My first edition was AD&D 2nd Edition. My first foray in the worlds of hit points, leveling up & armor class however, came much earlier with a video game called Dragon Warrior.
That’s right, video games led me to table top RPG’s. Sure it was 1989 and the video game boom was in full swing but something about those books, pencils, esoteric sheets of paper & dice drew me close like an explorer discovering something ancient and lost.
Secondly, there was a sort of anachronistic irony to the whole thing that was probably lost on me then but now is as evident as a hipsters mustache. Of course you play role-playing games with books, dice and pencils and paper (or parchment). This was a medieval fantasy game. At the time, mind you, RPGs were strictly fantasy so the flavor and genre of game were one in the same. I tell you this now because this is a big reason the game still exists in the digital age. It’s pure essence is old school. Old School is always cool. At the time, my 12-year-old self didn’t know any better but that is because old school is fundamental to life. It is wisdom. It is esotericism. It is the knowledge that all that is known pales in comparison to what is unknown. Old School is not a means to an end. It is an end itself. Sure I still played video games. But video game RPGs were like Cliff’s Notes to the real shit that was going on in D&D. It was like reading the Hobbit and then reading the Silmarillion. You can’t truly go back.
So, there will always be a place for the Old School in the world. Maybe technology will advance so far that one day we will be playing video games as the table top for virtual reality or some Matrix-like future or Ready Player One dystopia.
Likely, dice will still be rolled as they have been for thousands of years.
Which leads me to my next point. Chaos. Chaos manifests itself in the material realm as a 20 sided die. There is something about rolling the dice; Something about holding all the possibilities of the universe in your sweaty Chee-to stained hand. There is also something about being connected to the chaos. The die is more powerful than the Dungeon Master, who literally created the game. The die is the grand equalizer but for many moments at the table top, you have all the power. When the dice drop, the winner is always Chaos. Sometimes he is on your side and other times he isn’t. Anything that strays from the mean is secretly celebrated by those players trying to prove a rationality to the fortune rolls. We often time say things like,
“My dice roll better when they have been the freezer.”
But what we are really celebrating is the fact that the system cannot be gamed. They say there are more possible chess matches than there are grains of sand. I ask them, What is sand?
It is a type of game that is very rare, the cooperative one. When we cooperate and when we get what we want everyone is happy right? Most games end with a winner and a loser. In D&D everybody wins. Even when you lose you win. Why? Because who doesn’t love to roll a new character?
D&D Next is a reminder that Dungeons and Dragons is still living. It rattles us up out of our norm and threatens change upon us. It also awakens a hunger for new products that bring in new inspiration and reinvigoration for the price of real money. Companies know that the game will never die and because of this, there will always be new editions and improvements, business cycle notwithstanding. Just like when our character dies, there is a small sense of excitement that comes with the prospect of a new character. There is that feeling we get when the dice is in our hand before it seals our fate. There is a feeling when we open a new book for the first time and read about what others who are extremely talented and lucky have built for us and for the game. That feeling is always the same. Endless possibilities.
One day there may be more iterations of D&D than there are grains of sand. Likely, there already are.