This review was originally printed in SwanCon 1 – Cygnetures, from the collection of Steve Gunnell, and has been reproduced faithfully, with as many of the original typographic conventions (and errors) as possible. Transcribed by Anna Hepworth and Elaine Walker.
I joined the Sydney Uni Tolkien Society because I liked hobbits and elves, and such gentle people and I thought that I’d meet lots of nice people bewailing the Crassness of Modern Life.
There seemed to be people there, yes. Some looked like elves, others looked like dwarves, one was Gollum. But the way they talked!
“The loot was 30,000 gold pieces, so I bought 100 virgins to sacrifice.”
“And after we had flayed him alive we started mincing him from the toes up. We only got as far as the knees before he died.”
What kind of people were these? They told me, loudly and at length they play D & D, or Dungeons & Dragons. Which is a game, or role-playing fantasy wargame that has some 400 pages of rules, which, like the Bible, are subject to various interpretations. And everybody kept talking about treasure and magic and melles and mythical monsters. So I went along to D & D and got hooked.
D & D can be looked at from two directions; that of God or that of the players.
God (i.e. the game master or referee creates the world of the dungeon in as much detail as he likes and maps it on graph paper, then populates it with monsters, treasure and traps, either at random as determined by dice, or according to some devious plan of his own.
He divides it into levels, first being easiest, danger increasing as numberincreases. When he considers the Dungeon ready, he allows players in to mess it up. If they can. The player throws dice to determine his character, in terms of strength, intelligence, wisdom, constitition, dexterity and charisma.
According to his score on these he chooses a character class, e.g. fighter, magic-user, cleric, thief, etc., and gains the special abilities belonging to that class.
He starts off as a first level, with very little power and few hit points, (amount of damage he can take before dying) and as gains treasures and experience points he rises in level, gaining power to tackle lower levels of the dungeon.
God pulls from his little (?) brief case maps of the relevant level and the party sits around a table with a blank sheet of graph paper and their character sheets. God starts talking.
“You enter a cave, and descend a flight of stairs going south. They are 10 ft. wide and go down 10 ft. in distance of 30 ft. What is your order of march?”
“Thief first” (having chosen to be an elf, he has infra-vision) “Then fighter, then magic-user, and then our other Fighters. And we advance cautiously, tapping on the walls, roof and ceiling, as we go.”
“The passage T-junctions after 10 ft.”
“Our thief will try to move silently and hide in shadows, God hands him dice to throw and looks up the Eastern passage.”
“He will see a 5 ft. wide passage. After 10 ft. there’s a door in the north wall, and 10 ft. further on there’s a door across the passage, Closed.”
“He looks to the West”.
“There’s a room opens ten feet down the passage, south wall continues straight on, room opens to the north. You can see a wooden chest in the south-west corner. You hear noises from inside the room.”
“Thief will try to creep close enough to see what’s in the room.”
“He sees five goblins playing poker.”
“Our magic-user throws a “sleep-spell” and the thief and fighters get their bows ready.”
God throws dice to see which goblins “save” against sleep, and then throws versus the party for iniative. The party wins, and has first melle round.
Two goblins fall asleep. The party fires and wounds two of the others. Then swords are drawn and melee is conducted by dice, and combat tables from the rules.
When a goblin (or player) runs out of hit points it dies. So you cream the goblins, and get to the chest, the thief checking for traps.
But when the game gets more complicated, the fascination grows.
As a character grows more powerful, gets more magical goodies, he gains more knowledge of the world he lives in and can plot his own campaign, within the world that God has created.
As he does so, he moves away from rulebook D & D, and in a world which has a life of its own, existing independently of the players with logic and purpose of its own; the more advanced player comes to be almost playing against God; quessing the purpose of the traps and treasures he encounters, and using his knowledge to guess the workings of God’s mind, rather than treating each as an episode in itself.
You can play lawful or Chaotic, good or evil and these alignment raise logical problems for thoughtful Gods. And for evil Clerics, human sacrifice increases player accounts – wherefore those gory conversations.
For some reason most Sydney D & Ders prefer to play chaotic or neutral characters; possible because they do "play against God" tho I have never heard any of them say so.
That’s the game; navigating through a world you know only by God’s Hol(e)y Words and pieces of graph paper, a character with "powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men", daring death for fantastic rewards in far strange lands.
It’s one way to spend an afternoon……… and evening…. and night……