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40oz

How do I Dungeons and Dragons?

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I've read in Masters of Doom and Doom: Scarydarkfast that members of id Software got the idea for Doom from a D&D game they played where John Carmack, the Dungeon Master, designed a scenario where John Romero chose to give up the fictional weapon he was weilding called "The Daikatana" which led to the game ending with demons from Hell overwhelming and dominating the Earth.

Sooooo... what the fuck is Dungeons and Dragons?

I've never played the game nor met anyone who actively plays it. Without looking into it, I've heard its a weird obsessive cult of strangers who really believe they are wizards and knights and elves. But of course after I've watched some videos and read some fan pages about it, all I can say I know for sure is that it's a Role-Playing game in which the players either choose from, or invent a character profile for themselves involving physical descriptions, birthdates, biological origins, and goals/motives. Then the Dungeon Master makes up some kind of quest, either prepared in advance or on the fly for the players to solve problems and work cooperatively through the game.

The Dungeon Master can design maps, invent NPCs both good and bad, prepare monster encounters, and design imaginary scenarios for the players -- who at this point are engrossed in the personalities of the characters they create and the plot -- to think logically and communicate their actions to the Dungeon Master to move the story along, and some times use dice for RNG situations that can fairly accept or deny the actions they choose, or use a rulebook that defines what is allowed to be done.

But from all that I know about it, it seems like theres no real structure. How can it even have a name if all the work is pretty much being done by the players involved? Does that mean the functionality of the game really hinges on the fact that the players are actually really interested in their character and plot? (Unlike a movie or a video game where you can play it through to the end but not really feel immersed or even enjoy it?) To the best of my understanding, Dungeons and Dragon's seems like some kinda general brand name to describe the generation of fictional fantastical imaginary worlds and storytelling that people could have done themselves already, but the brand name makes them acting out their escapism more socially acceptable than it would have if they were just behaving like this on their own?

How much of the game is actually defined in concrete D&D rules, and what is it in proportion to the amount of user-imagined content that is made up as the game moves along? Do you actually buy Dungeons and Dragons in a box like you would with Monopoly or Clue? Do you even need anything at all to play it? Are any one group's experiences with D&D similar to another's? I've read in some text files for 1994 PWADs where the author of the maps will state that their map is based on one they designed for D&D or they mention somewhere in the text file that they are avid table-top RPG players, and in many cases, these result in better maps than some others. I've sometimes stumbled across D&D related art and miniatures that seemed really cool too, and I always wondered how well the act hand drawing maps on paper for D&D would also be beneficiary for designing maps for Doom. But now that I understand it a little better, it seems more likely that these people playing D&D already had vivid imaginations and backstories for their maps which made them more detailed, and that this art and stuff is only meant to fuel the imagination of their players to understand their creation. Not so much that the game itself is really that vivid or profound.

I personally don't think I could really get into this, and I imagine that the game's population of players is probably shrinking over time as technology and media is getting better at corrupting our imaginations.

Am I on the right track here?

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I'm not sure how you can type so much and be completely unable to see the appeal of creating a story with a few friends.

I mean, there's actual gameplay in there that mostly involves rolling dice, there's monster manuals, premade campaigns and settings, item lists, character creation rules, all that. So it is indeed a game, though I can't imagine it'd be fun without any sort of actual touch of humanity.

You pretty much do have to imagine a lot of stuff, since the game can literally be played with dice, paper, pens, and whatever you want to use to represent entities ( which can be more paper ).

40oz said:

Without looking into it, I've heard its a weird obsessive cult of strangers who really believe they are wizards and knights and elves.

For reference, this stuff's from the same people who claim Harry Potter is Satanic and Pikachu promotes Naziism

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It's a set of rules for a tabletop RPG that has rule books 1 2 3 that explain the core gameplay, races, etc. There are even things you could consider "expansion packs" 1 2 3 4 5 that include new race types, additional settings that the DM doesn't have to make up themselves, additional rules, etc.

You could, of course, use any of other approximately 12,000 tabletop RPG rule sets, but being pretty much the first commercially available one, D&D is probably still the most popular.

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As Bloodshedder said, as with any tabletop RPG there are mounds of specific rules for character generation, combat, some even have rules for social encounters. The story being told can be more or less freeform, but that depends a great deal on the Game Master and the flexibility/creativity of the players and the confines of the setting.

For example, I'm GMing a campaign of a 40k RPG called Deathwatch, where the players are all semi-divine super soldiers assigned dangerous missions where they blow a lot of things up and smash faces like crazy. They are a lot less likely to wander off lighting orphanages on fire unless that's the mission objective. They can accomplish their objectives in whatever fashion they can think up, but generally speaking you know where the plot is likely to go unless they completely goof it up and have to face the music, etc. In other settings or with other campaign arrangements, a GM could just say "Hey, there's an evil dark wizard in this huge tower. Go get 'im" and give the players an area map and leave it to them to decide what towns to go to, etc. whereupon they can do anything from wandering to a tavern, saying something stupid and getting knifed in a backalley to making money hunting monsters for random townspeople until they can afford good enough gear to assault the wizard tower.

