Why Dungeons & Dragons Matters

40 years of using your imagination.

Ethan Gilsdorf has a fantastic essay up on Boing Boing: At 40 Years Old, Dungeons & Dragons Still Matters. As the original Dungeons & Dragons turns 40 this year, I’m guessing we’ll see many great tributes to the grandaddy of all role playing games, and Mr. Gilsdorf’s essay really resonated with me.

Along the way, D&Ders like me learned about stuff. We discussed hit dice and saving throws, ballistas and halberds. We studied, without encouragement from our parents or teachers, arcane subjects such as architecture, history, languages, and statistics. I learned how to draw and map. I learned battle tactics, how to bargain, how to empathize and negotiate with those not like me—be it undead kings or jocks. And a lot of introverted, socially-inept kids found friends and fellowship. I got socialized, and I learned how to be a leader. Bored and dissatisfied with my real life, I created a more exciting one, again and again, where I got to save the day and have agency.

The tools of D&D gave me permission to imagine a better me, and a better story for myself. They gave me the courage to imagine a different future. And taught me how to change myself. Not happy with lowly Level 1 Ethan, I worked hard to level up to my better, stronger, faster level 17 version today.

This is the key to role playing and I learned similar things playing D&D in the ’80s. I introduced my two youngest children to role-playing with rpgKids a couple years ago and this year we’re transitioning to Pathfinder. I’m hopeful they will learn the same things using their imagination to role play, and it helps to unplug them from their screens as well as challenge them mentally while encouraging them physically with the athletics they are involved with. Balance is good.

D&D is still my springboard into dreaming. Me and four other guys, all in our forties, embark upon these imaginary adventures on Sunday nights. How can I give this up? I leave my computer behind and dip into an amorphous, enigmatic current of magical thinking that humans rarely swim in: something epic and unknown.

I had the chance recently to re-connect with a friend from high school whom I haven’t talked to (or anyone from that period of my life) in over 20 years. He still plays D&D regularly with other friends from high school, including the one who introduced me to D&D. I find that I’m jealous of that; both the camaraderie of friends staying connected like that and the discipline of having a weekly gaming group with the chance, as Mr. Gilsdorf says, “[to] leave my computer behind and dip into an amorphous, enigmatic current of magical thinking that humans rarely swim in…” My oldest son regularly plays Pathfinder (and Magic: The Gathering) with his group of high school buddies and I like to think I had something to do with that. I’ll continue to play with the two younger ones and I hope they learn the same things Mr. Gilsdorf and I learned from Dungeons & Dragons.

Photo by Davi Silva under a CC-BY 2.0 license.

Gearbox wins Homeworld Auction


Photo by Johnny Wallker under a CC-NC-ND 2.0 license

I’m cleaning up some open tabs and a story of interest to me is related to the 1999 game Homeworld from Relic Entertainment.

Relic Entertainment was bought by THQ in 2004 and THQ went bankrupt this year, auctioning off a lot of old assets, Homeworld included.  Six months ago TeamPixel, a small studio, started a Kickstarter campaign to gather support to try and win the rights to Homeworld from the bankruptcy court.  TeamPixel had a goal to bring Homeworld to iOS and Android as well as creating Homeworld 3 for Mac, Windows and Linux.

Homeworld was extremely innovative for its time.  Featuring large space battles in three dimensions (and ships you lost didn’t go with you to the next mission), a great storyline and an active mod community, there was nothing else like it.

The auction and Kickstarter had some buzz – after I tweeted that I supported the Kickstarter, I was surprised how many replies I received with other people showing interest in it as well.

TeamPixel did not win the auction for the rights in bankruptcy court.  It was later revealed that Gearbox, a studio known more for first person shooters including Borderlands, Brothers in Arms, finishing Duke Nukem Forever and Counter-Strike did.

Back in August, Gearbox shared their plans for Homeworld in their developer blog, Inside the Box.  They plan to re-release Homeworld and Homeworld 2 for digital release (I’m guessing Steam) updating it to use the latest PC hardware.

