Is Dungeon & Dragons Too Popular for its Fans?

A new version of Dungeons & Dragons makes it easier for outsiders to get in on the action, which has some fans of the game upset. D&D player C. Robert Cargill, a staff writer for Ain't It Cool News, has a review and a look at the controversy.

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MIKE PESCA, host:

Type A, D and D into Wikipedia and you get two results. One is accidental death and dismemberment. The other refers to an activity that traffics in imagined death and dismemberment. It's "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons," and it's getting even more advanced, because the new fourth addition has just been released. Clerics, warriors and elvin thieves alike have gotten their hands, talons and claws on the new edition of Dungeons & Dragons.

They've since dropped the advanced, and everyone is devouring it like hordlings of the grey waste of Haiti's. But as you may know, hordlings even prey on other hordlings, and there are some complaints among players. What have you done to my game? A blood frenzied spell be cast upon thee. To help us sort it out is C. Robert Cargill. He reviews these games for Ain't It Cool News. Hello. Cargill, you like to be called, right?

Mr. C. ROBERT CARGILL (Dungeons & Dragons Player; Writer, Ain't It Cool News): Yeah, yeah, that's right.

PESCA: Everyone calls you Cargill. So first of all, this is a very basic question, but they released a new version of this game. What do you get in a new edition? Do you get new dice, a new book? What's new physically?

Mr. CARGILL: The books. The new books come with new rules and it's a generally a new way to play it.

PESCA: So what's the new rules and what are the new innovations?

Mr. CARGILL: Well, there is a lot of weird stuff. The main innovation, which leads to one of the main complaints, is that they've seen what happened with "Everquest" and "World of Warcraft," and they've found that players want to have very balanced character classes. So in this edition, every class is, you know, always on the same playing field no matter, you know, when you are at the same level.

PESCA: Now, when you say the classes, do you mean the types of characters you can play? Like, did it used to mean that a warrior was just so much less powerful than a magic user, something like that?

Mr. CARGILL: Yes, to that extent, yes. And throughout the history of the game, at different levels, different classes were much better. In the earlier levels, it was better to be fighter or warrior type because you were going to survive a lot easier. You had more hit points and you could do a lot more damage with your weapons. But as you went up in levels, your weapons weren't doing nearly as much damage as a spell caster, like a wizard or a sorcerer would be able to do throwing their spells.

PESCA: Well, what's really wrong with that? There seems to be some sort of point made that you're making about the real world. Maybe at the, you know, the basic level of things, like, when man first emerged from the primordial ooze, it was good to have brawn. But then, as man evolved, it was better to have intelligence and magic.

Mr. CARGILL: Well, because when you're playing a game, the object is to have fun, and if somebody gets left behind or left out, it's not really that much fun. It's not fun to serve four guys to sit around and watch their buddy, Bill, who has put hyper focus in constructing the most powerful character imaginable, and watching him clean up everything while they kind of sit back and say, wow, that was kind of fun.

PESCA: So the libertarian players, are they worried that this is like affirmative action for barbarians?

Mr. CARGILL: I guess you could put it that way.

PESCA: Now play sociologist for me. The "Dungeon & Dragon" player, does he take offense at his place in the public imagination? Does he know he's kind of mocked as a nerd?

Mr. CARGILL: Well, in fact that is at the root of what's going on within the community. Of course, we do. You know, we have for a long time been a marginalized, you know, section of pop culture. People love to admit that, oh, yeah, I played "D&D" when I was a kid. But ask him now, do you play "D&D" now? Oh, no, I never play "D&D." And that kind of gives the geeks a sense of entitlement, like a sense that they belong to a community and that they grasp on to that and make it their identity.

PESCA: That they're the only ones brave enough to own up to it.

Mr. CARGILL: And yeah, within the community, when people complain or defend, they feel the need to justify how long they've been playing. They will - well, I've been playing since the old gold-box edition, and the longer you've played, the more your cred is, to a certain degree, within the community, because, well, you've gone through all these various editions and you've done all these things that, you know, newer players have not.

