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Gaming Canon: Dungeons & Dragons


I recently watched a series of videos on YouTube from a professor’s class on game design. One of the core curricula of the course was for students to play a game several times then write a paper dissecting the game’s core elements. I found this quite fascinating.

For anyone new to gaming, is interested in designing games, or who just wants to feel like they have a broad experience of game design paradigms and mechanisms, this article series is for you.

Dungeons and Dragons Players HandbookMerriam Webster currently defines a “canon” as “a sanctioned or accepted group or body of related works”. The games selected for this series represent the pinnacle of game form or are widely accepted paradigms of game design. They’re not always the highest rated games, but they drive an audience time and again. The mechanisms they employ are representative of the gaming industry as a whole.

The first game in this article series is Dungeons & Dragons (currently 5th Edition, aka D&D, reviewed here).

No understanding of the gaming landscape is complete without an understanding of what D&D is, how it works, and why people regard it as fun. Roleplaying games dominate a section of the tabletop gaming hobby and D&D still essentially functions as it did thirty years ago. If you can’t find a playgroup to try it out, check out this video and this one.

So why is any of this relevant? Many board games, video games, and other games trace some of their design decisions and theme directly back to Dungeons & Dragons. The concepts of high fantasy, dungeon crawls, character classes, magic items, loot, and level benefits all herald back to a couple of books quietly published by Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax. The impact of their design has spanned across generations. And even today, when you play D&D, you’re playing something very close to what was originally conceived.
That’s the purpose of every game mentioned in this series. By seeing where some game concepts come from or what design decisions lead gaming trends in general, you’ll get a better sense of what designs work and what concepts have stood the test of time.
Tahsin loves games that tell stories through their play structure. He's also a film nerd and father of one geek.


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