But no matter how you run the game as far as freedom of choice, etc., all the in-game actions are determined via whatever ruleset you happen to be using. So even if your players decide orphanage burning is the way to go/are assigned to burn orphanages, you'd determine the time to travel to the orphanage, the cost of Bob's Special Orphanage Burning Kit from the local store, and then Jim Pyropants has to make a roll (versus, say, his character's Demolitions Skill or whatever) to determine if he uses the kit without lighting himself on fire all within the confines of the game's rule set. Anything not specified within the rules can be decided via common sense either by Game Master decree or player agreement (aka House Rules).

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Arctangent said:

I'm not sure how you can type so much and be completely unable to see the appeal of creating a story with a few friends.


Perhaps I've been involved with anonymity of the internet for too long, but every game that gives players too much control lets players impede on the fun of the others. If I'm understanding D&D correctly, there really isn't anything stopping a game from becoming the improv scene from The Office

It pretty much demands that players embrace each others vision to go along with it. It seems pretty unstable to design a game around that but I guess with close friends you don't have to worry about anyone backstabbing each other.

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Well any game lets you screw people over, it's just that most people that play a game want to play the game.

Maybe you should have asked Sandy Peterson what a tabletop game was, considering that's exactly what his Call of Cthulhu games were and it's exactly what D&D is.

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Yeah, one ideally plays with friends who have a good group dynamic. If somebody fucks around and ruins the game, the DM tells them to cut it out. If they keep being obnoxious, eventually they don't get invited to the next session / next campaign.

D&D isn't really my thing, but my girlfriend has a session almost weekly.

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40oz said:

It pretty much demands that players embrace each others vision to go along with it. It seems pretty unstable to design a game around that but I guess with close friends you don't have to worry about anyone backstabbing each other.

Nope, that's why the game has rules and a Game Master. The Game Master acts as the mediator and judge when it comes to determining things in the game system, and it is his responsibility to establish and maintain the in-game scenario. You don't have to trust the other players, just the Game Master. It's a lot like having a ref in sports.

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40oz said:

But from all that I know about it, it seems like theres no real structure. How can it even have a name if all the work is pretty much being done by the players involved?

Because there are rules? Sure you don't have to follow them and in fact many if not most DMs have a handful of personal 'in-house rules' for their sessions. But those typically don't deviate too far to make the game not-D&D so to speak.

How much of the game is actually defined in concrete D&D rules, and what is it in proportion to the amount of user-imagined content that is made up as the game moves along? Do you actually buy Dungeons and Dragons in a box like you would with Monopoly or Clue?

Not in a box, but books and a bunch of dice. At the very least you need two books, a dungeon master guide and a player handbook. You'd probably also want a monster manual, but it's 'technically' not necessary.

Beyond that is up to you, or as I stated above, up to the DM and what they will allow. There are a fuckton of supplemental books that add all kind of things to the game and the various new rules that come with them.

Bloodshedder said:

You could, of course, use any of other approximately 12,000 tabletop RPG rule sets, but being pretty much the first commercially available one, D&D is probably still the most popular.

When 3rd edition rulebooks was released, wizards of the coast created a tabletop base ruleset or 'engine' called d20 that they licensed out. I can't remeber offhand, but I think there were actual starwars and star trek themed d20 rulebooks made. But since everything is based on the d20 system you can, if you want to mix and match whatever d20 rulebooks you want to.

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40oz said:

I personally don't think I could really get into this, and I imagine that the game's population of players is probably shrinking over time as technology and media is getting better at corrupting our imaginations.


Pen and paper RPGs and boardgames are probably more popular now than they ever have been. And actually, it's easier than ever to play a game with other people with things like Roll20 and Tabletop Simulator making it far more feasible to play games with people who don't have a lot of free time to go to friends or are too far away to travel for a game.

40oz said:

Perhaps I've been involved with anonymity of the internet for too long, but every game that gives players too much control lets players impede on the fun of the others. If I'm understanding D&D correctly, there really isn't anything stopping a game from becoming the improv scene from The Office

It pretty much demands that players embrace each others vision to go along with it. It seems pretty unstable to design a game around that but I guess with close friends you don't have to worry about anyone backstabbing each other.


Basically, shitty or annoying players just won't be invited to play again. Thankfully it's a lot easier to be picky with tabletop/boardgame players than it is for online FPS matchmaking.

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Tl;dr. But I'll answer the main question, i.e. about D&D.

