Dungeons & Dragons thriving at U of O

Release Date: 7/7/2010

Critics are forever condemning the loss of social interaction brought on by the current generation's obsession with the internet and video games. Such games have been around for decades, each new gaming system more complex and "realistic" than the last. Even real-time online games, where you interact with players elsewhere, leave you to do so from your computer console or couch.

A small group of Ozarks student gamers have taken a step away from the internet and are doing it the old fashioned way Friday nights in McLean Hall. They are playing Dungeons & Dragons.

Dungeons & Dragons (D&D for short) was developed in the early 1970s by the late Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson. It was derived from miniature wargaming – a recreational hobby dating back a century where players simulate a battle, which is played out using maps and small figurines to represent the land, sea and/or air units involved. D&D, which can use similar figurines and maps, as well as different kinds of multi-sided dice for calculating action, is widely regarded as the beginning of modern role-playing games and the role-playing game industry. Most role-playing games are conducted like radio drama –  only the spoken component is acted. In most games, one specially designated player, the game master (GM), creates a setting in which each player plays the role of a single character. 

“The thing that sets D&D apart from videogames and the like is that it is truly open-ended,” says Sam Emerson, 19, a philosophy major from Mena. “It's that depth of choice that sets pen-and-paper role playing games [also known as RPGs] apart from the rest, and D&D is by far the biggest one of the lot. There's also the social factor to the game. Unlike online RPGs where your only contact with other players is through a little chat window, D&D puts you face to face with real people. It's not just a game, it's a social experience. And like most social experiences, patience and communication are key, as is a good sense of humor. We're glad to include more players if they would like to join, but it's BYOD (Bring Your Own Dice).”

While some might opt for watching football or playing poker with the guys on a Friday night, market research conducted at Wizards of the Coast (who own Dungeons & Dragons) in 1999-2000 indicated that more than 1.5 million people played D&D and about 2 million people played all tabletop RPGs combined on a monthly basis. So the group at Ozarks is in good company.

According to Derek Eldridge, the main requirements for playing D&D (in addition to a set of gaming dice) are “patience and a capacity to improvise.” Eldridge, a rising sophomore from Pollard, Ark., adds that D&D appeals to his sense of theater and his interest in the subculture of gamers. “Years ago D&D caught a lot of heat from critics because the game featured the use of magic,” he says. “This, incidentally, infuriated Gary Gygax, may he rest in peace, who was a devout Christian.”

For those interested, D&D remains, over 30 years after its appearance, a way to make friends and have fun, to challenge themselves and each other in a mix of theater, strategy, and good old-fashioned imagination. Or, as Derek Eldridge puts it, “D&D sets the bar for other [RPG] games. If anyone wants to come and check it out, by all means come round.

The Game Master lays out a combat scenario.

Tumbling dice – Game Master Karl Kreitlein lays out a combat scenario for participants during their regular Friday night D&D session. Player Sam Emerson looks on. Several Ozarks students have recently begun the new campaign. The game itself dates back to the early 1970s and is the oldest ongoing role-playing game in existence, with over two million people playing it monthly.