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The assignment: find out about Dungeons and Dragons

By Mary AustinSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / February 9, 1981


If you believe toy salespeople, Dungeons and Dragons -- commonly and fondly known as D&D -- is the most popular item on the market since hula hoops and bubble gum. According to James Ward of TSR Games, the company that manufactures the game, about 34,000 D&D games are sold each month, and the number climbs steadily.

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Dungeons and Dragons is strikingly different from most games. Played without a board or a time limit, it is an exercise in fantasy role playing.

The game focuses on the creative imagination of each player, and all the action, passion, drama, and adventure spring from the minds of the players. Dungeons and Dragons is undeniably entertaining, but it is also generating concern and mistrust.

Concern about the game arises because the role a player may take could necessitate assuming an evil persona. Mistrust stems from the fact that in such a role a player is asked to exploit evil motives to acquire points.

D&D is challenged because the sustained contemplation of evil becomes a legitimate strategy subordinate only to the higher goal of winning.

To play Dungeons and Dragons the leader, or Dungeon Master (the DM), conceives and describes an imaginary dungeon.

Each player becomes a different character complete with that character's personality, that character's strengths or weaknesses, that character's positive or negative attributes.

Using a map, the DM reveals the dungeon bit by bit to the players; and they use magic spells, swords, physical strength, and trickery to defeat the monsters , spirits, vampires, etc., which they find lurking around corners and in deserted passageways. The players "go adventuring" in the dungeon together, inventing good and malevolent creatures to encounter, as well as monsters and evil spirits.

Fans of D&D include everyone from elementary-school children to adults. Captivated by the game, players seem to want to spend as much time as possible playing, often to the distress of family and friends.

D&D apparently has a psychological fascination. A toy store salesman hesitatingly described D&D players as "very dedicated. . . . I wouldn't say they're addicted," he said cautiously, "but they certainly are enthralled."

Financially, the game becomes a trap. The initial instruction books are expensive ($10 to $15), and buying the game almost guarantees an obligation to buy more pieces and advanced instruction manuals. "You're almost locked in," according to one toy salesman. "There's no end to it."

A woman whose son is a D&D fan also expressed concern about the "substantial financial investment" involved in playing, fearing that it draws young people toward "elitism." She pointed out that D&D "is not a game that everyone can afford."

Yet, an argument can be made that the game manages to lure young people away from TV's influence. James Ward stresses that people who play D&D "are not being spoon-fed their entertainment."

Reading and research skills contribute to playing D&D. Detailed instruction books and background information are provided for the main characters. Another toy salesman called D&D "an educational experience. It's a lot of fun and really stimulating."