A Public Service Announcement

Apparently, there are still a few lost souls in this world who have never played, nor have even learned the rules to, any of the various flavors of *D&D.  What is far worse, though, is that some of these hapless folks would like to know what this whole Dungeons & Dragons thing is like, but are too lazy to find a gaming group, get hold of the rulebooks, read through said rulebooks, and actually try their hand at playing.

Were there any justice left in the world, such individuals would all get run over by a speeding bus.  But no, they are still with us, and so the rest of us must make the best of it.  Therefore, I feel it is my solemn duty to give you, the interested-in-D&D-but-never-having-played it reader, a first-hand ringside seat to the experience of playing.  It'll be like you're actually there, doing everything a real D&D player does the first time he plays.  So, without further ado, I hereby present:

What It's Like to Play D&D

by Roger M. Wilcox
last modified 4-January-2003

Roll 3 six-sided dice and add them together.  If you want to sound like part of the "in" crowd, instead of saying "roll 3 six-sided dice and add them together," you can say "Roll 3d6," which means the same thing but has the distinct advantage of sounding a whole lot geekier.  Write down this total.

Roll 3d6 again five more times, and write down each total.

If none of the numbers is above 13, throw them away and re-roll all 6 times over again.  Keep doing this until you get 6 nice high 3d6 rolls that you like.

Now, put the following words in front of the 6 dice totals you've kept: Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, Constitution, Dexterity, Charisma.

Which of these words is in front of the highest number?  If it's Strength, you have just rolled up a fighter character.  If it's Intelligence, you've just rolled up a magic-user character who will probably die on his first adventure, so you'd better roll the dice over again.  If it's Wisdom, congratulations, you have a "cleric" — a holy high priest who does not believe in shedding blood (and thus goes around bashing in the skulls of every funny-looking thing he meets.  Don't ask me, I didn't write this game).  If it's Dexterity, you have a thief — but don't worry, everybody likes thieves and will welcome you to go on an adventure with them for some reason, despite the fact that your professional vocation will involve picking their pockets.  If the highest number is Constitution, make him a fighter anyway, because you'll get this thing called a "hit point bonus" which means you'll be able to survive getting hit by FOUR cannon balls per day whereas all the other low-Constitution wimps out there can only survive three.  If the highest number is Charisma, and you're lucky enough for it to be a 17, you are now the proud owner of a "paladin" character, who gets all the advantages of a fighter plus he gets to give away all his wealth.

Now you have to choose your "alignment".  Alignment is a pair of words, such as "lawful good" or "chaotic evil" or "neutral hungry".  Paladins must be lawful good, but everybody else can pretty much pick whichever two words they like.  If your "alignment" is different than that of people you meet, it means you will hate each other.  Unless these other people are player characters, in which case you'll pretty much ignore alignment and form together into a party for the purpose of slaughtering kobolds and stealing the money from their freshly-killed corpses.  The only true alignment in D&D is "murdering pickpocket."

When that's done, you'll have to use those funny-looking dice that came with your D&D set.  They have 4 sides, 8 sides, 12 sides, 20 sides, 800 sides, etc..  They are called "polyhedral" dice, and their purpose is to make you sound all smug when talking to your friends by saying words like "polyhedral".  Roll a single polyhedral die (a d4, d6, d8, or d10, depending on whether your character is a magic-user, a thief, a cleric, or a fighter/paladin).  The number you roll is called your "hit points".  If you roll a low number, you will probably be killed very early and will have wasted all your hard work up until this point.  Oh, and if you have a high Constitution, don't forget to go scrounging through the rules to find that chart with your "hit point bonus" on it so that you can add it to your "hit points" and thus be ever-so-slightly not as easy to kill right away.

After this, roll some more funny dice and add them together.  The result is how many "gold pieces" your character has.  The gold piece is the standard unit of currency throughout the D&D universe.  A single gold piece is an enormous coin, weighing a tenth of a pound.  In the real world, one such gold piece would be worth about $400, but in the D&D universe there are so many gold pieces floating around that it's undergone a kind of hyperinflation.  7 gold pieces will buy you an ordinary lantern.  15 gold pieces will buy you a decent sword.  There's a whole long price list in one of the D&D books if you really want to go to town and blow your whole inheritance buying stuff.  You can buy anything you want from those lists, but it seems to be a law of nature that everyone must buy a pair of high hard boots and 50 feet of rope.  No one knows why.