1. It's what most of the medieval sword/sorcery PC games are ultimately based on. But it's played on the board together with friends (or other D&D aficionados), instead of the computer. It has the advantage that the leader (dungeon master) can create new worlds without needing to know programming and art. It's up to his imagination, often helped by pre-written stories.

2. Role-playing may matter more than on the computer. As in the PC RPGs, you start by creating a character. Make sure you create one that matches your own personality (you may be limited by the dice rolls however) so it's easy for you to role-play. Pick a good name, because your colleagues will call you by your character's name most likely. The difficulty is that you'll probably enter dialogue situations where you're not given finite choices like in PC games, but have to come up with your own natural role-played answers. Sadly this means that the DM is free to put you into awkward situations, and other players like you, better role-players, are gonna make it even worse. Personally, I found that I hate playing theater, and I'd much rather have finite reply choices or combat.

3. Aside from that, it's pretty much a dice game, with luck (but also your tactical skill) involved. Whenever a gameplay situation occurs, you throw one or more dice and apply bonuses/penalties caused by your stats (strength, dexterity etc.), proficiencies (combat, craftsmanship etc.) and equipment. You have to keep track of all of that.

4. During combat or tense situations, your adventuring team's characters are placed on a grid. The dungeon master will place the NPCs, who quite likely will be hostile and try to kill you. Each combatant will then take turns (order will be decided by dice) to do combat: move on the grid, attack, flee, use an item or (if applicable) do magic. At this point the game is fully a board game, role-playing is only at the level of know-how (i.e. you really shouldn't assume your character knows everything about the opponents just because you know their species).

My first notice of Dungeons and Dragons is that Dexter's Lab episode of Monsters and Mazes, which really got me psyched, seeing those kids play a game so complex that it looks like a genuine fantasy story. Then I played Baldur's Gate which had a big "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons" logo on it. So for a long time I really wanted to play it for real. Lo and behold, I recently found some friends who play it regularly. Unfortunately as soon as I participated I found out that things just aren't as fun in practice:
- it takes too long to create a character and it's tedious keeping track of its record on a paper. I have to use a pencil and eraser for it, repeatedly.
- it strongly depends on dungeon master's capability to create a compelling scenario. Usually it's something that has no backstory or feels prefabricated. Not the complexity of Baldur's Gate because usually we have no time. This leads into the following problem.
- time flows fast. A couple of combat situations may be enough to burn a whole Sunday afternoon. And because people are busy, you will not have much time overall for this.

I hope that on average, I'm wrong on the bad things.

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Just want to add, even if you don't take it seriously at all, it's still loads of fun with friends. We've killed quite a few nights making hilarious characters and stories, and the actual game itself really is fun, if everyone cooperates.

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I've played D&D before, even DMed (dungeon mastered) for it. I use the basic rules and concepts from the official D&D game, but other than that I end up home-brewing a lot of it (making up rules myself). One of the main rules that I set out during a campaign is this:

"Your characters may not always like each other but they do respect one another, and should ultimately want to stick together and work together."

I then ask them to give me the 'motivation' for why the party has formed. This is usually a pretty general reason. Here are a few examples:

-A party of protectors, a group sworn to help those in need (good aligned)
-A party of thieves, a greedy group obsessed with wealth, treasure, and exotic artifacts (neutral aligned)
-A party of assassins, a group that takes odd jobs murdering often important people (evil aligned)
-A party of cultists, a group who worships an evil deity, who calls upon them to fulfill quests (evil aligned)

Once the group has decided WHY they stick together then I hold them to it. In a good session you wont need to talk 'meta-game' because it suspends the atmosphere, but if someone is fucking up the game IE 'I don't wanna play along' I will remind them that cooperation with one another IS one of the few rules. Because of this we put a lot of emphasis on group decision making. With that comes a whole other layer to the game where characters consider what could happen when different choices are made. Often a big decision will determine how an entire session will play out.

Example: "Should we trust the chieftain of this toad village and search for the missing blacksmith in the sunken tombs or should we sneak into the toad's tree fortress and see if the missing blacksmith is being held there?"

The party has much to discuss now:
-What do they know about the toad people?
-Do they TRUST the toad chieftain?
-Why would the chieftain send the party to the sunken tombs if the blacksmith ISN'T there?
-Why would the toads hold the blacksmith? perhaps to craft something for them?
-Why would the blacksmith be in the sunken tombs? What is he doing down there?

The party's plan of action will determine the entire next session, as a DM I would have to prepare either a sunken tomb or tree fort to explore.

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My apologies on the formatting, but I wanted to supply a response to most everything 40oz asked and said.

40oz said:

Sooooo... what the fuck is Dungeons and Dragons?


It is game driven primarily through group effort in which one player as the Dungeon Master creates characters, locales, and challenges for a group of players playing as a character they created with wildly varying degrees of seriousness.

all I can say I know for sure is that it's a Role-Playing game in which the players either choose from, or invent a character profile for themselves involving physical descriptions, birthdates, biological origins, and goals/motives. Then the Dungeon Master makes up some kind of quest, either prepared in advance or on the fly for the players to solve problems and work cooperatively through the game.