The blog post is great – Brian Burleson shares his excitement in winning the auction and some of the challenges ahead in bringing Homeworld to modern technology:

When all the paperwork cleared and the source code was delivered we finally were able to unwrap what had eluded us for so long only to find that… the bike had one pedal, needed a new chain and overall was just missing parts. Granted, we knew this bike was 10-15 years old and hadn’t been touched by the original owner in quite some time, but still!

That’s when the real work started, and boy howdy, did all of those people who reached out to us at the beginning come in handy!

Over the course of a couple of months we were able to find the missing pieces and started to get the bike, erm, game, working again. (I’ll drop the bike metaphor now.)

As Martel mentioned during our panel at PAX Australia, it’s been a struggle to get all of the original tools working again. Just for comparison, the source drop we got from the purchase of the Homeworld property was 16.8 gigs. The sum of all the additional missing source we got from friends who had worked on the games originally was about 39 gigs. The two have almost zero overlap!

For example, Homeworld 2 was largely developed in a heavily customized version Maya 3. (Something we still haven’t located.) This means that if we wanted to update Homeworld 2 content for an HD version, we needed to turn to different tools.

Give the whole thing a read.  Here’s to hoping Gearbox is successful and can bring this back cross-platform as well – I’d love to play Homeworld again on my Mac!

Neil Gaiman introduces his first game, Wayward Manor

For the last few weeks, Neil Gaiman has tweeted links to a cryptic new website that asked you to RSVP (via email) to a website, Who Haunts Neil. Yesterday, if you had sent an RSVP, you received an email with an update to this very mysterious site, with Mr. Gaiman hosting a video introducing his latest project: Wayward Manor.

Neil, in partnership with game studio The Odd Gentlemen, is launching his first game. Wayward Manor will be a puzzle / adventure hybrid and is doing a Kickstarter-like funding campaign, where you can pre-order the game at a number of different payment tiers with different rewards. It will be released first on PC & Mac, and a tablet version is planned.

If you know anything of Neil Gaiman, he has a love and personal passion in the macabre – a word he even uses to describe the game. He’s previously talked about how he loves Charles Addams and this seems to fit right in to that kind of genre.

I had the opportunity to see Neil a few weeks ago in Bloomington, MN on his book tour for The Ocean at the End of the Lane and he remains one of my favorite authors. I’m excited to see his first foray into video games.

Watch the video below hosted by Neil and his adorable English accent introducing Wayward Manor.

Support Small World on Kickstarter (Especially for Table Top Day!)

This Saturday, March 30th, is Table Top Day! Geek & Sundry has organized an international day to support, enjoy and play table top games. About a year ago a friend invited a friend of ours, my eldest son and myself over to have a table top gaming night. I was blown away by number of games now available. You’ve probably heard of some of the biggest, such as Settlers of Catan, but there is a revolution going on in old school games. We don’t get together as often as we’d like, but about a month ago we scheduled it for this Friday night – coincidentally, just a day before Table Top Day, which Felicia Day talks about in the video above.

I’ve bought a number of games to play with my littler two over the last year, most notably Castle Panic and Small World. Tuesday nights are now game night with the kids, whether it’s a board game, chess or a card game. We usually try and play more games over the weekend as well. I really like that Castle Panic is a co-op game – working together takes a lot of the competitiveness (and trash talking) out, making a more enjoyable experience for everyone.

Small World also released an iPad version last year and are now working on Small World 2. The sequel is looking for funding on Kickstarter, with the hope of building a version for PC (on Steam), Android tablets, and iPad. If you’ve already purchased the iPad game, it will be a free upgrade on iPad.

One of my favorite features of Small World 2, is if the player starting the game owns any of the expansions, you get to play the expansion as well – even if you haven’t bought it.

I highly recommend Small World – if you’re looking for a new take on the classic board game, this game has it all – strategy, quick combat and turns, and infinitely replayable.

Want to learn more? The very first episode of Table Top on Geek and Sundry reviewed Small World:

So grab a game and play some board games this Saturday, for Table Top Day!