I've been reading Dave Gorman's latest, Dave Gorman vs The Rest of the World, in which we get to read about Dave playing games that range from Cribbage to Cluedo, Table Tennis to Poker via a whole lot of games that you have almost certainly never heard of.
I know, as subjects for a book it sounds pretty tedious. It isn't. It has his usual good-natured silliness to it and is a diverting, if slight read.
I mention it because some of the games he's played reminded me of things I haven't mentioned yet in this series of posts - the most recent one being Monopoly. I'll save Monopoly for another day though and talk about one he hasn't played (so far anyway, I'm only just past half way through) - Dungeons and Dragons.
There were five of us - my Brother and his wife, my mate and his wife and me. (That kind of "there ought to be six" lopsidedness seems a common enough feature of my life but let's not get self-pitying about it.)
We were not what you would call hard core D&D addicts. We only met to play occasionally and we didn't get dressed up as elves or dwarves or wizards or anything. That would have been silly. On reflection though probably not much sillier than my mate, a solidly built and rather tall chap, playing a regular character called "Udup the Dwarf"*.
In the list of games I have played D&D has a unique position. There are other role playing games around which are probably much the same but I haven't played them. No, among the games I've actually played D&D is the only one I know where it's massively more fun for the referee than for any other player.
The way we played it was that one of us would labour for weeks creating a scenario, making maps of an imaginary temple or city or country - sometimes really detailed maps - running through "if they do this, I'll do that" what-ifs, basically creating a whole world. Then the others would come round, preferably carrying beer. We'd clear a table, lay down whatever information the characters were supposed to know and spend an evening or more rolling multi-sided dice, discussing what to do next, working our way around this new world.
And the referee, known as the Dungeon Master, got to be God of his own little world. He could role dice in secret behind a screen, nod knowingly and then tell you that the cavern you have so blithely entered contains half a dozen goblins and a troll and what are you intending to do about it?
He had rules that he was supposed to stick to but I know that whenever I was Dungeon Master I pretty much ignored them. My notes (available to the other players in retrospect) might show that you only get eaten by a dragon if I manage to role a one on the icosahedral die but hey, if I want you to be eaten by a dragon you can be sure I'm claiming that I rolled a one.
It was a phase we went through that didn't last long because fundamentally, as gaming experiences go, it has some problems. The objectives can be rather ill-defined. Strategy is more or less non-existent as what you are doing, in effect, is participating in a collaborative effort to write a story. If your character is killed early on all you can do is wander round the house and go through the Dungeon Master's record collection while the others carry on playing. It is, as I said, much more fun to create and control the game than to inhabit it.
In many ways it's probably debatable whether it ought to be defined as a game at all.
So, as a gaming experience it leaves a bit to be desired but as a social experience** it was pretty good. Especially with beer.
* Udup, he explained was so-named because everybody knows that any self-respecting dwarf walks around with his hood up.
**I did once spend some time developing a playable solo version, which shows what a truly sad individual I can be when I put my mind to it.