BY PAUL CAREY
It's an average day, and a woman standing in line at a grocery store was very surprised to overhear this conversation from the two young men in front of her:
"Boy, I thought we were goners when those werewolves attacked us last night."
"You're telling me! It's a good thing Udor carries silver arrows for his bow."
"I hope that magic ring we found in the dragon's treasure isn't cursed."
Though the woman might think so, she is not hearing things. These two boys are merely recounting their adventures as players of Dungeons & Dragons, a popular fantasy role-playing game.
Dungeons & Dragons, or D & D as it is commonly called, allows its players to venture into an imaginary world inspired by the words of writers such as J.R.R. Tolkien, Robert E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, and Michael Moorcock, as well as such classical works as "Ivanhoe" and "LeMorte D'Arthur." For many years D & D has been popular on college campuses, but only recently has it begun to gather mass exposure. This exposure has enabled TSR Hobbies, the company that manufactures D & D, to not only greatly expand their line of gaming products, but have licensed Mattel Electronics to produce an electronic version and a video version for television.
Each player in D & D acts out the role of a different character. A character has the option of being an elf, dwarf, halfling or gnome, In addition to being human. Then the player decides what class to be: fighter, magic-user, cleric, thief, or monk. When the players are finished creating their characters, the game begins.
The dungeon adventure takes place in a castle, underground complex, forest, or other fantasy setting, created by the game referee, better known as the dungeon master. Using maps and notes prepared ahead of time, the dungeon master leads the group of players on a fantastic make-believe adventure. The length of any D & D game is indefinite, some taking place over a period of weeks, or even at times months.
Most people play for the unique fun and enjoyment that can be found in few games other than D & D. "It's interesting, not just your every day game," said one player asked to describe D & D. Another player explained that he became involved in the game because of his interest in science fiction and fantasy. "I've always been fascinated by medieval times, knights, and all that," he added.
In addition to the huge positive interest in D & D over the last year, a certain amount of criticism has arisen as well. Some critics have said that because D & D offers such a complete fantasy world, some players become so obsessed with the game that they lose touch with reality, and begin to identify more with their character than with their true self. Many players, however, feel that this situation only happens to a minority of players, and that this has been blown out of proportion.
A far deeper accusation comes from a number of religious groups that are spear-heading a movement against D & D. The D & D manuals contain a number of unholy creatures, such as devils, demons, vampires, and ghouls, among their list of monsters to be encountered. Because the entire manual is dedicated to helping players to incorporate mythological deities Into their gaming campaigns, some groups are under the impression that this is not a mere game, but is really a form of devil worship.
When asked his feelings on the subject, player Matt Ford put it simply, "it's a bunch of baloney, just a lot of hype. I guess they think It pulls you away from God. They don't really know that much about the game. There are good and evil gods in the game. All my characters are good, and besides, it's only make-believe."
"It's not me worshipping another god," added another D & D player. "It's my character. I'm not into it deep enough to think I'm my character. If anyone was, they would be in trouble."
Growing interest in D & D, as well as in fantasy-adventure movies (Star Wars, Excalibur, and Dragonslayer, to name a few) have inspired a vast number of hew fantasy games with the medieval theme, as well as a number of role-playing games in other genres. For science fiction enthusiasts, there's Gamma World and Metamorphosis Alpha from D & D's parent company TSR Hobbies, as well as the space game Traveller. Any super hero fans can act out comic book adventures by playing Champions or the Supergame.
So, if you overhear a conversation about battling monsters and searching for hidden treasure, you're not going crazy. You're probably just listening to two D & D players.