Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Course on RPGs: Introducing Newbs to D&D

As you know, I'm teaching a course on the history and culture of RPGs this spring.

I plan on posting the list of readings here shortly, so that you can follow at home if you like.

In addition to the required course readings, I plan on including a list of recommended readings, movies, and fan-films.

If you had to introduce a bunch of early 20s newbs to D&D, what sort of background reading/viewing would you recommend to them?

I'll start with a couple of my own thoughts. I'm trying to pull from the breadth of D&Ds history.

The D&D Experience (documentary)
Community AD&D Episode
Mazes and Monsters (1982)
60 Minutes and CBC Archival News footage (1985 - Check youtube)
Chick Tracts
Dungeon Majesty
Celebrity 4E Sessions

Your opinions/thoughts on the question above?


  1. Your list is good for the history and a good chunk towards the negative stereotypes, but if I were introducing someone to D&D, I wouldn't show them M&M, 60s minutes 1985 nor the Chick Tracts. I wouldn't want to scare them away with negative stereotypes. I've not seen the Community AD&D episode yet but it's gotten rave reviews from people I trust, so I'd probably go with that. For my money, I'd just run them thru a game and let them take it as they will.

  2. In the first class I would break them into groups and make them play OD&D. Bring in a few friends to DM. Seriously. There's no way you can REALLY understand any of this without playing.

    As far as background reading... I would give them rulebook, zine, and module excerpts and maybe some chapters out of Game Mastery (Gygax) and/or Fantasy Role Playing Games (Holmes).

    There are also some interesting articles from the NY Times and LA Times from the 1970s that are worth reading.

  3. One more thought... I agree with ChicagoWiz that your viewing list largely represents negative stereotypes, including the Community episode (which I love). I wouldn't bring out this material until the end of the class when you talk about "social context" or whatever. This material is also largely irrelevant to the evolution of roleplaying games and the creative endeavors of actual gamers.

    Sounds like a great class! Can't wait to hear some progress reports! Please post the syllabus!

  4. "If you had to introduce a bunch of early 20s newbs to D&D, what sort of background reading/viewing would you recommend to them?

    If you're saying they have no idea of what D&D is . . . I'd have them all roll up characters and play a session before doing or talking about anything else. Reading dry definitions of roleplaying just doesn't get across what its like.

    If you're more interested in showing the reach, in its heyday, D&D had in pop culture I'd show clips of the Saturday morning cartoon and I can't remember if the E.T. movie showed actual play (I think it did) but I know the novelization had the kids playing D&D when the alien shows up. That movie was huge. There are also pictures online of that D&D camp.

    For the history of the game and its development there are some good interviews of Dave Wesley online (including audio), and accounts online of some of the earliest adventures played (Svenny).

    Anyway, sounds fun. I wish they had your class when I was in school!

    Aha, took to long writing this, looks like I agree with the others, run 'em! :)

  5. Your list is lacking in the I Hit It With My Axe department. Also, there's a few clips of D&D material in the TV series Freaks & Geeks.

  6. Thanks guys.

    Actually, I embrace the negative stereotypes and have no problem discussing them, or the moral panic of the 1980s. It's part of the story of D&D and can't be glossed over. I'll spend a fair amount of time on it.

    As I've laid it out, I'm going to model a session during the first tutorial with the players switching out to rotate through the class over the span of about 50 minutes. There's something to be said for watching and learning.

    That will give them both a feel for the characters and the kinds of things you can do with them, GMing, and what a gaming session feels/looks like.

    Step two will be character generation, followed by the creation of short randomly generated senarios, followed by play (in which they will use their previously created characters - until they die). All that over the course of several classes.

    Additional thoughts are very welcome.

  7. There is nothing wrong with "embracing" the negative, the breadth of D&D's history wasn't overshadowed by it.

    You introduce something by explaining what it actually is, not by spending a great amount of time on what misinformed people demonized it to be.

  8. Right.

    The interesting part about moral panics is what they say about society at large during a particular time period, which is the point :)

  9. I'm familiar with the Freaks and Geeks episodes.

    Not a huge fan of the other reference.

