Recommendation: Dungeons & Dragons

With Dungeons & Dragons, Gygax and Arneson set the standard for how Fantasy games work.

My (rather inelegant) homage to the 1983 edition of the Red Box
Dungeons & Dragons starter set.

Official website:

History of the game, via Wikipedia:

There are a few names to which we owe the state of the modern Fantasy genre.

Some, like – and especiallyTolkien need no introduction. Some, like Robert E. Howard and Fritz Leiber are instantly-recognisable to the fans of the genre, but not as much beyond the confines of the genre. However, writers like Howard and Leiber have created characters featuring in hugely-influential stories (or, as the case may be, iconic, hugely-influential films) that continue to influence generations of writers even if they don’t necessarily realise it.

But for now, I want to consider a different kind of influence.

The Fantasy genre gives us stories to read, where we passively observe things like Wizards and Dark Lords and Dragons and characters with preposterous names. But the genre also provides us with the opportunity to be those Wizards and characters with preposterous names, offering us the opportunity to actively participate in these great adventures, be it digitally, or on the tabletop.

Many many-sided dice. And other assorted accoutrements of gaming.
Photo by Will Wright on

For the most part, we owe that to one game in particular: Dungeons & Dragons. And, in turn, we owe that game to two people: Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson. Getting into the full story of the history and development of Dungeons & Dragons and its influence on pretty much everything that came after would go beyond the scope of what I want to do here.

Let it suffice for me to say this: where writers like Tolkien established how Fantasy stories work, with Dungeons & Dragons, Gygax and Arneson set the standard for how Fantasy games work.

At its core, pretty much every Fantasy RPG, whether a video game or a pen-and-paper game, is to some degree a variation of the systems established by Dungeons & Dragons back in the late 70s.

Of course, Dungeons & Dragons was not the first tabletop game and was itself influenced by what came before, but itself surpasses those earlier games both in fame and influence (seriously, how many of you have even heard of Chainmail?).

Of course, given how huge Dungeons & Dragons has grown over the years, it shouldn’t be a surprise that there’s been a lot of Dungeons & Dragons media over the years: many, many books series (though only actually a handful of good books), video games – including at least one regarded as one of the best ever, an 80s TV show, basically a whole bunch of stuff.

At this point, Dungeons & Dragons is both a nerd icon and essentially a nerd rite of passage, to the point that pretty much everyone with even the most tenuous connection to well-known Pop Culture plays Dungeons & Dragons.

And you should too.

In Dungeons & Dragons, you, too, can experience the simple joys of wrestling a crocodile in a flooding room (my first-ever character actually did that), getting into a fistfight with a whale (he did that, too), and live out your own Conan-esque days of High Adventure (I would have linked that to a clip of Mako saying “HIGH ADVENTURE!” from the opening narration of the Conan movie; sadly, I could not find a suitable one).

Dungeons & Dragons is also fascinating in the exercise it provides in just telling a story with a group of other people. And then attempting to salvage that story when it inevitably goes off the rails. Incidentally, the TvTropes article for one of my previous recommendations, Slayers has a great line describing this phenomenon:

Lodoss is what Dungeons & Dragons GMs wish their campaigns were like, and Slayers is more like they really are.”

TvTropes entry on Slayers

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