The first chapter of the 4e Players’s Handbook references Dungeons & Dragons as a roleplaying game. Of course, this is correct, but is D&D more than a roleplaying game? Let’s take a look at what these two words mean. To roleplay is to assume the attitudes, actions and mannerisms of another in a make believe situation. A game is an amusement or pastime. Putting these two words together we certainly see that they define D&D well, but is that all D&D is? Is D&D just a simple roleplaying game or is it really much more?
When we prepare for and play D&D is it really just a game we are playing? What is really involved in playing a game of D&D? To your surprise, it might be more than you think.
A lot goes into the average D&D session and the creation of your character. The least of which is the creative process. No matter what way you slice it, D&D is a creative game. You have to imagine PC backgrounds, dream up plots, encounters, dungeons and monster combinations. Of course it doesn’t stop there, the very aspect of a roleplaying game means you are always creating. The best D&D games are collaborative where the DM initiates the story, but the players are full participants and can affect the storyline. No train rides please.
But where does the inspiration for all of this come from? If you’re creating a Rogue who survived the plague while living day-to-day on the city streets or if you’ve created a Bard who helped lead a revolution or a Warlord who led armies, where do you get your inspiration from? History serves up a great reference for surviving the Black Death, leading the French Revolution or commanding the armies at Troy. So if you’re playing D&D not only are you creative, you are also inadvertently a student of history. Whether you want to research life as an aesthetic monk, a slave, gladiator, or warrior king there are multiple periods that can provide the relevant information to help you bring your PC or campaign to life. Suddenly, a trip to the museum for some authentic D&D research doesn’t sound like a far fetched idea.
Perhaps you find yourself as the DM for your local group and your desire is to really bring your campaign to life through the various maps that will be used for encounters. Suddenly you are studying maps, ensuring your terrain features make sense. You may find yourself visiting the Cartographers Guild to pick up tips in map creation. Architecture and art begin to influence how you design dungeons, ensuring thematic options blend well together and ultimately make sense.
What about math? Certainly not my favourite subject. While the character builder does a lot of it for you now, there is still a lot of math in D&D. From the simple task like rolling dice and totalling them in a timely manner, to factoring in all the other modifiers, to calculating the rate of speed your PC is travelling after falling while climbing a cliff. Admit it, someone at your gaming table has done this calculation or one similar.
Another thing that D&D does is get you talking. From simply declaring your actions on your initiative turn to fully describing how you will influence the king with the Diplomacy roll you are about to make. Talking and social discourse is part of D&D, it’s a community game. As you grow in comfort playing D&D you’ll find that talking in the class room, board room and billiard room comes easier. You will notice your confidence in speaking in front of others soar.
There are other ancillary benefits to playing D&D, least of which is an expanded vocabulary. D&D is more than a roleplaying game, the very hobby forces you to broaden your interests whether as a conscious decision or not. In short D&D will make you a more well rounded individual, expanding your interests and knowledge base.
Is D&D a roleplaying game? Absolutely, but it’s also much more than that.