Dungeons & Dragons: Player’s Strategy Guide, by Andy Collins & Eytan Burnstein
It is always a somewhat ominous sign for me as a reader when the back text of a book consists of obvious attempts at flattery, namely the way that this book claims that it is “for awesome characters only,” something that has more than a little bit of the obsequious about it. As someone who is not very comfortable with flattery, I found this to be a bit of a bad start to what is an entertaining book for someone who is seriously interested in role playing. Aside from the dubious aspects of the worldview of the game itself, of which there are many, not least the dualistic nature of good and evil as it is defined within the game world or its flagrant polytheism, and the sexualization of some of the artwork, this book is entertaining in pointing out the mindset of people who are serious role playing gamers, and the way that the persona of our characters is deeply involved with our own motivations for playing, and our own willingness and ability to play a part. This book is not for everyone, but at 150 pages of material it makes a compelling read for someone who wants to roleplay well, even if it references a version of D&D, namely version 4, I don’t particularly care for.
The contents of this book follow its targeted audience of gamers and its purpose of providing an introductory guide to strategy very straightforwardly. This is not a book with a lot of nuance, and that is not necessarily a bad thing at times. There is a lot of comedy to be found in the sidebars on characters and parties from more experienced gamers, including actor Wil Wheaton (most famous for playing the Dr. Crusher’s annoying son on Star Trek: The Next Generation). The first chapter discusses what it takes to build a character, including the limitations and conceptualizations involved. Then the book discusses choosing a foundation, regarding maters of race and class and background, as well as powers, skills, and feats, and the path the character plans on taking to fulfill his or her epic destiny. Included are how to guides depending on the goal the player has with the particular character. The second chapter discusses building a party, seeking balance based on the number of players in the party and what sort of backgrounds they are to have. The next chapter discusses basic strategy and tactics, some of them based on role, some of them discussing the importance of focusing fire, movement and positioning, timing, managing resources, and also dealing with common mistakes, before tackling such issues as healing, knowing enemies, using powers, and tracking effects. The fourth and final chapter discusses the social aspects of playing the game, including storytelling, knowing when to rest, keeping a campaign journal, and dealing with dividing treasure and interpersonal conflicts that result if one is a jerk.
As someone who reads a lot of books about role playing games , perhaps too many, one of the qualities I care about is how do the lessons of this book carry over into the real world. This book is aimed at people who are willing to commit to months or even years of play in an imaginary world with real people. This is ultimately, at its heart, a book about community, about how one can play successfully with other people, how to get along in the face of different motives, personalities, backgrounds, roles, and so on. These are skills that are useful in playing role playing games, and they are also useful in dealing with life. There is an alarmingly large amount of material related to role playing games that helps one be better at life among those who represent that in many ways, life is itself a role playing game where we put on different faces, serve different roles, are involved in epic quests, and are part of a larger group in search of the same ends. To say that life is a game, or that a text written for a game is relevant to life is not trivial at all, but it is merely to say that we would do well to realize that the world we live in is not all it seems, but there is a higher and a greater reality to it. Like a game world, our world is designed and operates under rules that are designed to test us and to help us improve in skill and competence and show our heroic character, even in the face of sometimes unheroic or unpleasant circumstances.
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