Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Old School D&D on Television

For those of you who don’t watch much television, Community is a relatively new show on NBC starring Joel McHale, Gillian Jacobs, Danny Pudi, Yvette Brown, Alison Brie, Donald Glover, Ken Jeong, and Chevy Chase. The show regularly follows the core cast as they seek to complete their “general education” courses at a local community college (Greendale) to earn their college degrees.

A recent episode featured the cast playing Dungeons & Dragons. They were reaching out to a fellow student (not so affectionately referred to as “Fat Neil”) who was a role-playing enthusiast. I know that D&D has worked its way into the mainstream consciousness to such a degree that it’s not uncommon to see it referenced in pop-culture but this episode took me by surprise.

Why? Because this was no passing reference, it was the entirety of the episode. Also, the D&D they featured was old-school D&D, specifically 1st edition AD&D. In fact, Neil’s collection of books was made up exclusively of AD&D materials. When Chevy Chase later purchases a milk crate full of gaming paraphernalia, it’s again strictly AD&D 1st edition materials.

The session they played featured many of the characteristics we all know, love, and associate with the old-school style of play. For example, when one of the characters asks “Shouldn’t there be a board, or some pieces, or something to Jenga?” the DM responds “No, no, this is a role-playing game. It takes place entirely in our collective imagination.” Ah, it made me long for the days before battlemats, attacks of opportunity, and 5 foot stepping for tactical advantage. The goal of the game is stated by the DM: “Your goal is to track down the dragon, kill him, and then claim the treasure as your own.” What!? You mean no saving the world? Nope, just a fun quest with looting treasure as the goal.

The game they played was based upon a fabricated old school module (“The Caverns of Draconis”) and featured a decidedly sandbox-style of play, character death as a result of a critical hit (no need to roll to conform the critical, it’s old school!), role-playing to find creative solutions, etc. I found it fascinating that, in the mind of the mainstream, D&D is still old school!

If you have the time and the inclination, check it out:

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