  10. Well then you should explain why that is because the other reference rocks.

  11. @Kilted - in an academic setting, I could see how that conversation can be guided to get the result you want. Good luck, sounds like a very interesting class.

  12. The Freaks & Geeks episode is good, but (and I hate to get all internet-fanboy here) the best D&D material from that episode is, if I remember correctly, in the deleted scenes. That said, Carlos the Dwarf is worth hunting the DVDs up.

  13. True. It's just not my bag, baby.

    @ChicagoWiz, thanks. I'll post more shortly.

  14. There's an episode of the IT Crowd that is very similar in tone to the AD&D episode of Community but possibly even funnier. Unfortunately it doesn't call the game they're playing D&D specifically, but it's pretty obvious.

    But I don't think you can talk about showing D&D related movies without considering Hawk the Slayer.

  15. Whoops, sorry Kilted, didn't see your previous post. So it sounds like you were already going to fishbowl character creation and play. Smart teacher.

    As far as the simplified character creation material you mentioned in the other post, this has been a constant goal of mine. It's interesting to me that a handout assuming the presence of an experienced facilitator can be simpler and cleaner than a rulebook meant to be read by a newb on their own.

    What I'm mostly trying to create for my players is that exact kind of streamlined handouts. Anyway, good luck!

  16. Well, when we are on the inside of the subculture looking out it can make explanation difficult. Assuming no knowledge is really a difficult thing to do. I’m sure I’ll bugger it somewhere.

    Starting with questions like these are hopefully good starters (just examples). If you get where I'm coming from:

    What does a session look like?
    How do I interact with other players?
    Do I speak as a person, a player, or a persona?

  17. Here's the readings, for those interested.


    Vin Diesel, “Forward,” Harold Johnson, Steve Winter, Peter Adkison, and Ed Stark, 30 Years of Adventure: A Celebration of Dungeons and Dragons (Wizards of the Coast, 2004): 2 pages (no pagination) (ISBN: 0-7869-4078-6)

    Erik Mona, “From the Basement to the Basic Set: The Early Years of Dungeons and Dragons,” in Pat Harrigan and Noah Wardrip-Fruin eds., Second Person: Role-Playing and Story in Games and Playable Media (MIT Press, 2007): 25-30 (ISBN: 0262083566)

    Terri Toles-Patkin, “Rational Coordination in the Dungeon,” Journal of Popular Culture 20, 1 (1986): 1-14. (ISSN: 0022-3840)

    Gary Alan Fine, “Fantasy Games and Social Worlds,” Simulation & Games 12, 3 (1981): 251-279 (ISSN: 00375500)

    Kurt Lancaster, “Do Role-Playing Games Promote Crime, Satanism, and Suicide Among Players as Critics Claim?,” Journal of Popular Culture 28, 2 (1994): 67-79. (ISSN: 0022-3840)

    David Walden, “Role-Playing Games and the Christian Right: Community Formation in Response to a Moral Panic,” Journal of Religion and Popular Culture 9, Spring (2005): 27pgs. (ISSN: 1703-289X)

    Dennis Waskul and Matt Lust, “Role-Playing and Playing Roles: The Person, Player, and Persona in Fantasy Role-Playing,” Symbolic Interaction 27, 3 (2004): 333-356. (ISSN: 01956086)

    Sean Q. Hendricks, “Incorporative Discourse Strategies in Tabletop Fantasy Role-Playing Games,” in J. Patrick Williams, Sean Q. Hendricks, W. Keith Winkler, eds., Gaming as Culture: Essays in Reality, Identity and Experience in Fantasy Games (McFarland, 2006): 39-56 (ISBN: 9780786424368)

    Matthew Chrulew, “The Only Limitation Is Your Imagination: Quantifying the Medieval and Other Fantasies in Dungeons and Dragons,” Stephanie Trigg ed., Medievalism and the Gothic in Australian Culture (Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2005): 223-240. (ISBN: 2503517021)

