the world, having since gone through several adaptations into movies, TV series, video games, etc. The game is reputed to have been inspired by the work of J. R. R. Tolkien and therefore bears many similarities to the Lord of the Rings universe, as well as other classic elements of the Medieval Fantasy style.

First, what is a role-playing game?

A role-playing game (RPG) is a type of game where players play as fictional characters in a world imagined by a game leader (also called a game master or dungeon master). The role-playing game can take place in a fantastic, historical or futuristic universe, and the rules can be infinitely adapted according to the ideas of the playmaker and the preferences of the players. Players interact with the environment and each other using their imagination, following a defined scenario and rules. Decisions made by players have implications for the story and can influence future events in the game. Role-playing games can be played online or in person, in groups or solo.

The role-playing concept usually allows players to evolve their character by gaining experience, levelling up, and selecting new abilities as they progress. However, it is possible to play a role-playing game that provides for short games and in which no evolution of his character is planned.

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Person costumed during a live-action role-playing game (LARP). Photo by Cristhian Covaleda.

Dungeons & Dragons falls into the category of TTRPG (Tabletop Role-Playing Games), i.e. role-playing games that are played like board games, with paper and pencils. There are also LARPs and MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games) such as World of Warcraft, Runescape and The Elder Scrolls Online, to name a few. Among the well-known video games to explore RPGs in solo and local mode, there are games from the franchises The Elder Scrolls, Fallout, Fable, Final Fantasy, The Witcher, Persona, Mass Effect and DragonAge, several Star Wars games such as Knights of The Old Republic, but also horror and/or survival games, like Sons of The Forest, Valheim and ARK. This is a genre widely exploited in many types of games.

What is Dungeons & Dragons?

Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) is a fantasy role-playing game where players create imaginary characters and immerse themselves in a fantasy world filled with magic, mythical creatures and epic quests. They cooperate to solve puzzles, fight monsters and complete missions. Players depend on their imagination and ability to improvise to succeed in their journey. A player acts as the master of the game, creating a story and describing the environment in which the game takes place. The game’s mechanics involve rolling dice to determine the results of the characters’ actions, which adds an element of luck to the game.

Races and classes

The game was released in different editions, the most popular being the 3.5 edition and the 5th edition. When creating a character, players must first determine the race and class they want to play. This is the basic principle of Dungeons & Dragons.

In the basic rules of the 5th edition, the main races are human, orc, half-orc, dwarf, elf, half-elf, gnome, halfling, dragonborn and tiefling.

The main classes are the barbarian, the bard, the cleric, the druid, the sorcerer, the warrior, the wizard, the monk, the warlock, the paladin, the ranger and the rogue. It is then possible to choose subclasses or multi-classify past a certain level, and to pair races and classes in an infinite number of combos, according to the imagination of the players and the game master. Each breed and class has different characteristics and attributes.

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Once the rules of the game are well understood, it is fun to assign character sheets to our favorite fictional characters in order to play thematic parts: for example, in The Lord of the Rings, Aragorn is an experienced half-elf ranger, while Frodo is a beginner-level half-elf rogue. Merry and Pippin, on the other hand, are rather bardish halflings, since they are charismatic, good singers, convincing and able to rally many people and creatures to their cause. It’s even more entertaining when you step out of the Medieval Fantasy universe: in the Marvel Universe’s Guardians of the Galaxy, for example, Drax could represent a half-orc barbarian, and Starlord, a human artificer. The possibilities are endless and the thematic game sessions are always a big success!

How do we play it?

D&D is a game that requires a game master and a minimum of one adventurer, and can therefore theoretically be played with 2 people. However, it is desirable to face challenges as a team, and a minimum of 2 adventurers is preferable.

To play, players only need a character card (duly filled in compliance with the rules of the game) and a set of seven dice: a twenty-sided die, used to make the majority of throws (determine the success of an attack or dodge, for example), a twelve-sided die, two ten-sided dice, an eight-sided die, a six-sided die and a four-sided die. The game master or dungeon master, on the other hand, must have a privacy screen (which can also be made using cardboard) that allows him to roll dice and prepare the elements of the story and encounters discreetly, without leaving the game table.

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Photo by Clint Bustrillos

Additional materials can be purchased, such as laminated grid cards and erasable pencils, figurines, miniatures and modules to allow players to better visualize certain scenes. However, simple indications scribbled on paper can suffice and allow new players to spare their wallet. D&D is a game that fuels the imagination of players and most of the visualization occurs in everyone’s head.

The rules are available online and in PDF format, but to avoid the distractions of having screens turned on during a campaign, it’s best to purchase a set of basic rulebooks (a player manual, a monster manual, and a dungeon master’s guide), which can be shared during a game. Generally, the designated game master or dungeon master is an experienced player who already has advanced equipment and knowledge of the game.

In popular culture

In recent years, the explosion in the popularity of role-playing games around the world thanks to shows like Critical Role, All For One or Stranger Things has brought a renewed interest in this franchise. In March 2023, Dungeons & Dragons: Honor of Thieves reached the top spot at the box office after its first day in theatres. In Quebec, the revival of this craze led to the release of the film The Battle of Farador on April 12, 2023. The film is based on a short film of the same name made in a traditional way in 2006 and became one of the first viral phenomena in Quebec. Nothing less! The premiere of the film welcomed many fans in costume as well as companies from the Eastern-Townships like Calimacil, specialized in making foam weapons and costumes for live-action role-playing games, a more active, costumed version of D&D, typically played on an outdoor field and in a large open group.

**Warning, humorous video containing suggestive themes targeting a mature audience.**

The Battle of Farador (2006)

Dungeons & Dragons is one of the most influential franchises in the world. Content creators around the world have been creating custom versions, novels, podcasts, short films, expansions, and video games based on D&D since the game’s release in the ’70s. Among the best-known creations are the video games of the Baldur’s Gate franchise, World of Warcraft, the video games of the franchise The Elder Scrolls, other tabletop role-playing games such as Pathfinder, Vampire: The Masquerade, Nightlife, Call of Chtulhu and RuneQuest, the MP3 saga and the comics of the Dungeon of Naheulbeuk by French artist John Lang (Pen of Chaos), and hundreds more!

Who can play Dungeons & Dragons?

D&D is a game that is fully adaptable to all types of players. In fact, D&D offers a platform and rules; It’s up to players to create the game they want to play. The only prerequisite to play is to know how to read and make simple additions. However, playing as a game master requires a deeper understanding of the rules and how a game works. Depending on the specific needs or preferences of the players, it is possible for a game master to create a game without violent content, for example. Players of all ages and experiences can play together, the important thing is to have a team spirit and keep in mind that the main objective of the game is to have fun together! Thus, the game can also have a very high pedagogical value, if the master of the game decides to use the campaign to bring learning to the players and teach them the basics of mental arithmetic, for example. The Canadian company Classcraft offers a game system for teachers and learners inspired by D&D as a platform to allow teachers to create fun educational content. The possibilities are endless.

So, are you embarking on the Dungeons & Dragons adventure?


Featured image owned by Wizards of The Coast (2014)

About Myriam Baulne

Traductrice agréée aussi détentrice d'un DEC en animation 3D et synthèse d'images, Myriam est constamment à la recherche d'opportunités afin d'allier ses passions pour les jeux vidéo, les TTRPG et la rédaction. Armée d'un solide bagage journalistique, elle est outillée pour vous rapporter toute l'actualité et l'information sur vos jeux favoris.

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