the past was RUBBISH

Writing, eh? All that writing people do. About games and stuff. And news, sometimes. Mostly about the one trick discovered by a mom, I suppose, but still – awful lot of writing going on. It’s the games stuff I’m interested in though. I’ve got very little to add on the subject of the thing that this US marine did next that will really surprise you! Sorry if that’s a disappointment.

Which is all a terribly roundabout way of saying “Hallo again, internet!” I’ve not seriously pointed a keyboard at you for quite some time, but suddenly I feel the compulsion. So here goes.

First sentence of that last paragraph looked weird, though. What’s going on there? Should there be another full stop? That would look right strange. I’m leaving it as it is, but I don’t mind telling you – it’s going to play on my mind.

ANYWAY! What was I here for again?


Dungeons & Dragons is back. Although that’s a slightly misleading opener to start with – D&D never really went anywhere (second hand bookshops notwithstanding), and it’s been back quite a few times over its lifespan. But times have changed (AGAIN! What’s with that?), and despite everything D&D has come back to us, and this time it feels important. It means something.

Dungeons & Dragons is the most important game of the modern era (I’m calling “since 1940” the modern era. You disagree? GET BENT). You might not know the first thing about Vancian magic. You might not realise the importance of a 10’ pole. You might have no idea what Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Mansion is, but nonetheless – if you know games, you know Dungeons & Dragons, because Dungeons & Dragons is the ur-game of the twentieth century.

The very idea of people with swords and magical doohickeys going into a hole in a mountain to break people and hurt things is one of the vital organs of interactive entertainment. Gauntlet. Zelda. Ultima. The Elder Scrolls. Tomb Raider. Demon’s Souls. Zangbandtk. Legend of Grimrock. It doesn’t even stop at the unmistakeable dungeon crawlers – Doom is a game about monsters, in fortresses, filled with traps and exciting new weaponry. It even has a beholder (AND THAT LITERALLY ONLY OCCURRED TO ME AS I WROTE IT OMG). Exploring a map. Expending limited resources, searching for upgrades, and defeating terrible villains. That IS gaming.*

I’m not going to give you a history lesson – I’m too lazy, and wiser people than me have written all about Arneson, Cook, and Gygax. Look them up if you’re interested (and you should, because that stuff is fascinating). My point is this; before Arneson and Gygax, games weren’t any fun. Games were rubbish. Card games, chess, clumsy military simulations (I’m generalising here). Dungeons & Dragons invented the idea of wild, creative, fantastical games of imagination and invention, and of cruelly meaningless fictional death.

The videogame industry that EDR was interested in back when it seethed with brand new words is built on the imaginative foundation laid by TSR, and by the thousands of teenaged Americans that fell under its spell. D&D excavated the rules and expectations of games. We are all its children.

But the last decade or so hasn’t been kind to Dungeons & Dragons. The tropes, the clothes, the furniture of D&D has never been more popular, but they belong to Warcraft, to Pathfinder, to Dark Souls. D&D fourth edition, released back when I was spending sixteen hours a day playing Street Fighter and dodging seminars, was an impressive piece of mechanical design, but it forgot who it was. It was struggling manfully to be, as Marilyn Manso so eloquently put it, ‘The New Shit’. The beauty and wonder of D&D was gone. But that was ages ago and, as everyone knows, the past is rubbish. In the past (for instance), people rode HORSES, the losers. No kidding. Get on a bicycle, am I right? Get the bus.


Dungeons & Dragons is back.


As you’ve probably deduced by now, I have a soft spot for D&D, but it’s a soft spot that I couldn’t ever make fourth edition scratch, and the more time I spent with third edition as a teenager, the less it satisfied me. D&D should be quick, roomy, dirty, and most of all, inspiring.

Fifth edition is upon us right now. I mean, RIGHT NOW. I have the starter box right next to me as I sit here in astonishing heat at 1am** trying desperately to construct a through line for this impulse word-dump. Fifth edition has filled me with hope, and with a longing to make four people sit around pretending they aren’t horrified by the experience of pretending to be a hobbit at the age of thirty.

Fifth edition has decided that D&D doesn’t have to be about endless rules for fighting. D&D should be about pretending to be Merlin while drinking beer and trying to take an embarrassing picture of your girlfriend with the nerdiest thing at the table (there tends to be a rich selection). It’s sitting with your friends around a table and remembering why you love them. It doesn’t even put a board between you. It sets your imagination free, running naked through pastorally idyllic rural meadows like David Jason in that thing he was in ages ago. The one with the farms. You know. Catherine Zeta Jones was in it.

Fifth edition gives you a handful of helpful rules and loads of ideas. If you’re coming to it fresh, it must be TERRIFYING. But that’s brilliant, and it’s absolutely right. D&D is scary – too scary for the half-interested. You have to want it. You need a mad, idiot lust for DICE! for GRIDDED PAPER! for ENDLESS JOURNEYS OF WONDER! and for GETTING YOUR BRAIN SUCKED OUT BY A PSYCHIC OCTOPUS ALIEN MAN! You have to want it enough to not care that it’s an laughable ridiculous thing for an adult to do, to not care that if anyone looked in through the window they would immediately expel you from the society of decent people. You have to want a story, told with and by you and your stupid friends.

D&D is four or five people’s imagination, given a helpful nudge, and then cut loose. It is the best thing.

Fifth edition is available now, nice and cheap, in a sexy starter box with a picture of a geezer giving a dragon an absolute smack round the chops with a sword. It’s also available (in curtailed form) for absolutely NO MONEY AT ALL. But if you’ve never played, that’s no good to you. You need to find a teacher. A Miyagi of pencils and saving throws and proficiency bonus adjustment. An Obi-Wan of adventure and dreams and the easy brilliant wonder of sitting around a bowl of prawn crackers with your pals.

…I wrote a whole other paragraph here. It was dead inspiring. It was finishing off that thought about finding a teacher. It was dead wrong.

You don’t need a teacher – you just need some mates. Get D&D. Fill a fridge with beer, sit around a table, and roll the bones. See what falls out.

*Some of you will claim that constructing cities or civilisations, or fighting in space aeroplanes, or driving racing cars is also gaming, to which I say “WRITE YOUR OWN BLOG, BIGSHOT!!!1” I probably use a nastier word than that, though.

**…in theory, this should magically appear at 11am on saturday morning, instead of 2.30 or whatever ridiculous time it is now. Because we live in the future, we love in the future, and everything old is rubbish. For instance, posting stuff at 3am LIKE A LOSER.

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One Comment on “CardboardDeathRay”

  1. names are labels and labels are temporary Says:

    4 years…

    Like the dust covered light that slowly starts blinking once more on the console; is EDR making contact or is this dim luminessance the last breath of the machine spirit.

    Could its soul be reborn from the remants of its digital conception? Only time will reveal the legacy or the future.

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