Lairs and Large Lizards Revisited

More than you ever wanted to know about my thoughts on the world’s most popular tabletop RPG.

Following up on my post from yesterday, itself following up on the fact that I’m in the middle of a Dungeons & Dragons campaign, on my own, here’s a post inspired by my recommendation post about Azumanga Daioh, combining to related discussions into one past.

Basically, the first part is the recommendation and the second is a follow-up based on a few things I’ve realised about life in a Fantasy world.

Part 1: The Recommendation

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

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.

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 other 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

So, basically, it’s all but inevitable your is going to end up taking twists you never anticipated. Usually in the most flagrantly ridiculous manner possible.

I, for example, have suplexed a dragon through a table during a bar brawl.

Man, that was a weird first campaign…

Part 2: The Logical Conclusion Regarding Life in a Fantasy World

The short version is this, I’ve realised something about life in a Fantasy world, be it my world of Terrace (Terrace is the planet; Realmgard is the continent), or any of the various worlds the various Dungeons & Dragonses are set on — and there are a lot.

And that thing is as follows:

A screenshot from "The Simpsons", Lionel Hutz saying 'I'm not wearing a tie at all/'
The Simpsons: Disney and Gracie Films. Via Frinkiac.

Uh, no. That is, um, that’s not it. Though I am indeed not wearing a tie as I write this…

Basically, I’ve come to the conclusion that even in the world(s; see above; there’s a multiverse that would put Marvel and DC to shame) of Dungeons & Dragons, they would still have a game like Dungeons & Dragons.

Dice, miniatures and pencils with which to play a tabletop RPG.
It’s polyhedral dice all the way down, in this or any world.
Photo by Will Wright on

Hear me out, here.

Just because the people living in a Dungeons & Dragons world live in a world where epic heroes fight epic battles doesn’t mean everyone in that world would be an epic hero fighting epic battles. There would still be boring people living boring lives.

Just like in real life.

And, of course, those people would want to break up the drudgery of their lives by living vicariously through facsimiles of exciting people.

Just like in real life.

Look at it this way. We might not live in a world with dungeons to explore or Dragons to slay, but we do live in a world of professional sports played by high-level athletes. But that doesn’t mean everyone gets to be a pro athlete.

Basically, in real life, only John Elway gets to be John Elway.

And in lieu of getting to actually be one of the greatest football guys of all time, we’ve created novel ways to live vicariously and pretend to be great football guys.

A person playing polo.
Football’s the one with horses, right?

Photo by Milena de Narvaez Ayllon on

And clearly, there’s an obvious appeal to doing so. According to Wikipedia, the Madden video games have sold 130 million copies (that’s slightly more than the entire population of Japan) and have made $4 billion.

So, when your world’s equivalent of the NFL is adventuring, why wouldn’t the people who don’t get to go on real adventures create a way to adventure vicariously?

Well, that, or they’d do the opposite of what happens in the real world. In our world, mid-level office works play games where they pretend to be Elves and Wizards.

So, I guess in a world of Elves and Wizards … they’d play a game about being mid-level office workers.?

And it might go a little something like this:

The following text:

DM: "Dave from Accounting, it's your turn."

Player: "I collate the files. I rolled a 3."

DM: "Your boss doesn't think you did a very good job. Lose $500 from your next paycheque. Also, your co-worker ate your lunch."

So, anyway, I’ve got more recommendations (and the occasional weird Pop Culture analysis) here.

Also, I posted this week’s chapter a day early. That’s here:

And my social media links and email list are here:

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