Dungeons and Dragons

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The 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons logo.

Dungeons and Dragons (D&D or DnD) is a role-playing game which takes place in magical fantasy world of mythical creatures such as elves, dwarves, orcs, and dragons. Players undertake a series of heroic adventures or quests, following a plot controlled by one player called the dungeon master (DM).

The game was originally published in 1974 by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson and is now published by Wizards of the Coast.[1]

Game play

Dice of various types are used to determine outcomes. As players' characters accomplish more, they gain experience points (XP) which allow their characters to gain levels, which in turn make them more powerful and have more abilities. The DM may use a commercially-produced adventure, or may create one of his own.

The game allows players to play characters who follow one of nine different alignments; lawful good, neutral good, chaotic good, lawful neutral, true neutral, chaotic neutral, lawful evil, neutral evil, or chaotic evil. The character's alignment gives a guideline for how he or she would react in some situations. Paladins, for example, are required to be of the lawful good alignment. Most DMs forbid evil characters as they are often disruptive to the game.

The game may include occult elements like magic, ghosts, spirits, demons and devils which the characters may fight, use or aid as they see fit. Although the game is open-ended and allows players the freedom to choose their own actions, players are typically more likely to fight creatures they encounter than ally with them, especially if these are evil creatures.

The game settings manufactured by Wizards of the Coast (Greyhawk, Faerun, Eberron, etc.) also expressly adopt a polytheistic pantheon of fictional deities and reject real-world religions as a part of the game. That being said, there is nothing to stop a DM from coming up with a monotheistic world in which to run his adventures. In fact, there is an unofficial published setting, Testament, that is about roleplaying in the Biblical Era. Most characters in the game worship fictional deities both as lay persons and as "clerics", a profession than any character may choose to undertake assuming their alignment matches or is close to a match with their chosen god. Clerics of these deities are granted magical powers by their chosen deity by means of which they can defeat their enemies, or heal their party members.

The game has been steadily modified and expanded since the original first edition and is now in edition 3.5. Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition was officially announced at Gen Con on August 16, 2007; the first of the new edition's core rulebooks, the Player's Handbook, is scheduled to release in May 2008.

There is now a Dungeons and Dragons Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game (MMORPG) known as Dungeons & Dragons Online: Stormreach which takes place in the Eberron campaign setting.

The Magic System

The magic system used in Dungeons and Dragons was adopted very roughly from the writing of fantasy and science fiction author Jack Vance. In the Vancian system, magic-users such as wizards must prepare all of their spells in advance for that day by memorizing them and a spell leaves the wizard's memory upon being cast. To cast the spell again, the magic-user must once again memorize the spell. The Vancian system was chosen for a variety of reasons such as its originality compared to pre-existing magical systems, its avoidance any connection with systems of magic described in any religion or occult theory, and it being the creation one of Gygax's favorite authors.[2][3]

The Combat System

Some of the unusual dice required to play Dungeons and Dragons.

Players fight by throwing dice having 20, 12, 10, 8, 6, and 4 sides. These dice are properly called polyhedral dice. This is important to distinguish these dice from standard six sided dice. Rolling two 10-sided dice creates a two-digit random number for percentages, which the rules will sometimes refer to as rolling a 100-sided die.

In combat there are three different ways that a character can damage another character: melee, ranged, or magical. Attacking another Player Character (PC) is often an evil act that will get you tossed out that group, but PC-vs-PC combat is sometimes entered by mutual agreement of the players as part of a plot.

Relationship with Christianity

Although Dungeons & Dragons does not present itself as either pro-Christian or anti-Christian, the game features many elements which can be considered to agree with or go against the teachings of Christ.

Former United Methodist Church minister James Wyatt wrote an essay comparing the freedom of a Dungeons & Dragons player to choose his own actions, to the Christian concept of Free Will. As in real life, a player may, when presented with a moral choice, decide for himself whether to do good or evil. If the player was not able to do evil, he would be forced to do good, removing his freedom. Similarly, God allows human beings to choose between good and evil in real life, and people must accept the consequences of their choice.

The game includes fictional depictions of supernatural abilities called magic, evil monsters called demons and devils, and fictional deities along with their followers. Christians are divided on how this interacts with their faith. Some Christians believe that such fictional depictions of practices forbidden by Scripture and mythological deities do not conflict with the player's faith provided that he does not truly believe that these things are part of real life or that their real-world equivalents should be condoned. These Christians compare the game to reading or writing a work of fiction containing these elements, such as reading about Greek mythology or writing stories involving devils as C.S. Lewis wrote The Screwtape Letters. However, other Christians disagree with this viewpoint, citing references in Scripture which prohibit witchcraft (Lev. 20:27) or the worship of false gods (Deut. 5:7).

Since the primary action of the game involves the slaying of monsters and the accumulation of wealth, some Christians feel that this goes against the teachings of Christ regarding pacifism (Matthew 5:38-42) and the accumulation of wealth (Matthew 19:24).

Controversy and Criticism

Starting in the late 1970s the game and others like it came under attack mainly from some conservative Christians as promoting occult and criminal activity. Its dangers were summarized in the Dark Dungeons tract by controversial fundamentalist Christian author Jack Chick[4], who claims that D&D players whose characters reach a high enough level can learn to cast real magic spells.

One item of concern for conservative Christians is that players' characters do not usually worship God, but instead choose a patron deity from a fictional polytheistic pantheon. Many Christian players get around this by altering the world so that it better fits their personal beliefs.

The game has drawn criticism for allowing players to undertake un-Christian activities: the rules allow a player to have their character perform evil acts, including the summoning or worshiping of demons and devils.

Another criticism is that illustrations in the rule books for Dungeons and Dragons often contain images of immodestly dressed women, and, in fact, in the first edition Monster Manual a number of pencil drawings were topless (such as harpy and succubus).

Tracy Hickman, one of the main authors of the Dungeons and Dragons DragonLance book series, and a Christian with conservative politics and theology, has written a number of articles defending and discussing D&D from a Christian perspective. [5] Others within the Dungeons and Dragons community responded by writing other defenses from rationalist perspectives or other perspectives or by writing parodies such as "Chess: The Subtle Sin: Should Christians play chess?". In response to the perceived Christian persecution of the Dungeons and Dragons, darker themed, deliberately counter-cultural games appeared in reaction such as Call of Cthluhu which is based on the horror writing of H.P. Lovecraft and set in the Cthulhu Mythos[5], or Vampire: the Masquerade, where players acted the roles of undead blood-suckers.


  1. Wizards of the Coast's D&D site
  2. Forum discussion: "Is D&D magic purely Vancian?"
  3. RPGnet: Review of "The Primer of Practical Magic"
  4. Jack Chick: "Dark Dungeons"
  5. 5.0 5.1 The Journal of Religion and Popular Culture: "Role-Playing Games and the Christian Right"

External Links