Bingo.

But from all that I know about it, it seems like theres no real structure.


The DM and to a lesser degree, the players, decide how much structure they want. Beyond basic rules, the game is fluid and can be molded to the tastes of just about anybody.

How can it even have a name if all the work is pretty much being done by the players involved? Does that mean the functionality of the game really hinges on the fact that the players are actually really interested in their character and plot?


It can. Some players could care less about their characters and just want to kill stuff. Others might want to solve puzzles or mysteries. As a DM, I try to balance what my players like to do. I have DMed storyline-heavy games where the players' take their characters and make decisions seriously. I've DMed games where the players got dumped into a dungeon and move from challenge to challenge with very little interaction or story.

To the best of my understanding, Dungeons and Dragon's seems like some kinda general brand name to describe the generation of fictional fantastical imaginary worlds and storytelling that people could have done themselves already,


That's table-top RPGs on the whole. Rather than play TTRPGs instead of creative outlets such as authoring a work of fiction, they are conducive to each other. I'd be willing to bet that many contemporary fantasy writers likely got their ideas from playing TTRPGs. Just as many of the situations I throw my players in come from works of fiction, literary or otherwise.

but the brand name makes them acting out their escapism more socially acceptable than it would have if they were just behaving like this on their own?


I'm not sure how to tackle this to be honest. On the one hand, yes D&D is the more "socially acceptable" way to experience TTRPGs what with name brand and all, as you mentioned. On the other hand, TTRPGs are still made for very niche group and D&D is no exception.

How much of the game is actually defined in concrete D&D rules


The books give a full gamut of rules the DM and the players can use for their game. Not all of it needs to be used. If you're in an RP-heavy game/session, you might not even have to look in the books once. Too much of that though and you start to blur the line between playing a game with defined parameters and sitting around a table with your friends, bullshitting.

and what is it in proportion to the amount of user-imagined content that is made up as the game moves along?


Again, this can vary from game to game. Some DMs run games rules-as-written. Others tweak the hell out of it. Generally speaking, the more experienced a DM is, the more likely they are willing to venture outside of what the books present

Do you actually buy Dungeons and Dragons in a box like you would with Monopoly or Clue?


You can, in a manner of speaking.

Do you even need anything at all to play it?


At a very basic level, you will need dice (though not using them is a possibility). A fundamental understanding of the classes and what the class you want to play as represents to the DM's world. Example: a rogue in a maritime setting can be a swashbuckler, or can be a ninja in an East Asian setting.

If you're the DM, the above (minus being a class), and creating a starting point or scenario for the players.

Are any one group's experiences with D&D similar to another's?


They can be, simply because D&D comes with its own default setting and most players will play the game within it at some point. Publicated modules have the story line progression, locations, and challenges laid out for the DM already. However, even then if the encounters are all the same among the groups playing it, the number of players in a party and what classes they are, along with other individual identities ensures that it will never be played exactly the same every time.

I've read in some text files for 1994 PWADs where the author of the maps will state that their map is based on one they designed for D&D or they mention somewhere in the text file that they are avid table-top RPG players, and in many cases, these result in better maps than some others. I've sometimes stumbled across D&D related art and miniatures that seemed really cool too, and I always wondered how well the act hand drawing maps on paper for D&D would also be beneficiary for designing maps for Doom. But now that I understand it a little better, it seems more likely that these people playing D&D already had vivid imaginations and backstories for their maps which made them more detailed, and that this art and stuff is only meant to fuel the imagination of their players to understand their creation.


Yes, very much so. I DM D&D mainly as an outlet for my creativity. I like writing stories, but I would rather write stories and get that immediate feedback from someone playing as one of the main characters in my story. I have never mapped for Doom or anything else, mostly because I do not have the time and patience to get into all of the minutia that goes into it, but I certainly can pick up a pencil and some graph paper and whip up a dungeon in no time flat.

Not so much that the game itself is really that vivid or profound.


Pretty much. But like board games and other TTRPGs, it's only as fun and imaginative as the people you are playing with. I played D&D with strangers once and it sucked. When I play with friends, there's nothing more fun.

I personally don't think I could really get into this, and I imagine that the game's population of players is probably shrinking over time as technology and media is getting better at corrupting our imaginations.


Maybe, but at the same time the advent of social media lets people play D&D across thousands of miles which could not have been done even 10 years ago. Wizards of the Coast has transitioned into a new edition recently with a ton of input from its fans and they are trying to appeal to the largest possible number of gamers with it, so it is having a sort of renaissance in form if not in function. I have no idea how sales for it are going at the moment so I couldn't tell you if it really is more or less popular than 5-10-15 years ago.

