By Jack Norris
Irreverent title aside, Sunday marked the 40TH anniversary of Dungeons & Dragons. Like a lot of gamers, D&D was my first roleplaying game, and though it wasn’t my last or even my favorite I have to admit I owe it quite a bit and am happy to celebrate four decades of the game. Because D&D was my gateway into tabletop gaming, a field I not only love as entertainment but now do for a living, at least partially.
I didn’t get into D&D 40 years ago. That would have been a great trick, but it would have involved me playing the game as a 1 month old. I did, however, start playing about ten years later. I don’t remember much about my first games, save that my players were whoever I could get. After Dad humored me and various relatives gave it a shot, I managed to find a group of local friends to play the game with. Some were already gamers, others were new to it. In retrospect, none of us much knew what we were doing. We mixed editions of the games, made grand mistakes, and yet still managed to have tons of fun. Enough that when someone in our group pointed out there were other role-playing games out there, we jumped on. So eventually the weekly D&D game went away and was replaced by Marvel Super Heroes, DC Heroes, Star Frontiers, Pendragon, and Champions, just to name a few. Most of us didn’t go back to D&D except for brief visits, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t important to us in ways we didn’t realize much at the time. By college I was running or playing Mekton, Castle Falkenstein, Feng Shui, Legend of the Five Rings, 7TH Sea, and many other games that wouldn’t have likely had an audience and an industry without D&D.
Even if I wasn’t playing it much after my early teens, I was influenced by D&D and my childhood games when running new stuff and later in my design work. Even though I’ve never worked on the D&D product professionally, it’s definitely had an impact. Sometimes this influence was built around wanting to emulate what I loved in the past. Other times, I wanted to avoid past problems and issues I saw with D&D when applied to certain ideas or genres. Either way, it was useful to me and made the fun times I’ve had with gaming better in a variety of ways. So hey, D&D? Thanks, old timer. This is also why I never much buy into all the edition warring and such we see online; because D&D isn’t an age-old hero that did everything right all the time, nor is it a necrotic reanimated horror that won’t die. Nope, it’s a fun cool game with a long, rich, and influential history, that like every RPG out there isn’t for all people or all situations. And that’s totally okay.
Finally, it’s fun to look at upcoming Dragon Age products and see just how much the line I develop for Green Ronin owes to a game published in little white pamphlets 40 years ago. Classes, levels, and other elements rest at the core of an "if it ain’t broke…" ideology that surrounds Dragon Age, both our game and the video game RPGs we base the line on. Stunts allow players to capture the maneuvers, feats, and combat techniques of various editions without turning their character sheets into an overwhelming laundry list of stuff that only a few characters can do anyway. There’s a hundred little ways Dragon Age is like D&D and yet also different, and this mix is one of the things I love about working on the line; it’s simultaneously familiar and new.
Anyway, there’s my D&D testimonial for the grand anniversary. I hope you’re all enjoying your games, whatever they may be.