If you play any version of Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) for any period of time and happen to mention your love of it on social media you’re bound to see the criticism that D&D is nothing more than a hack-and-slash slog played by murderous hobos as they go from location to location killing things and taking their stuff. It’s a long-standing criticism that Zeb Cook obviously heard a similar version of when he was leading the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Second Edition (AD&D 2e) Design Team because he addressed it directly early in the chapter on Combat (pgs 118 – 141 PH):
“… As important as fighting is to the AD&D game, it isn’t the be-all and end-all of play. It’s just one way for characters to deal with situations. If the characters could do nothing but fight, the game would quickly get boring – every encounter would be the same. Because there is more to the game than fighting . . .”Cook, 118
As Zeb Cook points out the game is about more than just hand-to-hand combat because any game dealing with nothing other than combat would quickly become boring and unable to sustain the sort of long term play that D&D excels at fostering. Regardless of your favorite edition of the game it is always about more than combat.
D&D is a game of exploration. Players send out their characters into the foreign and inhospitable wilderness of factional worlds where monstrous enemies and wild animals rule the land. Why do they do this? Some do it for plunder and opportunity at wealth that they could never have in real life; some to push out the edges of civilized spaces into the near infinite wild-lands in the hopes of providing a better life for those imaginary lives they’ve grown so accustomed to; and some do it to save the lives of their fictive loved ones, rulers, and friends.
D&D is a game of discovery. Each time that a player sits down at the table they’re going to discover something new. When they enter some long, lost forgotten tomb that their DM dreamed up late last night as they fretted over creating an adventure their players will remember they are the first people to ever explore those haunted halls. Every new non-player character (NPC) they speak to represents a discovery of the world and a new layer on the collective story they’ve been weaving together. The biggest discoveries, though, come from when the players discover their own strengths as the game encourages them to be as creative as they would like. Artists, authors, actors, and more have discovered their hidden talents because they sat down to play and the game gave them a place where they could try.
D&D is a game about teamwork. Sitting at the table and fighting against overwhelming odds to save the world you love – even if it’s just trying to stop a logger from cutting down a beloved forest where your family and friends have hunted – changes your relationship with the people around you. D&D has a way of doing that each time that you sit down at the table by allowing you to find new strengths in the people you struggle beside. Dragon fire may burn you but Jaimie’s going to be there to pick you up. The Duke may falsely imprison your group, but Mark’s got a plan to break out. The exit out has collapsed and there’s no way out but forward. Don’t worry; you’ve got a team with you to help you conquer all the challenges before you and to help share your burdens. Teamwork matters in your real lives, and you can’t survive in D&D without out it.
Cook, David “Zeb,” et al. Player’s Handbook for the AD&D Game. USA: TSR Inc, 1996. pg 118 PRINT