Am I on the right track here?


Maybe, but it's up to the players and the DM to decide.

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It's interactive storytelling with a referee/narrator and a complex set of rules to keep combat from degenerating into children playing cowboys and indians. ("Bang! I got you!" "Nuh uh! I had a bullet proof vest!" "Well, I was usin' armor-piercing bullets!" "Nuh-uh!" "Yes-huh!")

The rules and dice give the game structure, so that it's less likely to get completely out of hand. Also, as previously stated, you need a good group, and a group that all wants the same thing out of the game. If half your group is unimaginative and just wants to fight/juggle numbers, and half would rather focus on role-playing and doing interesting/funny things in character, somebody's always gonna be bored, and the game is probably gonna suck for the most part.

Here's a few fun memories I have of the game, and other games like it, which I posted on other forums in the past.

Dungeons and Dragons

Spoiler

Last 3rd edition game I remember playing, we were exploring a manor of some kind, and I don't remember what we were looking for as a group. I remember what I was looking for -- loot -- being that I was the thief. Apparently the house's owner was a spellcaster of sorts, because I got into a fight with a living coat rack (and lost). Shortly thereafter, I got into a fight with a living rug (and lost).

My favorite, though, was with a group I'd only ever played with once. I was the last to join the party, and the DM said I could be any class or alignment I wanted, because he liked to see frictional group dynamics.

"What do we have so far?" I asked.

"There's a lawful-good fighter, a chaotic-good wizard, a neutral-good ranger, and a true-neutral thief. They don't have a healer yet and could probably use one."

"Okay, I'll be the cleric. And I'll also be lawful-evil."

So this group of heroes was tasked with entering the magical labyrinth of a terrible magic-user to find a genie for some such reason, and the only healer they could charter was a scheming bitch-cleric of an evil temple (me), who from Minute One had the rest of the party on proverbial leashes. At one point we came to a four-way intersection in the labyrinth: when the entire party was in the intersection, the way behind us sealed shut. So we were left with three directions to choose from, all wreathed in blackness, all unexplored. We'd been in this fortress of doom with no windows all day, and the party chose this moment to argue about how to tell what time of day it was, so we'd have a timetable to sleep by.

"Here's what we'll do," my wicked cleric lady said very matter-of-factly. "When I am tired, it will be nighttime. When I wake, it will be daytime. Agreed?"

"Agreed," the rest of the party moaned in unison.

Then it came time to choose a direction. The fighter was as dumb as fighters come, and started throwing warhammers down each direction to see how far the corridors went.

First hallway: WHUP WHUP whup whup whup...CLANK
Second hallway: WHUP WHUP whup whup whup... WHACK *snarl of pain, followed by three pissed-off minotaurs*

Thanks to the minotaurs, my cleric lost one of her braids, for which the thief kept mocking her endlessly (or at least until she rolled to punch him and knocked him out for an hour).

That session was a blast.

So We're stuck in Baldur's Gate while it's in the middle of a faction war: the politicians, the city guard, and the thieves' guild are all fighting for control, stabbing each other in the back, making things difficult for each other. We do odd jobs for all three factions and basically let them down at every turn, because our group can't coordinate worth a shit. So we find ourselves with a lot of down time while laying low.

During one such instance, we were perusing the wares at the fireworks shop, and Grommel (our half-orc barbarian) laid eyes upon the grand prize: a one-of-a-kind bottle rocket the size of a barrel. He immediately shelled out an insane amount of money for it, and spent the better part of the day lugging it around while we ran errands. Eventually we weren't sure what to do, so Grommel went down to the harbor to set off his giant rocket. As he's setting it up, he gathers a crowd of townspeople whose curiosity clearly beat out their dread. Grommel plants it on the shore, lights it, and runs back.

It soars into the sky and explodes like a supernova, filling the sky with brilliant blue firelight...which then takes the form of a dancing blue dragon, and begins setting fire to the ships docked at the harbor. The crowd disperses, screaming and flailing. Dockworkers rush to put out the fires or call the town guards to fend off the animate fireworks.

"Jesus Titty-Fucking Christ!" cries Grommel as he flees the scene like a teenage delinquent, catching a brief glimpse of the fireworks maker slapping his knee and laughing his ass off.

Shadowrun
Spoiler

Anyone who plays regularly and wants ideas for a campaign setting might try what my friend Kevin did with a Shadowrun campaign he wrote: he started us basically at Level 0, making us roleplay our initiation into shadowrunning. All of us were high-school age. We had a berzerk orc whose solution to every problem was to charge it like a train; a nimble elf adept with the makings of an assassin; whatever the hell Jeff was (potential magic user probably); and me, the rigger. By "rigger" i mean "boy with overprotective parents who worked in his dad's auto shop all the time."

