The last time I played Dungeons & Dragonswas during my freshman year of college, side effects when I briefly joined a campaign organized by a fellow Sci-Fi Club member. It was (and I’m being charitable when I state this) a miserable experience that absolutely fulfilled ever over-the-top comedic representation of the role playing hobby.
Any attempts at engaging the players or maintaining narrative flow were sacrificed on a profane altar of obsessive die-rolling and esoteric in-jokes which served served up, hemorrhoids sanscontext, to the bewildered adventuring party. The experience confirmed both my conflicted attitude about my place within social geekdom and the sense that the “old school” D&D ruleset was a poorly-designed mess.
Though I gave up on the pen-and-paper version of the game after that painful debacle, I continued to seek out — and enjoy — computer and console games based on the D&D system. The inconsistencies and counter-intuitive eccentricities of the rules were a bit easier to accept when buried under the electronic hood, so to speak, and not doled out in person by some basement-dwelling troglodyte with an Elder God complex.
The digital D&D experience cut the experience down to the core appeal and presented a more engaging counterpart to the prevailing Japanese RPG videogame model — creating and customizing your own digital avatars to hack and slay through a forest of plot points instead of assuming a predefined part in a cut-rate melodrama.
I couldn’t even begin to guess how many hours I’ve racked up playing D&D-themed games over the past three decades — specifically the old “Gold Box” PC games (including the NES port of Pool of Radiance), Icewind Dale, the Baldur’s Gate games, Neverwinter Nights, Capcom’s D&D “beat ’em up” arcade titles, and the license’s first-and-only foray onto Sega’s 16-bit dream machine…
…Warriors of the Eternal Sun, released by Westwood Studios back in 1992.
The game employed the “basic” D&D rules — a streamlined starter system for those unready or unwilling to delve into the “advanced” versions arcane wonderland of expensive hardcover manuals and speed factor tables — and the largely forgotten “Hollow World” campaign setting.
The player characters — along with a castle full of townsfolk — were transported to this mystical nature preserve for the “doomed” (roughly akin to Marvel Comics’ “Savage Land”) just as they were about to meet their doom during a goblin apocalypse. Empowered by the duke of the stricken castle to learn more about this strange new realm, the player heads out to do what adventurers do best — solve the mystery while slaughtering every creature who crosses their path.
The action takes place across a pair of vast overworlds honeycombed with a genre-requisite dungeons. Overworld combat is a tactical affair, using a top-down false-isometric perspective with invisible grids…
…while dungeon-based combat and exploration plays out like a rudimentary first-person shooter (or “slasher,” or “basher”).
The dungeon sequences are far more prevalent than the overworld ones are, which works out extremely well for the savvy player. A party kitted out with missile weapons, room to maneuver, and (preferably) an autofire-enabled joypad can scythe through corridors in a non-stop orgy of level-grinding. Even the most fearsome of dragons will fall beneath a gatling-like hail of low-damage sling-bullets before getting a chance to close in for the kill.
The intense satisfaction I feld upon discovering that nifty little exploit was negated, however, by a frustrating long weekend when I got stuck at a crucial plot point involving a trip to a distant dungeon. Though I seemed to have met the requirements for the mission, the story hung in limbo as I scoured the entire gameworld in search of something to break the logjam.
It wasn’t until I (very reluctantly) opted for a restart that determined the root of the issue — because my party leader’s inventory slots were full, I missed out out picking up a crucial plot item. (Let’s hear it for the “superiority” of classic game design, everyone.)
Upon completing the game, the player was given a series of alphanumeric codes — each roughly the length of a human genone sequence — which could be used to transfer his or her characters into a promised-yet-never-delivered follow-up title.
Mine are written in pencil in the back of my English 102 notebook, which is stored in a safe place in the attic archives. You never know, right?