In honor of Gary Gygax - who passed away Tuesday, March 4, 2008 - we’d like to reflect on the profound influence Dungeons & Dragons has exerted on videogames. Dungeons & Dragons’ elaborate yet elegant game system is the bedrock upon which all modern videogames are built. Most of the gaming paradigms we know and love were forged on the anvil of TSR’s Dungeons & Dragons in 1974. So-called “RPG elements” have infiltrated every genre under the sun from shooters to platformers to racing games. Each incorporate systems that are based on the design of the dice-based Dungeons & Dragons tabletop role-playing game. Tired videogame genres routinely turn to Dungeons & Dragons and its role-playing design aesthetics when they need a shot in the arm.
Many of these nuts-and-bolts game mechanics are obvious to the point of invisibility, but that only proves how deeply the game theories developed by Gygax and TSR in the 1970s have engrained themselves into the gaming community’s consciousness. These game design innovations will carry Gygax’s legacy long after the corny cartoons and movies are forgotten. Not convinced? Take a look at these examples and you’ll come around. (Don’t worry, it doesn’t mean you’re a Satanist or a dweeb. It just means you know your roots.)
Ed. Note: as the original D&D set (1974) is exceptionally rare, we’re basing our observations upon the AD&D rules developed over the period 1977-1985.
Every creature in D&D has an Experience Point value attached to it. A Player Character need only slay the beastie to collect the points. In videogames, players receive experience points or their conceptual equivalent for any number of activities, from executing a perfect drift on a racetrack to nailing a headshot with a sniper rifle.
If you’ve ever leveled up anything in a videogame, be it your character, weapon or means of conveyance, you’re using one of the primary game mechanics of Dungeons & Dragons. When your experience points reach a preset total, your skills increase. In D&D, this meant more hit points, spells, weapon proficiencies, etc. so you were less likely to get brained by a lucky gnome with a spade.
Believing that diversity is always more interesting for gameplay, D&D introduced character specializations called Classes. Your Class determines what types of weapons, magic spells and armor your character can use (sort of like a profession). It also sets your schedule for leveling up. When you’re choosing between a sniper, a heavy gunner and a commando, you’re participating in a rich lineage which began in the 1970s as "rolling up a new D&D character."