PESCA: Yeah. I was playing "D&D" when you were knee high to a halfling.

Mr. CARGILL: Exactly.

PESCA: Now, Cargill, it strikes me that players, or gamers, who are drawn to something essentially based in the medieval might be what you call enthusiasts and traditionalists and not like change too much. I mean, guys who imagine that they're walking around in chain mail might not be the first guys who say, yes, something new, let's go for that! But to what extent are the purest and the enthusiasts upset as to how the game has changed?

Mr. CARGILL: Well, it happens every time there's a change in editions, and not just in "Dungeons & Dragons," in any game whatsoever. You always have a group of people who don't want to change. The biggest first complaint, of course, is I don't want to spend more money on this. The other thing is, yeah, these guys are sometimes afraid of change. They don't want the rules to change because they have so identified with the game and identified with the rules of the game, that by changing that, it feels like you have somehow fundamentally changed what it is.

PESCA: In "Dungeons & Dragons," there is this concept called alignment, which is good and evil, which we all understand. But there is also this lawful and chaotic thing, and someone could be lawful good, which is explained like a policeman, maybe, or someone could be chaotic good, which is like a rebel who does charity work, like maybe someone like Bono from U2.

Same thing with law. What's lawful evil? Well, that would be like a Nazi. What's chaotic evil? That would be like Jack the Ripper, which is an interesting way to think about how people actually are. Do you think about people like that, or is there another thing that "Dungeons & Dragons" introduced to you that made you think about the real world?

Mr. CARGILL: Well, of course, that absolutely had a lot to do with it. What "D&D" really taught me, I guess, is that the best adventures are adventures that are in a well-balanced party, you know, that no one person can do everything and it's better to work with a team of people who all have their specialties.

That's essentially what every "Dungeons & Dragons" party is. You've got your thief. You know, you've got your fighters. You've got your wizard, and everybody does their own thing differently. And that applies very well to life. No one person is going to, especially in artistic endeavors, be great at everything. You're good at what you do and you find people who do the things that you can't do.

PESCA: Have you seen real world creep into "D&D"? I'm especially thinking about the fact that the Arab world and the Muslim religion is in the news. Maybe people are just thinking about, you know, what the crusades mean. I mean, you could be a crusader in the game when that was invented in 1980. It means something different in 2008. So do you see any sort of interaction with the real world making its way into the official game?

Mr. CARGILL: Well, on occasion, yes. You definitely see that. I know that I once ran a - I was a dungeon master of a campaign where I sent - where this king sent my party into a foreign land looking for these five sacred weapons of mass destruction, which they could never find, and that really kind of messed up my players for a little while.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: What about political correctness? I mean, there are races in the game, you know, elves, dwarves and so forth. Has that changed at all in the game?

Mr. CARGILL: No, in fact, that's still there. There isn't as much made in the later editions about the inherent racism that there was in the earlier editions. But then again, that's a metaphor that's kind of, you know, played out in the decades. You know, in the earlier games, it was a big deal that dwarves and elves didn't particularly get along and that half-elves were really, you know, outcasts of society because they were rejected by both their elvin parents and their, you know, human parents.

PESCA: Ah.

Mr. CARGILL: But that was kind of - you'll find that creep into some people's games, but as a general rule, it's just kind of - it has become homogenous over time. It's like, hey, I'm a dwarf, and, oh, hey, you're an elf. And let's go out and kill things together. That's awesome.

PESCA: C. Robert Cargill reviews these games for Ain't It Cool News and he's our "Dungeons & Dragons" correspondent. And before I let you go, how many experience points do you think I earned during this interview?

Mr. CARGILL: I give you about 1,500 experience points.

PESCA: No way. Am I able to jump a level and learn better spells?

Mr. CARGILL: No.

PESCA: This is the Bryant Park Project from NPR News.

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