There were lots of fun touches, like the fact that the elf had a deadbeat mom with a loser druggie boyfriend, so he'd go to the orc's house to hang out, and the neighborhood orcs always busted his balls and threw trash at him and stuff. Eventually he killed his mom and her bf and ended up staying at the orc's place -- the other orcs saw him covered in blood and this time just nodded to him with respect.

Our four characters always hung out together. Somehow or another one of us met a local small-time crime lord who thought we had potential and gave us a collection job. We had to collect from three guys: the first one paid up with little fuss. The second one gave us a hard time and got us in a firefight with a rival gang: we got away from them, then had to evade the police. When we finally got back, we found our boss laughing with the guys we collected from, who turned out to be his men -- it was an initiation to see what we were made of. From then on he gave us more jobs around town, my favorite being the one where we had to disperse a mob of protestors on behalf of some corp. We were given free reign as to how to go about it, so long as we used nonlethal methods. So we used bean bag shotgun rounds and a stolen fire engine, blasting the protestors with the fire hose. At the end of our first (and, sadly, our ONLY) session, we returned to our neighborhood after one job, only to find some corp's private army had firebombed it, and everything we knew was now gone.

Being sheltered all his life, my character resolved to just drive and never leave the car, but he had a handgun for self-defense. In spite of this, every fight we got into went like this:
- Orc charged dudes 'til he was knocked unconscious, with 1 or no kills.
- Assassin Elf tore dudes up 'til he was knocked unconscious, with 1 or no kills.
- Jeff got his ass kicked somehow or another.
- I would get out of the car and shoot the remaining 3-5 enemies dead, pile my buddies into the car, and roll out.

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I always hated the idea of ShadowRun. But I guess I was biased with Cyberpunk 2020, which did away with the fantasy stuff and stuck to SciFi cyberpunk stuff (Though it did have werewolves in it, oddly. They explained it with science, but ti still felt really weird).

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Impie said:

It's interactive storytelling with a referee/narrator and a complex set of rules to keep combat from degenerating into children playing cowboys and indians. ("Bang! I got you!" "Nuh uh! I had a bullet proof vest!" "Well, I was usin' armor-piercing bullets!" "Nuh-uh!" "Yes-huh!")


Thank you everyone for the detailed responses.

This is a good way of putting it. I was foreseeing situations where a player claims to be a mighty warrior with a powerful magical sword that kills everything in one hit, mitigating any potential problems conflicting with enemies. So the DM might say something like

"you can't kill this thing in one hit because its wearing chain mail"
"well that doesn't matter because I aimed for its neck"
"well this kind of monster can live without a head"
"nothing can live without a head!"

Etc. Etc.

So you guys keep mentioning rules and rulebooks. What are the general accepted rules that keep peoples overactive imaginations from running wild and ruining the game? Surely there has to be some rules that spread across the board in any D&D game right? I understand that a good crowd can get around playing the game without rules by just keeping a stable complacent mind while playing. I've once played a streamlined version of monopoly where you didn't have to go around the entire board once in order to buy properties.

So what do these Dungeons and Dragons rules look like? I've heard there are stats and things that keep people from thinking their characters are more powerful than they are. What kinds of decisions are made with dice and what do the numbers represent in those decisions?

The more I'm understanding the game the more its reminding me of those MMORPGs with huge expansive sandbox worlds where you just kind of make up a story for yourself as you go along and the game itself isn't really telling you what to do. Some people do this in games like Skyrim and Grand Theft Auto when they're not actively following the campaign. To a lesser extent games like Second Life and The Sims (which quickly runs out of things to do once your character becomes wildly rich and successful) or Minecraft or Garrys Mod. Games that don't really have many restrictions or limitations unless you create them for yourself using a sort of narrative structure where your person doesn't kill everything and dominate the world because that's not the object of the story you created for yourself.

I understand the appeal of that but I'm personally not that interested in that style of gameplay, which is probably why I never found the opportunity to get into it. I just wanted to understand what I may have been missing out on.

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40oz said:

Thank you everyone for the detailed responses.

This is a good way of putting it. I was foreseeing situations where a player claims to be a mighty warrior with a powerful magical sword that kills everything in one hit, mitigating any potential problems conflicting with enemies. So the DM might say something like


The thing is that in D&D, a powerful magical sword that kills everything in one hit can be computed quite precisely.

So it'd be a sword that inflicts a death effect on contact. Now here's a handy thing about D&D (at least in its old 3e/3.5 editions) it's that the rules are open-source so we can easily refer to them on the Internet. So let's see about the rules for creating magic items. You basically want the sword to inflict slay living with every use. That's a fifth-level cleric/druid spell, which means at minimum a caster must be ninth level. For making a non-weapon object that can cast this spell at will, you'd be looking, at a minimum, at a cost of 5 x 9 x 2000 gp, so 90000 gp. That means that a player character isn't supposed to have an item so powerful before reaching at least level 13, and even then they'd be pretty naked as far as the rest of their equipment goes. Needless to say, at level 13, most challenging monsters you'd encounter would be able to make their saving throws against a 5th level effect cast with ninth-level caster strength.

