Well we are in week three of the Great Distancing brought on by Covid 19. In order to “flatten the curve” and prevent our medical facilities from being overwhelmed by victims of the novel coronavirus, folks around the world have sheltered in place, all but the most vital of businesses are closed and economic disaster threatens.
Grounded Parents out there may be looking for new ways to occupy, entertain, educate or simply distract their Hellions as schools close for the foreseeable future and a summer without most traditional activities looms. What we could really use is a creative family activity that sparks imagination, encourages math and reading, and models teamwork.
Plus there are Orcs…
That’s right, this period of social distancing is a great time to introduce the family to the wonder of Dungeons and Dragons.
Since 1974, this brainchild of Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax has entertained millions, expanding from a niche 70’s fad into a pop culture behemoth and spawning an entire industry devoted to the joys of collective storytelling. My own journey began Christmas 1979 and I’ve been playing tabletop RPG’s ever since.
If you aren’t an OG (Original Gamer) like myself, the game can look a little intimidating for beginners. If you go to the bookstore there may be a section of thick (and expensive,) rulebooks and accessories. Wizards of the Coast, publishers of the current 5th Edition rules, have gone out of their way to lower the barrier to entry into the hobby. The D&D Starter Set is essentially a how to kit in a box, providing pre built characters and instructions on how to run the included adventure. Plus it coms with those funny looking dice and you can buy it at Target even. For twelve bucks it’s a minimal investment to see if it’s the kind of thing you and your little shut ins want to devote your lives. For an even less commitment, Wizards has a FREE downloadable PDF of the basic rules.
Or you can just dive into the deep end of the pool and spend some of those Amazon credits. If you are concerned about receiving uncessary deliveries (an understandable precaution,) everything is available as pdf downloads at Drivethru RPG, as well as every other RPG in existence. You can even skip the funny dice these days with a variety of dice rolling apps for smartphones available.
On a Budget? Here’s a Dirty Secret
Unlike a lot of Grognards, I don’t mind the new editions of the game. I’ve played every version of D&D as well as it’s offshoots and competitors and I am pleased with the stewardship of the current crew at Wizards. 5th Edition D&D is a really nice flexible ruleset, designed with a lot less numbers crunching and battlemat shenanigans that previous versions. But they are a publishing company and how they make their money is getting you and I to buy their stuff so they can send their little witches and wizards to Hogwarts or Brakebills. And that can add up.
Here’s the good news though, pen and paper RPG’s are essentially DRM free media. My ancient Player’s Handbook didn’t stop working when WotC bought the desiccated remnants of TSR and published the 3rd Edition back in 2000. In fact Wizards even went a step better with the D20 Open Gaming License, which granted an irrevocable license for 3rd party developers to use the ruleset to create their own games and accessories. The most successful spinoffs being Paizo’s Pathfinder, a game that continues the complex character options introduced in 3rd Edition, and Castles and Crusades by Troll Lord gams, which takes the opposite approach, presenting a slimmed down ruleset more evocative of the 1st and 2nd Editions.
But it gets even better. The Open Gaming Movement led to a revival of “old school” Dungeons and Dragons style games that are almost always free to download. Players interested can check out OSRIC for a feel of what the 1st Edition game was like, or Swords and Wizardry for an even older school version.
What’s more, earlier editions of the game are still widely available used and almost anything can be adapted to other rule sets. The barriers to entry into our hobby are lower than they have ever been. Tune in next week where I’ll walk you through the benefits and hazards of introducing the game to kids of all ages.