Dungeons and Dragons
It’s hard to run a dice games site without mentioning Dungeons and Dragons, even though it’s not strictly speaking a dice game. Sure, the game uses dice, but it’s actually considered part of the tabletop role-playing game category. Since it introduced the use of polyhedral dice (the ones with the funny shapes), I’ve included it on the site. I’ve even included a strategy and tips section with some advice and tips about how to calculate averages using these dice.
Dungeons and Dragons was first published in 1974 by TSR, and its origins stem from the miniature wargame hobby. Chainmail was the specific miniature wargame rules set that gave birth to “D&D” or “DnD”, as it’s often called. It’s also considered the original roleplaying game—all other games that are part of the hobby stem from it in one way or another. Over 20 million people have played the game, and everyone has at least heard of it, even if they haven’t played it.
How to Play Dungeons and Dragons
Dungeons and Dragons has two types of players – dungeon-masters and players. In most games, a single dungeon-master presents situations and storylines to the players, who take on the roles of the characters in the story. The setting is a fantasy-themed, pseudo-medieval world with warriors, wizards, rogues, and holy men who team up with elves, dwarfs, and Halflings to explore underground settings in search of treasure.
The dungeon-masters creates the setting and the rough outline of the story. She presents the players with a situation, and the players respond in character. Usually this involves the players being presented with a goal and a series of obstacles. For example, an ancient wizard might hire the adventurers (the “player-characters” or “PCs”, to retrieve a powerful orb that’s been stolen by an evil goblin priest. The priest is said to be holed up in the deep caverns on the outskirts of town.
Multiple obstacles stand between the characters and their goal, including dungeon-master-run characters (“non-player characters”, “NPCs”, or “monsters”), traps, and puzzles. Each of the player characters has equipment and skills which he can use to respond to these situations. One character might play a mighty barbarian warrior who is good at defeating enemies with a greatsword, while another player might play a crafty thief who is able to steal treasures and stab enemies in the back by hiding in the shadows.
Characters are described using a character sheet, which includes the characters’ ability scores: Strength, Constitution, Dexterity, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma. These statistics are determined randomly in early editions of the game; they can be determined randomly or by design in later editions. Characters also choose a race (usually human, elf, dwarf, or Halfling) and a class (usually fighter, magic-user, thief, or cleric). Each of these descriptors provides the character with bonuses when trying certain tasks and penalties when trying others.
Players describe what their characters are trying to do, and if the dungeon-master rules that there’s a chance of failure, the player rolls dice to determine the success or failure of his attempt. This can be as simple as rolling a die to determine whether or not you hit your opponent with your sword. Results of successful actions can also be determined randomly—for example, if you roll successfully with your sword attack, you then roll dice to determine how much damage your opponent sustains.
As characters overcome obstacles and opponents, the dungeon-master awards them “experience points”. When a character achieves a certain experience point total, he gains a level. Characters usually begin at first level and progress from there. Higher level characters have higher chances of success. They also gain other benefits, like feats or spells, as they advance.
The Polyhedral Dice and the Rules
Many people think of D&D as “that game with the funny dice”. The game uses dice which are denoted by their number of sides. For example, a “d4” has four sides, while a “d6” has six sides. The game also uses d8s, d10s, d12s, and d20s.
The most commonly used die is the d20, which determines whether or not a character’s succeeds at a given action. The d6s are used mostly to determine ability scores—players in early editions of the game would roll three of these (denoted as “3d6” in the nomenclature of the game) and sum the total for each ability. The other dice are most often used when determining how much damage a successful attack does.
Most actions are assigned a difficulty number, which is a target that the player tries to roll over on the d20. For example, a player attacking an opponent with an “armor class” of 15 might need to roll a 15 or higher in order to hit that opponent. He might have bonuses he can add to that attack roll. A thief might be trying to find a hidden door that has a target number of 15. If he rolls a 14 or lower, he fails. The reverse is also true.
Dungeons and Dragons Editions and Variants
The rules vary from edition to edition. Early editions, for example, had different task resolution systems for thieves, who had to roll a percentage to determine success at their various specialties. Later editions streamlined these additional rules so that a single task resolution was used.
The original game was called simply Dungeons and Dragons, but it soon expanded into two separate games lines—Advanced Dungeons and Dragons and Basic/Expert Dungeons and Dragons. Many of the rules were the same, but they also each had subtle differences. The publishers did away with the separate rules-sets in favor of a single game with the 2nd edition of Dungeons and Dragons, which was the newer version of the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Rules.
Since then, the game has gone through a third edition, a fourth edition, and a fifth edition. The games are not backwards-compatible. You can’t take a character from the third edition and easily convert it into fourth edition, for example. Various players have favorite editions of the rules, although the newest edition has received overwhelmingly positive reviews.
Dungeons and Dragons Strategy and Tips
No one wins or loses in a game of Dungeons and Dragons. The goal is not to defeat the other players; the goal is to have a good time and tell a compelling story. This changes a player’s strategy considerably. Here’s an example.
Bill is playing a warrior named Durkestan, and his arch-nemesis is an evil sorcerer. Durkestan has spent countless game sessions trying to track down and defeat this sorcerer. He finally has his chance, but he has to sacrifice his life in order to defeat him. Most people would consider the death of their character a loss, but in terms of story value, this death should be considered a win.
The best strategy is to create a persona for your character and stay with it. Don’t do what’s safe or even strategic—do what your character would do in that situation. Also, Dungeons and Dragons is a collaborative effort. Don’t hog the action—let the other players have opportunities to shine also.
Dungeons and Dragons is well-known because of its use of various polyhedral dice, but there’s a lot more to the game than just rolling the dice. In fact, commentators on playing styles often make jokes about the differences between “role playing” and “roll playing”. DnD can be a tremendous amount of fun for players who are able to set aside traditional ideas about winning and losing. Focusing on the collaborative nature of the game and the creation of compelling story-lines are keys to enjoying the game.