One question we get asked a lot as Dungeons & Dragons players from friends and family who don’t know or understand the game is… what the heck is it? What’s it about? What’s it like? What do you do? How does it work?
Since getting new folks to give D&D a try – or at least give them a better picture of what it’s all about – is a good thing, I’ve put together some simple and easy ways to answer the question of “What is D&D?” The focus of these answers is on comparing D&D to similar games, concepts or art forms, and thus painting down-to-earth and familiar connections.
What is D&D?
It’s like Choose Your Own Adventure Books
Maybe you read these growing up or still read these now, but one of the things that made Choose Your Own Adventure books so popular and engaging was that you were the star of every story – a sweeping and imaginative story you directed with your choices. Every few pages, you were faced with a choice of where to take you and the story next, and that, more than anything made CYOA books unique. In D&D, you and your friends are faced with many such choices, big and small, as to where the action and story go next.
It’s like Theater or Movies
Theater and movies mean memorable characters finding themselves in some sort of conflict or situation, and finding or fighting their way through it, learning several things on the way. The characters’ dialogue and actions are portrayed by actors, much like you portray your characters’ words and actions, whether it’s something simple like greeting the innkeeper and thanking him for his breakfast in the morning, or delivering a speech about the importance of winning the coming war in front of your king and his court. You participate in a mystery, an action thriller, and a drama, all at once in a fictional, fantastic setting.
Think SyFy Channel meets King Arthur or the Lord of the Rings. And the best part? The story or series only ends when you want it to, as it’s more about the stories you and your characters create and the adventures you experience.
It’s like Team Sports
Cooperation and teamwork help you get through anything in life, and that includes sports and D&D. We all need a little help, and in D&D you join forces and talents with a group of like-minded people to form an elite team. You have goals and objectives just like any team, from simple ones like victory in a fight with the opposition – whether it’s a group of bad guys or mythical monsters – to different or more complex ones like recon or search and rescue missions.
D&D is first and foremost a cooperative game and story – you work together to overcome puzzles, riddles, challenges, conflicts and other obstacles.
It’s like a Board Game or Video Game
All games have ways to win, and many include making wise decisions at just the right time, fighting past obstacles, and cleverly coming up with ideas to get by those challenges. Dice or a random number generator help resolve some of those challenges, just like in many other board and video games. Like a board game, D&D sometimes uses maps of locations such as castles, ships or mountain passes as the board. And like a video game, the game master or Dungeon Master (DM) who helps describe your teams’ actions and their impact, helps describe the landscape and its sights and sounds to help set the tone – including playing some background music, if you like!
In this way, we’re back to describing D&D as being part of and driving your own personally unfolding novel, show or movie. The DM is sort of like a movie director, but the script and its latest direction is always written “live” by the players and their characters.
It’s like All These Things – All In One Place!
So next time someone asks you just what this D&D thing is all about, try explaining it using any of these tips. You might just find yourself a talented and excited new player.
Truth be told, that’s exactly what I’m excited about right now with one of my buddy’s girlfriends. She describes herself as a creative and imaginative type, and while she knew nothing about D&D, she was curious from us talking about it and watching us play, and wants to give it a shot. After describing it in the more familiar terms above, it also seemed to help. Here’s to adding a cool new player to our D&D Game Nights!
How Do You Explain D&D?
How do you explain D&D to curious friends and family? The comparisons to other art forms – i.e. novels, television, theater and movies – seem to go a long way in my experience. What about you?
One last tip? I liken D&D Night to Poker Night or Family Board Game Night – you simply get together with a bunch of friends and family and play a fun game. Good times and laughter are guaranteed, right?
Want to Play D&D?
Looking to give D&D a try or get someone new or a new group started?
Start here: New D&D 4e Players and Playgroups: What to Buy.
You might also like Shelly Mazzanoble Knows Dungeons & Dragons, a story about a non-gamer author (she is hilarious!) turned D&D gamer recently posted on Forbes.
Or better yet, just jump right in – go ask one of your friends or family about joining them for a game! I’m sure they’d love to have you!