But creating magic weapons is more complicated than that. You have to figure out the enhancement level that a slay-living-on-contact effect represents. Given that we have a rough reference point with the vorpal effect (kills instantly on critical hit, cost a +5) and that you want a very much more powerful version (kills instantly on any hit), the price for that ability can be estimated to be a +7 or +8. The magic weapon also needs to have an independent +1 enhancement bonus just to be magic, so at a minimum we're looking at a +8 weapon. We get a base price of 128000 gp just for the magic effect, so minimum player level before this becomes acceptable: 14th.

And of course you'd still get caveats such as targets being able to resist the effect, undead and construct not being affected by it, incorporeal monsters not being hit by the weapon at all, etc.

40oz said:

"you can't kill this thing in one hit because its wearing chain mail"
"well that doesn't matter because I aimed for its neck"
"well this kind of monster can live without a head"
"nothing can live without a head!"

D&D combat rules are far too abstract for such a scenario to happen.

If player P attacks monster M, here's what happens:
P rolls to attack, adding the sum of his base attack bonus, any other sort of attack bonus (from feats, items, circumstances, etc.) and a d20.
This value is compared to the M's armor class. If P rolled higher than M, then P can then roll for damage inflicted.

Hit point loss is abstract: losing hit points is not necessarily a wound, it can be just fatigue. Maybe M actually dodged the blow but is now a bit tired. Maybe the blow glanced on M's armor (if you want, you can determine that by comparing a target's total armor class with their touch armor class -- armor class becomes a funny term when it explicitly eschew armor, as touch armor class represents only size, dexterity, dodging and deflection rather than actual armor). Maybe the wound is just a superficial cut or bruise. Whatever it is, M isn't really wounded unless its hit points get reduced to 0 or less. At zero hit points, a character is wounded and cannot act without making their situation worse; at -1 to -9 hit points they are incapacitated and cannot act at all, and at -10 they are dead.

Note that with core D&D rules, you cannot aim for the neck or anything like that. It's a combat situation, everything is chaotic, everyone is moving and dodging and trying to connect. Some house rules allow to make "called shots" but then generally you take a penalty (if you try to hit someone's neck instead of "anywhere on their body", then your target is much smaller; and size is a factor of armor class). So you get something like "sure, you can aim for the unarmored neck, then the monster won't benefit from its chain mail armor bonus of +5, but on the other hand the opening between mail and helmet is only about the size of a rat, so that's a +8 size bonus to AC right there, so in the end the monster gets a +3 armor bonus".

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40oz said:

The more I'm understanding the game the more its reminding me of those MMORPGs with huge expansive sandbox worlds where you just kind of make up a story for yourself as you go along and the game itself isn't really telling you what to do. Some people do this in games like Skyrim and Grand Theft Auto when they're not actively following the campaign. To a lesser extent games like Second Life and The Sims (which quickly runs out of things to do once your character becomes wildly rich and successful) or Minecraft or Garrys Mod. Games that don't really have many restrictions or limitations unless you create them for yourself using a sort of narrative structure where your person doesn't kill everything and dominate the world because that's not the object of the story you created for yourself.

The DM can either create a campaign or use a pre-made module. Either of these things can be something like a short dungeon romp or a more long term story that may take many sessions to finish, if it does at all. It depends on how much freedom a DM allows for the players to go off the rails of their own accord or even inadvertently. I would say a good DM has to have contingency plans in place always for these things. Because it does happen. You don't want to punish the players for running off and exploring something because you didn't anticipate it, but you do want to keep them on track at the same time. Unless maybe if you think the players are intentionally screwing you over, then feel free to have them 'accidentally' bump into a pit fiend or balor. Of course by doing things like that you risk dice getting thrown about, drinks getting spilled and you probably want to avoid that.

It's all controlled chaos really. Assuming the DM has a clue.

40oz said:

So what do these Dungeons and Dragons rules look like? I've heard there are stats and things that keep people from thinking their characters are more powerful than they are. What kinds of decisions are made with dice and what do the numbers represent in those decisions?

Pretty much every decision that needs an outcome one way or the other is made with die rolls. Basically everything. Roll initiative, roll to hit, roll for damage, roll for saving throws. Did the players hear the monster in the bushes? Did the monster hear the players? Roll for listen skill. Maybe the monster is trying to sneak up on the players. The DM rolls move silently for the monster and if the players are awake and aware they can roll for spot to see the creature, or maybe they fail their skill checks. It happens.

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Impie said:

It's interactive storytelling with a referee/narrator and a complex set of rules to keep combat from degenerating into children playing cowboys and indians. ("Bang! I got you!" "Nuh uh! I had a bullet proof vest!" "Well, I was usin' armor-piercing bullets!" "Nuh-uh!" "Yes-huh!")

