Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Sean makes page 75

I didn't even think Gary Gygax's death would make the major papers, but it's been all over the place. Even the Star-Ledger. I guess there were a lot of us D&D geeks back in the day. Pals Don Wagner and Sean Nealy got interviewed for an article discussing Gygax's legacy.

Excerpted from the Star-Ledger:

In the 34 years since "D&D" was created, personal computers have become ubiquitous; video gaming has reached remarkable levels of complexity and interactivity, and multi-player online games such as "World of Warcraft,' with 8 million players and counting, have rendered "chart and die" games like "D&D" quaint relics from a pre-digital era.

Still, "Dungeons & Dragons" maintains a loyal cadre of players. For some, the game was a social balm during an otherwise turbulent adolescence. For others, "D&D" was the gateway to the more elaborate interactive online games.

When Don Wagner, who teaches history at Malcolm X Shabazz High School in Newark, started playing "D&D" in 1977, the game culled its devotees from two poles of the social spectrum, he recalled.

"You either got kids who were kind of geeky outcasts," Wagner remembered, "or the kids who were on the rougher edge of things -- the ones out in the parking lot during school smoking pot and drinking beer."

They were united by their interest in the elaborate fantasy worlds of science fiction novels -- "D&D" draws heavily from J. R. R. Tolkien's book "The Hobbit," among others -- and the music of proto heavy metal groups such as Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Jethro Tull, whose florid lyrics inspired a variety of quest-like imaginings.

In the game, players choose their race and class, a combination that could be anything from a dwarf wizard to a human fighter. Rolls of the game's distinctive many-faced dice determine a character's strengths and weaknesses, moral constitution and temperament -- all of which define how that character will react to specific challenges within the game.

The leader is called a Dungeon Master. He or she literally invents the game, writing the storyline in much the same way an author would devise a plot, and inventing scenarios into which the other players will be thrust.

Wagner gave an example of a simple plot line: "You're in a town meeting your friends at a local tavern. Suddenly, there's a commotion outside: A man rides up on a horse. He's dying -- but before he dies, he hands you a map. You have to decide: 'What are we going to do? Are we going to see whom the map belongs to and try to return it? Are we going to follow the map? Are we going to find out who killed this man?'

"You put a lot of time and effort into your character," Wagner said. "You'll say 'He would never let someone drown; he'd jump into the river and save him,' even if you yourself can't swim."

Jersey City resident Sean Nealy, 26, started playing "D&D" 15 years ago. "When I was a teenager, 'Dungeons and Dragons' was an excuse to socialize -- to take on different personas and to play together," Nealy said. "It can be hard otherwise to find a comfort level with new people and to explore fantasies."

People who want to pursue theater and drama, and who are also interested in science fiction, look for something they can participate in, instead of "being on the outside looking in," he said.

Nealy said online games such as "World of Warcraft" share only superficial similarities with "D&D."

"You don't create any of the stories yourself," he said. "You're paying a software designer to create the world and characters for you, and that takes the place of the dungeon master. It takes a lot of the creativity out of it. It creates a closed system and a little world for you to go explore, but the similarity ends there."

It wasn't the best role-playing game, but it was one of the first. I'm still amazed at how much press this is getting. For example, this silly article on slate:

Orc Holocaust: The reprehensible moral universe of Gary Gygax's Dungeons & Dragons.

If you have moral qualms with heroes slaying orcs you can take it up with Beowulf and the Western heroic tradition. RPGs have since moved on.

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