You are now ready to sally forth on your first adventure.  To do this, you will need some graph paper and a pencil.  Each square on the graph paper is 10 feet across in real life.  The "Dungeon Master" (a geeky-looking kid sitting behind a DM's Screen) will tell you how big a room your character is in, and how many doors there are.  Draw the room on your graph paper.  Now pick a door.  All doors in the D&D universe are incredibly sticky.  It takes a football linebacker to have a decent chance of opening an unlocked door.  You will probably waste several minutes pounding on the door to get it open.

Once you open the door, the Dungeon Master will roll a bunch of dice behind his screen, and announce that 2 kobolds are charging at you from behind the opened door.  There are always 2 kobolds.  It's another one of those laws of nature.  A "kobold" is a small pile of hit points whose purpose in life is to provide sparring practice for beginning players.  Your first job will be to announce that you are trying to kill the kobolds with your sword.  Or your mace if you're a cleric.  Or your pathetic little dagger if you're a magic-user.  Did I mention that your magic user will probably die?  Anyway, when you make this announcement, the DM will hand you a 20-sided die and tell you to roll it.  He will add your "to-hit bonus from Strength" to your die roll, compare it to your "THAC0", and subtract the kobold's "Armor Class".  After this, he will tell you that you have missed.  Your first die roll always misses.  It's like a rite of passage.

Then he will roll some dice and announce how many of the kobolds have hit you.  If you're a magic-user, they will both hit, and considering how few "hit points" you rolled for that magic-user, he will certainly be dead.  If you're not a magic-user, maybe you have a chance.  One or both kobolds might miss you.  You might have enough "hit points" to survive getting hit by a kobold.  In any event, you will probably be able to swing your sword at the kobolds again and miss a second time.

These die-rolls of you missing the kobolds, and the kobolds missing you, will go back-and-forth for several "melee rounds." A melee round is a fancy term for one minute.  The authors of D&D could have just called it a "minute", but "minute" just doesn't sound as D&D-ish.  It will take you at least a minute of real time to play a melee round of D&D, anyway.  Finally, when the smoke clears, either you or the kobolds will remain standing.  If it's the kobolds, you're dead, and have to start all over at the beginning again.  Tough luck.

If by some miracle you manage to survive and defeat the kobolds, the Dungeon Master will then spend several minutes calculating how many "experience points" this was worth to you.  Experience points are little rewards, sort-of like those gold stars you got in first grade, handed out to characters when they behave themselves.  ("Behaving yourself" in D&D is defined as "killing things.")  When your character earns enough experience points, he gains a "level." But don't worry.  It takes more experience points than you could ever hope to earn in a lifetime to gain a level.  And by that time your character will have been killed by a kobold anyway.

After you scribble down your experience points somewhere (but not on your character sheet!  You'll be erasing the same spot so many times you'll wear a hole in the paper!), the DM will take several more minutes to roll up how much "treasure" the kobolds were carrying.  To most people, "treasure" means a buried pirate's chest filled with gold dubloons and pieces of eight and strings of pearls.  However, in the case of kobolds, "treasure" means "copper pieces".  As many as 24 copper pieces per kobold.  Just sitting there in their pockets.

A "copper piece" is a smaller denomination of currency than a gold piece.  Depending on which version of D&D you play, the exchange rate can be 50 copper pieces to the gold piece, 100 copper pieces to the gold piece, or 200 copper pieces to the gold piece.  As you can see, you'll have to go through a lot of kobolds if you want to scrape together enough copper pieces to make a gold piece.  And as if that weren't bad enough, each of these copper pieces weighs just as much as a gold piece does.  You'll need a forklift just to carry them all out of the "dungeon" with you.  (I forgot to mention that this strange room on the sheet of graph paper is part of a "dungeon."  Nobody knows why it's called a dungeon.  There are no prisoners, it's not in the basement of a castle, and there aren't even any decent torture-devices left hanging around.  Hmph.  Some dungeon.)

Now you know what it's like to play D&D.  Aren't you glad you asked?

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