This is a useful description so thanks for this. Like 40oz I've never understood D&D either. I naturally tend to group it in with board games but without any board it's hard to understand what you're supposed to be doing. The idea of sitting round a table collectively imagining you're in a fantasy dungeon somewhere still seems, well, maybe it's just not my cup of tea.

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D&D is actually an off shoot of board games.

Imagine some board game like Warhammer, where you push your little pewter soldiers around on a map. You've got your army, the other players have their own armies, you fight. Fun stuff.

Now imagine that that there's one player who handles the monster army, but the other players have the civilized army and they're supposed to work together to defeat the monster army player.

Now imagine that instead of an army, you only have one pewter soldier. The monster army player also doubles as a referee.

Now imagine that you track experience and equipment for your pewter soldier. The more fights he survives, the better at combat he gets; and the more loot he gathers, the better his equipment, making him better at combat and more survivable. But if he dies, you've got to replace him with a rookie. At this point, you're no longer at Warhammer or whatever older kriegspiel; you're at Chainmail; D&D's direct parent.

Now imagine that your little pewter soldier and his colleagues do not only do combat scenario anymore. In fact, the pewter figure is not even on the table constantly, only for combat situations; what matters now is mostly the character sheet: your pewter soldier is now a player character! He'll go to the tavern to pick up rumors (maybe there's a job to do), seek an audience to the local lord (maybe they have some quest to give), etc. Your pewter soldier's ambition is to gain fame and fortune and followers and build his own castle to retire as a lord. The other player-characters will help you reach that goal and expect you to help them reach theirs: one of them wants to have a tower of wizardry to pursue the arcane arts in peace, another wants to build a church and convert heathens to embrace his god, and the fourth wants to take control of the seedy underworld... To get there, you'll have fights and intrigue and you'll seek powerful magical items of legend. That's the first Dungeons & Dragons.

From there the game still evolved, and inspired countless others. You've heard of them: Vampire: the Masquerade; Shadowrun; Call of Cthulhu; do these titles ring a bell? okay the last one is perhaps mostly known as the title of a novel rather than that of a role playing game, but you have probably heard, on this forum, about one fo the guys who worked on the CoC RPG...

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40oz said:

"you can't kill this thing in one hit because its wearing chain mail"
"well that doesn't matter because I aimed for its neck"

Here's an example of a rule: the called shot. When you want to attack something, you roll a 20-sided die to see if you hit: the result + your weapon's attack modifier = your "to hit" roll. If it's equal to or greater than the target's armor class, you hit, and get to roll damage; otherwise you miss and waste the attack.

However, you can make a called shot to a certain part of the anatomy, which adds penalties to your attack, but might have awesome results if you hit. So if you had a huge-ass axe, you could make a called shot to behead your opponent. You make a called shot before you roll your attack, to make sure the DM is okay with it; if he/she is, you make the roll, and depending how well you succeed, you might behead them. If you roll a 20 on the 20-sided die, that's considered a critical hit, and you will not only behead the dude, but do it in the coolest fashion possible, and/or possibly behead the guy standing next to him.

Although Gez provided a more precise explanation of how this works a few posts back.

40oz said:

The more I'm understanding the game the more its reminding me of those MMORPGs with huge expansive sandbox worlds where you just kind of make up a story for yourself as you go along and the game itself isn't really telling you what to do.

You can absolutely play it that way. The best DM's have a plotline in mind, but allow the players to make the decisions, and improvise if they go off-course -- really the DM's main function is to tell the players the results of their actions. The DM does need to know how to reign in players that derail the story, or who get out of hand, but they don't want to be a ball-buster who's just out to kill the heroes, either.

One thing that helps keep players in check is the whole role-playing aspect. When you create your character, you have to have a basic understanding of what they will or won't do, and keep it consistent. I'm in a campaign right now where I'm a reformed thief who has had plenty of opportunities to steal goods from people, but he refused to do it if there wasn't a practical reason, because he doesn't want to victimize people. He also won't torture people for information, though that's mainly because he was trained as a spy and knows that's not a reliable way to get info from people: if he made a bargain with an NPC for information, and the NPC lied to him, he would totally kill the bastard because he can't be trusted. But that's an aspect that depends on the players: if your group is comprised of people who make disposable characters with no moral compass, they'll probably choose the most fucked-up option every time for the sake of lulz. Sometimes that can be fun, but generally I prefer a group that understands their characters enough not to make questionable moral decisions willy-nilly.

Noah Antwiler aka The Spoony One does a webseries about this stuff: he tells funny stories from games he's played, and provides all kinds of insightful tips on how to run a game and/or how to play a character. They are vlogs, and he tends to be pretty longwinded, but the payoff is usually pretty great.

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