diamond geezer

 Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Roll, play

Yesterday the BBC's online magazine asked the question "Whatever happened to Dungeons and Dragons?" Not the 80s cartoon series with the gratingly-cute unicorn, but the 70s role playing game with multi-sided dice and painted figures. Good question.

The game of Dungeons and Dragons is 30 years old this year. It's more a rulebook than a game really, or perhaps for some people a way of life. All you needed to create your own fantasy world were dice, paper, pencils and a large group of like-minded friends willing to lock themselves away in a shed or attic for up to a month arguing about whether their wizard's magic shield was suitable protection against a surprise orc attack. I thought the whole phenomenon had died out long ago but oh no, Dungeon Masters have been emailing the BBC all day to tell the world that they still play while their wives aren't looking. Or even with their wives in some cases. I never played D&D myself, either because I had the wrong friends at school and university or, more likely, because I had the right ones. I nearly got round to playing a couple of times, but we spent the first three hours 'rolling up the characters' and never quite got round to the second three hours of 'continuing to roll up the characters'. Ah well.

I much preferred the Fighting Fantasy adventure game books that you could read and play by yourself, ideally without any of your friends noticing. This 60-book series kicked off with The Warlock of Firetop Mountain in 1982, and made a fortune for authors Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone over the next ten years. What I really liked about these books wasn't the chance to kill a passing dragon on the roll of a dice, it was the branching nature of the narrative. "If you turn left, go to page 47. If you turn right, go to page 203. If you twist the secret panel on the wall, go to page 148." There were hundreds of different possible stories to explore, and the book could be read and reread many times.

It struck me that these hypertext tales were in some ways a precursor to all the webpage links we now take for granted on the internet. "If you want to read more about this, click here. Or here." And it also struck me that the internet would be a great place to publish a branching story. So I've had a go at writing one. You can start below, or you can start here. No dice are required. Just click on your chosen option each time and see if you can find your way successfully to a happy ending. Good luck, brave adventurer!

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