This column almost didn't happen.
Last time, I wrote about how my eldest son, Marty, pleaded with me to run a Dungeons & Dragons game for him and his friends. I'd put him off for months, but this fall I knew the time had finally come to get moving on it. When The Escapist offered me this space to write about games, I took advantage of that to spur me into getting the game going, and we were off and running - well, stumbling.
I hadn't been putting off the game because I didn't want to run it. I did. I love games, and I enjoy any chance I get to play them with anyone, especially my kids. But I have a busy life, and it's not always easy to carve out time for an involved game like D&D.
Unlike video games, board games, card games, and their ilk, roleplaying games like D&D require a lot of preparation, especially for the person running the game, the Dungeon Master. You have to know the rules solid, particularly if you're teaching the game to others. You need to be able to come up with an adventure, either by purchasing one or designing one of your own. And you need to coordinate a time to actually play the game, which can be a nightmare.
This is the lure of the videogame over the tabletop. The videogame is always there. You can start playing whenever you like, and you can stop whenever you want or need to. And,in most cases, there aren't any complicated rules you need to learn. The prep time is almost nothing. You just turn on the machine and go.
However, nothing beats the tabletop RPG for sheer fun with friends. No computer can match the spontaneity, creativity, and laughs you get from sitting around a table with other players. It's far more challenging, sure, but it's at least that much more rewarding.
In one sense, I'd been preparing for this game for months, ever since Marty got his first taste of D&D at Gary Con last March. I just never had the chance to kick it into high gear.
The basic question about the game I wanted to run for Marty and his friends was, of course, which game to play? D&D was my first RPG - and Marty's - so I felt like sticking with that, but it wasn't a given. There are plenty of other excellent options out there, like Savage Worlds (published by my old company Pinnacle Entertainment), Little Fears, True20, and many more than I could list. Some RPGs are even aimed explicitly at younger players, like Faery's Tale (for which I wrote an adventure a couple years back).
Arguably, these other games are better games than D&D, although "better" is a slippery word. They may be better for some uses, or some groups than others. They may play faster, or be more realistic, or be more innovative.
But they're not D&D. One inarguable fact about D&D is that it's the most popular tabletop roleplaying game of all time. It's the lingua franca of gamers everywhere, tabletop or otherwise. It's seeped into our collective consciousness that we're as unaware of it as the air we breathe. Concepts like hit points, experience points, leveling, classes, and so on, all began with D&D.