Cecil Adams Comments on Dungeons & Dragons

My friend Brennan passed this on to me: Cecil Adams, writer of The Straight Dope, explains What’s the deal with Dungeons & Dragons? I’m not sure if it’s new, old or in between — it’s dated 1980, but the article refers to Gary Gygax leaving TSR in the mid 80s — but it’s certainly worth reading for Cecil’s wry take on role-playing and Dungeons & Dragons in particular.

Consider this passage:

The concept seems simple enough. It’s the application that throws me. There are two main problems: (1) there are one billion rules, and (2) the game requires nonstop mathematical finagling that would constipate Einstein. The rule book is laden with such mystifying pronouncements as the following: “An ancient spell-using red dragon of huge size with 88 hits points has a BXPV of 1300, XP/HP total of 1408, SAXPB of 2800 (armor class plus special defense plus high intelligence plus saving throw bonus due to h.p./die), and an EAXPA of 2550 (major breath weapon plus spell use plus attack damage of 3-30/bite)–totalling 7758 h.p.” Here we have a game that combines the charm of a Pentagon briefing with the excitement of double-entry bookkeeping. I don’t get it.

Not being an aficionado of early editions of Dungeons & Dragons, I have more or less no idea what the hell Cecil’s quoting. BXPV? SAXPB? EAXPA? Those remind me more of HERO‘s mechanical abbreviations than anything else. Cecil’s reaction, however mocking it may be, makes me think about the general accessibility of the gaming hobby and barriers to entry to the various sub-fields, as expressed in technical jargon and self-referential slang.

Every hobby and field of interest builds up its own vocabulary that’s opaque to anyone on the outside. Baseball fans converse about RBIs and ERAs. Musicians have diminished fifths and tone color. And so gamers have XP and action phases. Most hobbies can seem to repel newcomers, if the verbal shorthand and procedure-oriented interactions accrue.

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4 thoughts on “Cecil Adams Comments on Dungeons & Dragons

  1. I know D&D 4th edition isn’t very popular with die-hards, but part of its goal was to lower the barriers to entry and to reduce the complexity of the required rules knowledge. From what I’ve played of it, it makes it a lot easier to deal with, more on the order of a complex board game than that of a Pentagon briefing. To be fair, I never played any of the previous entries in the D&D lineage and my roleplaying has been limited to pretty much Call of Cthulhu and 4th ed.

    I can certainly sympathize with the jargon inherent in any hobby, or even field. When I started my job here, the business specific jargon was really confusing and took me about a year to get to where I understood what most people were saying. I still get confused sometimes when people talk about engineering stuff that I haven’t worked on.

  2. Oh, I see, he is quoting an experience point calculation. I would bet:

    BXPV of 1300 is Basic XP Value
    XP/HP total of 1408 is how much from XP based on the monster’s HPs
    SAXPB of 2800 (armor class plus special defense plus high intelligence plus saving throw bonus due to h.p./die) is the Special Abilities XP Bonus (for the reasons listed)
    EAXPA of 2550 (major breath weapon plus spell use plus attack damage of 3-30/bite) would be Exceptional Ability XP bonus?
    totalling 7758 h.p = A monster worth 7,758 XP when slain by the adventurers.

    Actually, not all the difficult. He deliberately choose an obscure and complex example.

  3. Oh man I remember those
    Base Experience Point Value
    Special Ability Experience Point Bonus
    Exceptional Ability Experience Point Award

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