Dungeons and Dragons, or simply D&D (older players sometimes call it AD&D), is a roleplaying game. D&D is primarily a game of make-believe, though don't dismiss it as so simple. The core mechanic of the game is quite easy to understand - roll a bunch of dice. Do you want to attack that dragon (bad idea)? Roll some dice. Do you want to seduce the barmaid (worse idea)? Roll some dice. Easy, right? The version currently sold uses a system called d20 (due to its dependence on a twenty-sided die), although older editions that use different systems are still commonly played. You'll need to get a copy of the Players Handbook for the system you want to play, and a copy of the Dungeon Masters Guide book if you want to run a game. Now you can play.
So What is it Really?
No, it isn't some cultish practice designed to propagate Satanism, nor is it a huge geekfest, though it can be. D&D is an excuse to have fun and defy stereotypes. The best thing about the game is that it encourages being anything but the generic elven Wizard, the large angry Barbarian, or the sly Rogue. Played properly, D&D can be a riot-a-minute or a dramatic tale of woe. Perhaps most importantly, it is a great way to spend time with friends while playing an exciting adventure game.
How Can I Play?
Find some friends and get the core rulebooks! You can buy them in any bookstore or you can download .pdfs online (I wouldn't know about that, of course). D&D is best played with people you know and can depend on, though Dragon is also a good spot for playing games. For those who understandably don't want to intrude on weird dork territory, D&D can be played without wearing cloaks, elf ears, or speaking in dumb voices - just be yourself outside of the game, and play your character inside the game.
D&D resources in Davis
As a college town, Davis houses a number of hobby shops and gaming clubs. These can be useful resources for all players, from those new to the game to seasoned veterans. As the preeminent role-playing organization in Davis, Dragon hosts regular game nights and can help you to find others with which to play. If Amazon isn't your style, everything you need for a game can be purchased at Bizarro World or Drom's Comics and Cards, while the rulebooks are also available at Borders. If you're crunched for cash as many college students are, Wizards graciously released the basic rules for 3.5 to open content available here
More than a few Davisites and students have either moved away from their gaming group, or had their friends move away. At one time, that would have meant the end of the campaign, or some fancy scheduling shenanigans when players all find themselves in the same place at the same time. Fortunately, that's no longer the case. There are now a variety of virtual tabletops available for playing remotely, designed for DnD and a variety of other RPG systems. With virtual tabletops, one computer, typically the one the DM is using, hosts a server to which the players connect. Each player controls icon(s) for his/her character on the visual setting created by the DM. Most tabletops will track HP, initiative, states, and so on, although some require more setup to do so than others.
There are some fancy options you can pick up at a moderate price, including Fantasy Grounds and Battlegrounds. These tend to be a little bit more user-friendly than the free options, but once the DM gets past the somewhat steep learning curve on Maptool or OpenRPG, they work at least as well.
For those not artistically inclined, there are thousands upon thousands of maps, character/monster tokens, objects, and so on available online. The forums at Dundjinni may be the single largest database of such image files (and the highest quality) open to everyone. For map creation, Dundjinni has some very nice features (although the software isn't free); most of the virtual tabletops have built in systems letting you create a couple of layers for background and objects; and you can always create your own image using your favorite image editor. Most tabletops can load up both .jpg and .png images. If you need to convert other file types to .jpg or .png, many image editors will do it for you through the 'save as' feature, or you can use the quick and easy (and free) Irfanview.
Most, if not all, virtual tabletops include text chat, dice rolling, complex macro design (allowing you to create individual attack buttons for each of your powers in 4th Edition, for example), map building, and so on. For all of them, a group can do as much or as little as it wishes to make a complex table. If your group doesn't like using battle mats, it provides a simple rolling mechanism with record keeping; for artistic groups, intensely visual maps and icons can be loaded very easily into an immersive setting, complete with lighting, "fog of war," and so on.
Many of the programs do not include voice chat software, but that is easily rectified by using Skype's conference call feature, Teamspeak, or Ventrilo. In general, it's helpful for each player to have a computer when using a virtual tabletop, at least if using it for battle maps. It isn't strictly necessary, though. Players can take turns with the mouse, or direct one person.
Virtual tabletops also make a very nice visual aid for in-person games. If your group has a projector or a decently large TV, you can use it in lieu of or in addition to a battle mat. You can also keep track of initiative, states, and so on in this way.
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2010-02-22 23:35:20 Regarding virtual tabletops, I've only use Maptool. I highly recommend it for those who are decently computer savvy. I don't have any background in programming, and I've been able to figure out some quite complex macros without too much difficulty, applying all effects I've wanted to apply. There's also some high quality support from the forum community at rptools.net, where you can get help with macros or any challenges you run into. I get my maps from the Dundjinni forums, linked in the main text above, or make them with Photoshop.
I don't recommend having first time players start out playing in a room by themselves on a computer. You do miss out on some of the social element, even using voice chat, and combined with the fairly steep learning curves of both DnD (or most other RPGs) and the tabletop systems, it's likely to be quite frustrating. That said, for any group that's used to playing together, Maptool makes for a great time. After two of our players moved away, our group decided to try it out rather than just call it quits, and it ended up dramatically speeding up combats, making it far easier to keep track of the finer details, and generally being quite handy. 3-4 of us still meet in the same house, usually each using our own computer, while the remote folks just log in, Skype up, and join the fun. —TomGarberson