For today's edition of ZAM-mas, Ragar goes a little old school
After days of travel through forest and plains, your destination is now close at hand. Your contact back at the tavern was tight-lipped about specifics, but so far the map he sold you lines up with his tale as the cavern entrance lies at the foot of the mountain just as the X shows. Sure, he missed the minor parts like having to tramp through the undead-filled swamp or that the trading road he suggested went through raider territory but, if the treasure within is as great as he promised, it'll be worth the trouble. Those scorch marks and deeply cut grooves around the cave entrance are a bit troubling though...
When we first started talking about adding some non-PC games to the list, D&D was one of the first games to pop into my head. Every week I spend three to five hours running a group of friends through adventures, some pre-planned and others improvised on the spot. Before that I was on the other side of the DM screen, playing fighters and the occasional other class with my college friends back more years than I care to admit to. While I may not go back quite as far with pen and paper games as some other players can claim, it's hard to ignore the impact they've had on the RPGs and MMOs I love today. From storytelling and character class concepts to the core ideas for many magic and combat system designs, quite a few of these modern games drew inspiration from D&D and other similar games.
Even with all of the influence these games may have had on our current games, not everyone has had the chance to sit down and start rolling dice. You needed a group of people in the same room for multiple hours at least once a week, a pile of books for rules and monsters, a map to draw on, tokens for each player and all of the monsters/NPCs - a daunting task for anyone, especially once you're out of college. That was the past though and things have gotten a bit simpler.
I have five players in my D&D group. Of those five players, I've only met one in-person at a BlizzCon years ago. You see my D&D group is comprised primarily of old World of Warcraft guild mates, scattered all over the United States. Meeting face to face isn't really an option for us but, thanks to tools like Roll20, we don't have to. Everyone logs into the site and you have all the tabletop tools you need: map drawing/importing, tokens for characters and monsters, dice rolling, initiative tracking, character sheets, etc.
That still leaves the matter of missing books and character creation, but these are also solvable problems. Wizards of the Coast offers a subscription plan to players/DMs that want access to their online resources: the Dragon/Dungeon magazine archives, the Compendium of magic items, monsters, rules, etc. for easy lookup as well as their character creator tools. It's still money being spent, but for the cost of one set of books split among your group, you can have one account to make everyone's characters and look up rules/monsters/etc. for the game and a larger storage account on Roll20 and access to their newer tools like Dynamic Lighting which I haven't quite figured out yet.
There's plenty more to be said about D&D, let alone all of the other pen and paper games out there but, rather than going on about it, I would highly suggest simply trying it for yourself. With all of the online resources available and many of us having a stable of guild mates with similar gaming tastes that are online when we are, now's the perfect opportunity to try it out. Scared to DM yourself? Try sweet talking a friend into it; that's pretty much how they got me to DM this game. If you're trying to play on a budget or unsure which system your friends will like, sites like DriveThruRPG sell PDFs for different games for less than the physical books. Whether you go with one of the flavors of D&D like I use or you steer more toward something like Pathfinder or Shadowrun, there are systems out there for every RPer's taste.
Michael "Ragar" Branham