    Carlos Hernandez, “The Postmodern Hoard: Rates of Exchange in Role-Playing Games,” Reconstruction: Studies in Contemporary Culture 6, 1 (2006): np. (ISSN: 1547-4348)

    David Marshall, “A World Unto Itself: Autopoietic Systems and Secondary Worlds in Dungeons and Dragons,” in David Marshall ed., Mass Market Medieval: Essays on the Middle Ages in Popular Culture (Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Co., 2007): 171-185. (ISBN: 9780786429226)

    Rebecca Borah and Inez Schaechterle, “More than Girlfriends, Geekettes, and Gladiatixes: Women, Feminism, and Fantasy Role-Playing Games,” Reconstruction: Studies in Contemporary Culture 6, 1 (2006): np. (ISSN: 1547-4348)

    Matthew Chrulew, “Masters of the Wild: Animals and the Environment in Dungeons and Dragons,” Concentric: Literary and Cultural Studies 32, 1 (2006): 135-168. (ISSN: 1729-6897)

    Mike Featherstone, “The Heroic Life and the Everyday,” Theory, Culture & Society 9 (1992): 159-182 (ISSN: 0263-2764)


    Ethan Gilsdorf, Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks: An Epic Quest for Reality Among Role Players, Online Gamers, and Other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms (Lyons Press, 2010) (ISBN-10: 1599219948)

    Jennifer Grouling Cover, The Creation of Narrative in Tabletop Role-Playing Games (McFarland, 2010) (ISBN: 9780786444519)

  18. I'd suggest
    Top 100 Toys. #3 D&D.
    good stuff starts at 2:22:00. It features some archive footage alongside very short snippets of Ian Livingstone OBE, Life President of Eidos and co-founder of Games Workshop (which only really began life as the UK importer of D&D).

    Oh and don't forget to add ET, even if it's technically Tunnels and Trolls!

  19. Ok, this is too big. I started going through my own personal compilation of the history of things and stopped when I realized that you would be looking at mopping up a lot of drool.

    I mean, where do you start?

    With Dungeon Master Zero?

    The fusion of three disconnected elements in the 60's that would make up what has become modern gaming?

    Or maybe just the history of D&D? Would you mention Tim Kask?

    And I think most comments are on the mark when it comes to downplaying the negative. A brief review of the concerns it generated finished with the recent article by a psychiatrist stating how important gaming is to young minds might be appropriate.

    And show them the Community episode AFTER they have some grasp of the game or it will mess with their minds. You know, things like "I won Dungeons and Dragons and it was Advanced" is funny to those who know, but confusing to people who ARE trying to figure out how you 'win' a game that has no such condition, unless you count just being alive at the end of the session :)

  20. Without question the material is going to come at them hard and fast. There's just no way around that timewise.

    As is often the case, the course will be a bit like a hand grenade - it will only go off for them after the course is over.

  21. Hey Zhu, that link is blocked b/c I'm in Canada. Do you have any other links for it?

    Also, let it be known that I'm going to make a concerted effort to watch additional Hit it With My Axe episodes to see if I can be converted :)

  22. @kiltedyaksman

    Episode 18 is the best. If you do not like episode 18 you will not like 'Axe'. (and you're weird)

    The ones with Justine (episode 8-20) were where they started getting good and they started letting us cut them how we wanted.

  23. Might want to think about Gold the series...

  24. Ok, I just watched episode 18. Still doesn't do anything for me.

    I'm all for personal expression, but there's some interesting haircuts going on there :)

    It looked like a football team rookie party (been there, done that lol).

    I watched some of the early episodes, but I'll go back and check #8 forward.

  25. "I'm all for personal expression, but there's some interesting haircuts going on there :)"

    What does that mean?

  26. Exactly what it says, there are interesting haircuts going on. As I said, I'm all for personal expression - the student in me wonders what is being expressed.

  27. I guess it is a little mind-blowing to me that you live in a time and place and culture where any of that has anything to do with anything and yet still write in modern english that I can understand.

