Dungeons & Dragons: A battle of geek chic
Despite label, players snap up latest version of ‘Lord of the Rings’-inspired game
Few things can get you labeled as a geek faster than admitting you play Dungeons & Dragons.
That being said, I am a geek.
I’ve played Dungeons & Dragons on and off for about 25 years.
Despite the label, I gotta say it’s a great pastime, and thanks to a brand new update of its rules, it’s even more fun now than ever.
The latest edition of Dungeons & Dragons, called version 3.5, came out last month, and it’s pleased both fans and its publisher alike.
Now, if you’ve never played the game, give me a chance to explain it.
Originally based on the Lord of the Rings novels by J.R.R. Tolkien, D&D allows its players to adopt the roles of wizards, warriors and other fantasy characters as they explore an imaginary world, where they seek out fabulous treasures and develop wondrous abilities.
The game is presided over by a special player called the Dungeon Master who pits the other players against a variety of challenges, including monsters, deadly traps and hazardous environments.
Ed Stark, a design manager for D&D publisher Wizards of the Coast, said the latest version is aimed at making learning and playing the game even simpler than before.
My “DM,” Wes Houseal, 35, of Dover who’s been playing Dungeons & Dragons since the 1970s, agreed.
“It’s appropriately named 3.5 because it doesn’t seem to me to be a major rules revision,” Houseal said. “It seems more along the lines of clarification and fixing some minor things they discovered through a year or so of gaming. Mostly it seems to be pretty consistent with third edition.”
Third edition Dungeons & Dragons, which came out in 2000, has been immensely popular with players. The third edition also helped reinvigorate the role-playing game industry, as Wizards of the Coast allowed other publishers to base their products off D&D’s rules system.
Since then, hundreds of supplements, gaming worlds and other genres have been explored by secondary publishers such as White Wolf and Mongoose Publishing.
Religious concerns: Aside from D&D’s reputation for being a nerd magnet, it also draws a lot of flack for its occult connections. While not as widespread of a concern as it once was, many D&D players have to contend with the belief that Dungeons & Dragons is satanic, a misconception that began in the early 1980s when D&D rode its first wave of popularity.
Critics, such as televangelist Pat Robertson, have cautioned that D&D characters can cast spells, and the characters get some of their powers from fictional deities. Such references, the critics said, could damage impressionable youngsters.
Though not just a game for teenagers, Stark says the key thing for players to remember is that the game is just a game, and he suggests concerned parents check out the game for themselves, just like his did when he was a kid.
Back when Stark first started getting into D&D, his parents sat down with him and tried playing Dungeons & Dragons, just to find out what all the fuss was all about.
“hey were like ‘This is cute. This is fun. We’d rather have you upstairs with your buddies, playing this game, than out racing cars or doing whatever teenagers might do and getting themselves in trouble,’” He said.
“What it says to me is that they are just not paying attention,” Stark said of people who worry about D&D being satanic.
Stark, formerly of Montrose, Susquehanna County, said many of the members of his church youth group played the game, and he said D&D even helped his youth group grow.
“Some of the people joined the youth group because they were in my gaming group.”
Houseal, who as a youth participated in a 24-hour D&D marathon for a fund-raiser for his father’s church, agreed with Stark’s assessment.
“D&D has gotten such a bad rap over the years,” he said. “There are still people out there that have no idea of what it’s about that have made an opinion without having any facts.”
Geek chic: But despite the concern about D&D being a tool of evil, its biggest foe still seems to be the fact that it’s a game for nerds and geeks.
For the uninitiated, the game has plenty of rules, which are relentlessly picked over by players as they search for new ways to maximize their characters’ abilities. It’s that obsession that leads many non-D&D players to think D&D players are a little weird.
The nerdiness of D&D players is so well known, that it’s become a pop-culture reference for those villified as geeks. Jabs at D&D players have shown up on “The Simpsons,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” VH1’s “I Love the 80s” documentaries and other films and TV shows.
It’s not hard to sound nerdy when you’re talking about D&D, either.
Here in The York Dispatch/Sunday News newsroom, there are three D&D players, and more than once, we’ve gotten strange looks as we prattle on about magical swords, how to use certain spells as we battle the goblin hordes and which special “feat” ability will provide us with the most benefit as our characters grow more powerful.
Sure, such topics aren’t as weighty as debates about how to achieve peace in the Middle East, but it sure is a lot more interesting at times.
For the most part, players aren’t too concerned about being labeled a little strange for playing D&D.
“There’s a huge stereotype with it,” Houseal said. “But there’s stereotypes with just about everything. There’s stereotypes with comic-book collectors, athletes and all that.”
With all this criticism, Stark is quick to defend D&D and nerds everywhere.
“In case you hadn’t noticed it, geeks are in,” Stark said. “If you were the girl who refused to go out on a date with Bill Gates in high school, boy you’ve been kicking yourself for the last 10 years. If you look at Vin Diesel, and say ‘Oh, he’s a nerd’ because he plays D&D, then you better get your eyes checked.”
“Geek is chic,” he added, when commenting on famous D&D players such as Diesel and “Buffy” creator Joss Whedon. “The more people that come out and say ‘I played D&D’ it will get the rest of the country and the rest of the world to say ‘You know, maybe this is kind of cool.’”
But Stark knows it really doesn’t matter, because in the end, the geeks will end up on top.
“If being intelligent and reading books is being a nerd, then I’ll be seeing you at the bank.”
“You’ll be working behind the counter, and I’ll be depositing the big royalty checks.”