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interests / / [Guardian] ‘Theatre of the mind’: celebrating 50 years of Dungeons & Dragons

o [Guardian] ‘Theatre of the mind’: celebrating 50 years of Dungeons & Dragonskyonshi

[Guardian] ‘Theatre of the mind’: celebrating 50 years of Dungeons & Dragons


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From: (kyonshi)
Subject: [Guardian] ‘Theatre of the mind’: cele
Date: Sat, 23 Mar 2024 15:28:03 +0100
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 by: kyonshi - Sat, 23 Mar 2024 14:28 UTC

‘Theatre of the mind’: celebrating 50 years of Dungeons & Dragons

The role-playing game, largely powered by participants’ imaginations,
continues to attract fans half a century after it was launched

Everyone remembers their first Dungeons & Dragons character. For Sam
Gyseman, it was a dwarf called Sven Olafson. “For some reason I thought
dwarves were all Scandinavian,” says Gyseman, who lives in the Midlands
and works for the local city council. “He had a long beard and a huge,
double-headed axe.”

For Erik Olsen, his character in his first game was a cleric called
Maxis. “We played an adventure called The Lichway,” says Olsen, a
university professor. “He died from a spider bite in that dungeon.
Because it was the first adventure I played, it has always had a special
place in my heart.”

Dungeons & Dragons is 50 years old, launched on to the market in 1974 by
a company called Tactical Studies Rules, or TSR, created by the game’s
creators Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson when they couldn’t find a publisher
for their creation.

Even if you’ve never played Dungeons & Dragons – or D&D as it’s more
commonly known – you’ll probably be aware of it. A film franchise began
in 2000, starring Thora Birch and Jeremy Irons, which spawned two
sequels. A reboot happened last year, subtitled Honor Among Thieves,
with Chris Pine and Michelle Rodriguez. Those of an older vintage might
remember the mid-1980s cartoon, or that the kids were playing D&D at the
beginning of the movie ET the Extra Terrestrial (and, in a more recent
homage to that scene, at the beginning of the first episode of Stranger

Anyone used to “normal” games might be expecting a board, and pieces,
and dice. While D&D does indeed have dice – many-sided ones for various
interactions – and an industry has built up providing metal miniatures
of the denizens of the fantasy world, D&D is a game powered by
imagination and, most importantly, a willingness to role-play.
Characters are created on the rolls of dice which give them scores for
certain attributes, such as strength or intelligence. The results will
define what “class” of character you have: a high dexterity score is
suitable to being a thief. Intelligence helps with the book-learning
needed to be a wizard or cleric. Lots of brawn but no brain might
suggest a fighter-class character who will cheerfully heft a broadsword
and run heedless into a phalanx of orcs.

Game sessions are presided over by a Dungeon Master, who will verbally
guide the team of players through an adventure. These are detailed
descriptions of location and plot, sometimes released by publishers,
such as the all-time classic The Keep on the Borderlands, or published
in magazines such as White Dwarf, as was Olsen’s first adventure, The
Lichway. Often, the Dungeon Master will create their own adventure,
intricately mapping out a castle or temple, populating it with monsters
and non-player characters.

A game will generally involve the Dungeon Master telling the players
where they are and what they can see – “You turn a corner and are faced
with two doors. What do you do?” – while the players work as a team to
decide on their next move. Opening one door might lead to treasure, the
other might be home to a marauding monster which they then have to
fight, using dice to determine the outcome.
That’s the imagination side of it, and the role-playing comes in
because, although you might be a 56-year-old female local authority
worker from the Midlands, like Sam Gyseman, you have to play the game as
though you are indeed a male dwarf with a double-headed axe.
Or a fighter called Ricca, who has aspirations to become a bard, or a
thief assassin named Ellana the Raven, both characters Gyseman plays in
different campaigns today.

She says: “I was first invited to join a game in about 1986 by some
friends in Leicester. I went to a comic shop, bought some dice and took
myself along to the meeting, not knowing what to expect.

“Apart from a bit of a gap between university and divorce, I have played
D&D in some form ever since. Role-playing is the part I like the most –
just talking in character, being another person and making the story as
we go along.”

Since 1997, D&D has been published by Wizards of the Coast, a subsidiary
of toy and game giant Hasbro. “D&D has a rich history, an exciting
present, and a great future,” says Kyle Brink, executive producer of the
team making D&D at Wizards of the Coast. “This year we’ll be celebrating
all three with the 50th anniversary of the first publication of Dungeons
& Dragons. We’ve been building up to this for a while now. It’s going to
be a lot of fun.”
Erik Olsen has worked at the universities of Amsterdam and Groningen,
and his last post was at the Russian State University for the
Humanities, which he left when the war in Ukraine started. He is now
back home in the Netherlands.

He grew up in Long Island, New York, and came across the game in 1981.
He says: “The books had been out for a few years already but the
popularity popped at the point I found it. I never knew this sort of
thing even existed before that.

“When I went to uni, I found the sci-fi group and joined a weekly
campaign where we did the classic ‘all nighters’, starting on Saturdays
sometime around noon and then playing until early Sunday morning when
people had began to drop off.”

For Olsen, the game is best played with pure imagination – or in the
“theatre of the mind”, as he likes to call it. “I know some people play
with 3D or printed maps, figures, etc. I never did this – to my mind it
detracted from the players’ imagination.”

Olsen and Gyseman are members of the Dungeons & Dragons UK group on
Facebook, which has almost 23,000 members, as is Rob Driver, who acts as
Dungeon Master to a group of players in the east Midlands. The internet
has given D&D an extra dimension, allowing players to adventure together
online on Zoom calls as well as in person – which was a huge boost
during Covid – and make resources available.

Driver says: “D&D has a big presence online with many Facebook groups
dedicated to the game and related role-playing games. The internet is a
very useful tool to share ideas, pictures, homemade adventures, find
players locally.
“The company that owns D&D have an online forum and catch-all website
where you can buy all sorts of products digitally. YouTube has brought
D&D to the fore, with groups such as Critical Role and Dungeon Dudes
streaming their games live for people to watch and comment on.”

Half a century old it might be, and facing a lot of competition from
increasingly sophisticated video games you can play on your phone, but
Dungeons & Dragons is actually increasing in popularity. Wizards of the
Coast said that 50 million people worldwide have played D&D, and that
2020 saw a huge upswing in interest in the game, boosted by people
looking for things to do with their families during lockdowns.

Gyseman says: “TV shows like The Big Bang Theory and Stranger Things
have brought so many people to gaming. It has been very noticeable in
the last few years how fast the hobby is growing, and I’m gratified that
it’s popular with younger people, particularly those who feel
marginalised or different from their peers.

“In fantasy role-playing they can be who they want, meet people like
themselves and live out their best life, albeit for just a few hours a

interests / / [Guardian] ‘Theatre of the mind’: celebrating 50 years of Dungeons & Dragons


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