    But you also referred to something called a "football team rookie party", which I have no idea what that is, so my guess is that the prime advantage of all those celebs-playing-4e-D&D-shows (featuring people I know and have played with who live near me and don't ask the girls about their haircuts but rather skip straight to hitting on them) is that they are so generic they paper over the vast cultural differences between the people in big cities who make those shows and write these games and the people in wherever you are.

  28. @Zak,

    I've played 4e, but it isn't a game that holds my interest. You'll get that idea if you see my past posts, etc. I have no specific interest in celeb 4e or any other form of 4e.

    Based on the short bits I watched previously, it seemed that your show wasn't something of interest to me. Having said that, and based on your recommendation, I went back and watched #18. Still didn't turn my crank. When I have a chance I'll go and check out #8 and give it yet another chance. I'm willing to give things a go.

    Now, when we put out stuff on the intertubes we open ourselves up. I'm inherently a bored, sleep-deprived, smart-ass at heart and have been at rookie parties where people walked away with haircuts like that afterwards. We obviously have different sets of experiences, and that's ok. It is what it is.

  29. We don't play 4e.

    And I still don't know what a rookie party is.

  30. You brought up 4e so I addressed it.

    A rookie party is a form of hazing wherein first year players, regardless of size or skill, willingly submit to rituals most would deem self-destructive. It is a rite-of-passage ritual. The behaviours vary with the sport, but a common one in football is to give someone a haircut that they aren't allowed to shave afterwards. Common haircuts include a Friar Tuck (google Tim Tebow), a mohawk, or an inverse mohawk. Alternatively, they will just shave bits and pieces. You then have to walk around school, campus, whatever, sporting your new dew. Our women's soccer team would run around the football practice field wearing their panties/bras on the outside of their practice gear with water balloons stuffed in for good measure. It really varies.

    The point is three-fold. To humiliate the individual, to demonstrate that the individual is not above the group, and to mmark publically that the individual is now part of the group and not part of the general population.

    If you attempt to rage against the hazing it will only get worse. I knew one guy who rubbed seniors the wrong way and each day his gear would be soaked with water. The idea being he will eventually get sick as the weather got colder and would have to quit.

    Happens in the military all the time but is a normalized practice there. The Canadian airborne regiment, a highly decorated unit, was disbanded over hazing in the 1990s.

    Happens in gaming groups too (albeit brought down to the level of "the new guys brings the Mountain Dew") or whatever.

    Happens in rock bands too, my brother-in-law is in Sum41.

    It's an odd, self-destructive way of going about team-building.

    So, the long and short of it is that when I see alternative haricuts I think rookie parties/initiations. That's where I'm coming from.

  31. I'm sorry to hear you have a family member in Sum41. My condolences for your loss.

  32. I give him the gears whenever possible.

  33. "So... what's it like playing for an arena of 14-year-old boys?"

  34. I'd second the IT Crowd suggestion.

    The one hundred top toys thing is good from a historical perspective, but it's quite short, and there's a definite impression from most off the commentators that they're quite glad they no longer play, so I don't know how useful that would be in an introduction.

  35. I almost forgot this:


    There is some good information from the participants of this rpg carnival 'Teaching Roleplaying'.

    Hope some of that helps.

    And I can be called whatever name somebody likes but I would not use 4e as my example.

  36. I just watched that Dexter's Laboratory.

    I mean, wow! That was awesome!

    I don't know how I could have missed that...

    ADD Grog, I'm working through your website suggestion right now. Thanks.

  37. Does anyone have an episode name or something for the IT Crowd?

    I've never watched it before.

  38. It's season 4 episode 1:


  39. I'd love to see something that addressed "why fantasy" (rather than any other genre out there that was big at the time - police, gangsters, cowboys, heist). But alas I don't have any source material for that myself... Sounds like a really interesting course.

  40. Thanks Telecanter

    Also, if anyone has a copy of Dexter's lab email me.

  41. Found a copy of Dex Lab, working on IT crowd.

  42. Also, based on the suggestion here I watched Hawk the Slayer. There's some pretty cool characters in that film. It is certainly suggestive of the game experience.