Video games have become one of the most wide-reaching forms of art and entertainment in the modern world. From AAA titles like Skyrim and Call of Duty to more relaxed social games like Animal Crossing, it seems that they have managed to worm their way into every facet of life.
Interestingly, the origins of video games predate the “video” part of gaming by quite a bit. Many games, especially action games and RPGs, owe their existence to the tabletop roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons. While D&D was originally published way back in 1974, its mechanics, world-building, and even its social dynamics continue to inspire modern games half a century later.
11 Adventuring Parties
A core element of Dungeons & Dragons is that it is a cooperative game. Multiple people sit down to play together, each one roleplaying a different character. A group of four people might have an elven rogue, a dwarven cleric, and a half-orc barbarian all teaming up to complete quests together, while the fourth person would embody the role of the Dungeon Master, guiding the others through the story.
Even in games without multiplayer options, the adventuring party is a common trope. This helps to diversify combat while also adding other characters to enrich the world and move the plot along, but it really owes its roots to D&D.
10 Fantasy Races
To be clear, there are plenty of different “races” in fantasy and sci-fi video games (though the term “species” may be more accurate). Many of the best games invent their own races who are incredibly popular, like the Taurians and Krogan in Mass Effect or Dragon Age‘s Qunari.
However, most fantasy games tend to rely on classic characters from D&D such as elves, dwarves, and halflings. Of course, these originally were popularized by JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings books (and have even older roots in European folklore), but it was D&D which made them the staple of the gaming world, as opposed to, say, the talking animals in the Narnia books or the various creatures of Greek mythology.
Many games allow a character to choose a race, possibly a moral alignment, and a class. The former title refers to their species, while the latter is more of a career option.
Classes such as fighter, barbarian, ranger, wizard, and rogue are all commonplace, and all come right out of The Player’s Handbook in D&D. However, even games which have unique classes still frequently rely on this race-and-class character design.
8 Open Worlds
Not all video games are open-world. In fact, it is a fairly new concept to have open-world games, since it takes so much processing power to build them that early games from the ’80s could never have hoped to truly achieve it.
However, the idea of an open world, rather than a series of set level designs, encourages the type of freedom that tabletop roleplaying games are built upon, where players can go anywhere and do anything their mind can think up. There are still more limitations when coding all the options than there are doing this with dice and pencils, but the source of this type of game design is clear.
7 Critical Hits
Everyone loves to land a crit hit in combat. The extra damage makes the battle that much more satisfying.
However, in a real fight, the very concept of a critical hit is ridiculous. If you’re swinging a broadsword at someone, they die or they don’t (and usually, they die — or at least are incapacitated — from the first or second blow). In D&D this generally manifests as rolling a “natural 20,” indicating a critical success by whoever’s rolling. Be it combat or any other action, rolling that magic number usually means your character is going to do something amazing.
6 Character Designs
Some elements of character design such as race and class have already been discussed. However, the entire way characters are designed in many games seems to be lifted directly out of the chapters of The Player’s Handbook.
Choosing a name, assigning specific points to different ability stats, and dividing those abilities into both innate physical/mental/social prowess and known skill sets is how a player would build their D&D character.
5 Play Mechanics
Games all have their own unique mechanics, and these days, it seems less common to see a game that uses the mechanics that were in D&D. However, a number of classic games seem to have lifted the exact rules mechanics directly from the classic roleplaying game.
The most obvious example is probably Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, which uses the rules of D&D 3.5, but plenty of other games do it too.
Another classic fantasy trope that seems to be used less and less is the tavern being the central meeting place where characters go to get their quests.
Taverns were the central meeting places of communities in the Late Medieval and Early Modern periods, while even before this, the mead hall was a central place of gathering in the Iron Age and Early Middle Ages, so it makes sense that fantasy games inspired by European folklore would use this as a main hub. But as players of D&D know, practically every game involves meeting in a tavern.
Traps in a dungeon are just one of the great play mechanics that make games fun. Spikes shooting out of the floor, exploding mines, ancient runes that burst with magical power when someone touches them — they ensure that danger lurks in every corner.
Pointing out where the popularity of such traps originates in gaming seems a bit obvious by this point — they’ve been in the arsenals of devious DMs since time immemorial.
2 Side Quests
The idea of a side quest probably owes as much to the abundance of side stories in novels as it does to D&D, but there is no denying their influence.
Some of the best parts of many games are the side quests, as was exemplified in The Witcher 3 and Playstation 4’s recent Spider-Man game. They’re a great way to level up, explore the world, and get cool loot.
The final entry on this list is the general aesthetic of most fantasy games, a point that was briefly touched on earlier in this list.
Most fantasy RPGs tend to be inspired by Western Europe during the Middle Ages (there are plenty of exceptions, but they are still exceptions, after all). They tend to have many of the same weapons, races, classes, and enemies. While such things are cobbled together from a number of sources, it was Dungeons & Dragons that did the cobbling, building a rich fantasy gaming experience that future generations of game developers would return to again and again for generations to come.
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