"The popular Dungeons and Dragons game has sold eight million sets. The game is based on
occultist plots, images, and characters which players 'become' as they play the game.
According to Mrs. Pat Pulling, founder of the organization Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons, the game has been linked to nearly fifty teenage
suicides and homicides."
Gore, Raising PG Kids in an X-rated Society 118
Role-playing games are a genre arguably connected
to wargames, though many wargamers might deny this. Role-playing
began with Dungeons
and Dragons, and though current role-playing takes a vast
variety of forms, it has never entirely escaped its association
with Dungeons and Dragons. Dungeon and Dragons had
strong roots in traditional wargaming, as is obvious from the
cover of the first game book. The original edition of Dungeons and Dragons,
published in 1974, was subtitled "Rules for Fantastic Medieval
Wargames Campaigns Playable with Paper and Pencil and Miniature
Figures." The company that published the games was TSR,
an abbreviation of "Tactical Studies Rules."
Though role-playing games originated in standard medieval-period
miniature gaming, they differ substantially and radically from
most other wargames. Dungeons and
Dragons, the first role-playing game, abandons four of the traditional
trappings of wargames.
First, Dungeons and Dragons abandons
historical accuracy in favor of fantasy. Magic and
mythological creatures are as powerful as muskets and marching
columns. The game system draws heavily on the literature of J.R.R.
Tolkien and other fantastic authors as sources for the rules
of combat and the setting of the games.
Second, Dungeons and Dragons abandons the
"general's view" and encourages
players to identify with a single alter-ego rather than to command
an entire regiment or army. In fact, the game's rules
encourage players to embrace and
play the "role" of their character (hence
"role-playing game") and act in accordance
with the personality of their alter-ego. Players voluntarily
constrain their range of actions to those they believe their
alter-ego would take. Players maintain and develop the
personalities of their characters over time. Generally, a player continues to play using this character
(acquiring skills and power for the character over time) until the
character is killed during a game.
Third, role-playing games largely
the one-on-one competition found in wargames. One player, the
"dungeon master," acts as an impartial referee (much like the
referee in free Kriegspiel) as players moved their
alter-egos through a fantasy setting, trying to outwit traps and
puzzles and defeat their enemies. The "dungeon master"
creates (or purchases) the game scenario -- which is commonly an underground
labyrinth (or dungeons)
filled with traps, monsters (i.e. dragons), and treasures.
Since the dungeon master plays such a key creative role in the
game (and often is required to memorize a vast number of rules),
the quality of a game is largely determined by the quality of the
dungeon master. Players typically work cooperatively to
achieve the scenario objectives. The dungeon master attempts
interesting scenarios that players will find challenging, but
does not actively seek to destroy (or aid) the players.
Thus, there is no real "competition" in the game, since
the dungeon master is impartial, and there is no real way to
"win" since every scenario can be followed by another
Fourth, Dungeons and Dragons abandons the
game board and game pieces. The early versions of the game
employed miniatures to represent characters and a board to
represent terrain. Over time, the designers realized that these
were not really necessary to play the game, since the
role-playing aspects seemed more salient to the enjoyment of the
game than maneuvering figures on a board. Freed from a game
board and pieces, the game took place largely in the imaginations
of the players.
With all these variances, it is not clear the
Dungeons and Dragons is, in fact, a wargame. The game does
involve violent conflict and strategic decision-making, but it is
certainly not primarily about "war" in any sense.
The game is much more vast in its scope. Though Dungeons and Dragons began as a fairly
simple game involving miniatures and fantasy battles, it soon spawned a vast set of rules instructing
players on how to create the political systems, zoology,
civilization, and cosmology of a vast fantasy universe.
Current products include finished "worlds" (such as Greyhawk
or the Forgotten
Realms) with detailed maps, histories, mythologies, and
best-selling paperback books about the heroes of these alternate
worlds. With the introduction of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons,
over 500 pages of basic rules were required for play, with many thousands
of pages of supplemental material.
Many role-players today have never played Dungeons
and Dragons. Soon after the commercial success of Dungeons and
Dragons, various other role-playing games were introduced,
including games such as Gamma
World (with a science fiction theme), Boot
Hill (with a Western theme), Top
Secret (with an espionage theme), and Call
of the Cthulu (with a horror theme based on the literature of H.P.
Lovecraft). Yet despite the wide variety of role-playing
games played today, role-playing and Dungeons and Dragons are largely synonymous
terms among the general population -- probably to the
detriment of the genre.
conventional wargamers have sometimes been accused of being of
being overly militaristic, role-playing gamers have suffered the
far more ignominious stereotype of being portrayed as either borderline
psychotic social misfits or satanists. Though much of
this is likely due to the unfortunate name of the game (perhaps
Kings & Castles would have gotten a better reception), two books
and some misguided media coverage based on those books likely
added to the continuing public distrust of Dungeons and Dragons
and, by association, role-playing.
Even though many wargamers are dismissive of
fantasy role-playing, and although role-playing is for various
reasons in its own category, it is clear that role-playing has
shaped wargaming in some significant ways. For instance, in
1982, TSR purchased Simulations Publications Incorporated, the
wargaming company founded by James Dunnigan, which upset the
bipolar world of hobby wargaming, dominated by SPI and Avalon
Computer games, which eventually grew in popularity to supersede
the size of both the board wargaming and role-playing game markets, often
attempted to capture both audiences simultaneously. Many modern computer wargames (Warcraft
II, and Total
Annihilation: Kingdoms) use fantasy vocabularies and strategic
play in order to appeal to both traditional wargamers and fantasy
role-players. Also, modern professional wargames have occasionally
seemed to utilize some "role-play" elements.
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is not to suggest that Tolkien's stories were not themselves
related to history and war. Tolkien fought in the trenches
at Somme during World War I and some critics have suggested
his epic The Lord of the Rings was actually an allegory for
the events of World War II.
and Monsters, a best-selling book by Rona Jaffe, later became
a 1982 film starring Tom Hanks. In the
book, a brilliant, but emotionally disturbed gamer becomes
mentally imbalanced, and believes he is the character whom he
role-plays. He retreats to a network of caves and acts out
his dungeon fantasy. The book was based, apparently,
on the disappearance of James Egbert, a student at Michigan State
University, who had played Dungeons and Dragons and had
disappeared in the school's tunnels. As described in William
Dear's book, The
Dungeon Master, Egbert's disappearance into the tunnels had
almost nothing to do with his interest in role-playing, and much
more to do with his homosexuality and drug-abuse problems.
Yet following Jaffe's book and the Mazes and Monsters movie, it
became commonplace to ascribe any aberrant behavior committed by
adolescents who played Dungeons and Dragons to the game.
Patricia Pulling, quoted by Tipper Gore above, launched an
extensive campaign against the game after her son (who played)
committed suicide. A report of Pulling's activism can be
Peter P. Perla, The Art of Wargaming 144 (1990).