Why tabletop gaming is still relevant

Blair Hanley Frank

Credit: E. Johnson

In my column last week, I talked about video games and their potential as a storytelling medium. This week, I’d like to tackle something decidedly more old school: tabletop role-playing games. These games are nothing like your usual board game; there’s no standard game board, no standard way of winning and they can last for years at a time. The most well-known role-playing game is Dungeons and Dragons, which was first published in 1974 by the late Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson. Other games soon followed, like GURPS, Shadowrun and GUMSHOE. What all of them had in common was the emphasis on single players making radical differences in a game world.

These worlds, more often than not, are constructed by a Game Master or Dungeon Master (GM and DM respectively) just for people to play. GMs will sometimes take years (usually while playing other games) to design and build an immersing experience for their players. When that experience, commonly referred to as a campaign, is finished, the whole group gets together around the table to play. It’s not a matter of picking a story off the shelf as it is about telling a story all your own, with a group of other people. Everyone in the party is there to have fun and tell a story together.

What makes this sort of gaming truly remarkable is that it’s literally possible for the players to do anything. As a GM, it’s your job to make the experience as fun as possible, and if that means adapting the rules to allow your players to use their horses as battering rams, so be it. It makes for a way better experience as a player, too. Instead of being constrained by a video game plot, a campaign is only limited by the imagination of the people around the table.

Of course, the graphical experience is all in your head for the most part, unless you have a bunch of professional cartoonists around the table. But getting to share epic experiences with a group of your friends is invaluable. Rolling dice is only half the fun, it’s the jokes around the table, and all of the stories you share with the other people you play with.

I’ve played various Dungeons and Dragons campaigns with friends off and on for the past seven years of my life, and I’ve always found the experience rewarding and fun. Sure, stories (and party members) will come and go, but the experiences I’ve enjoyed stick with me. Role-playing games have always interested me, because I enjoy inventing a character or a world and telling a story.

Although video games are more popular these days, role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons are not going to go away because they offer something that other games can’t: the chance to have fun with your friends and create your own world together.