This past Saturday night, I sat down to play a game of Dungeons & Dragons with ChatGPT by myself.
As a kid in the 1980s, I begged my parents for Heroes’ Quest, a fantasy role-playing board game that looked so fun in TV ads. I was lonely when I finally got it. I had no friends who were interested in it so I spent most of my time alone. Honestly, it’s kind of a lonely and sad memory! But soon enough, I did find my own Stranger Things-esque gang of kids and spent many years playing a different game—Dungeons & Dragons. I played into adulthood and made new friends when I moved during the pandemic. I’m the “dungeon master,” (DM) and I’ve been running a long campaign for two years now.
You have two options as a DM: either you write a story to tell your players or you can buy and learn a premade adventure. My favorite part of role playing games, or RPGs, has always been creating my own worlds and stories—like having Ghengis Khan rise from the dead to reconquer the known world with a zombie army.
Some recent media reports say that ChatGPT is shockingly good at D&D, specifically in the the DM role. To test whether AI would replace me, I went back in time to play a favorite childhood character with ChatGPT as my DM.
Should you use ChatGPT to play D&D?
D&D is an enormously complicated game that can require large amounts of memorization, world-building and rule deciphering. There are likely to be parts you love deeply and parts that you find boring.
For example, I enjoy creating NPCs (non player characters) for my players. I also love designing maps, worldbuilding lore and creating puzzles. I also love creating combat encounters that challenge the players to think outside of their comfort zone. These parts of the game are not something I would ever want to outsource. Fans Game of Thrones Oder Star Wars We can all relate as we share the same passion for the details that make it seem real. Fandoms have spanned decades.
But I have absolutely no desire to stock fantasy stores inside my D&D games with realistically priced items, I don’t like writing scene-setting descriptions, and I generally only care about the rules as much as I have to in order to make the game work. My games function because other players either fill in the gaps or don’t mind the absence of details like these.
I would recommend using ChatGPT for the parts you do not enjoy, and it’s easy to imagine offloading some of the work I don’t like onto an AI with the correct prompts.
ChatGPT made it easy for me to quickly put together a list of bullet points to describe a setting and generate a 500 word description to share with my players. It was ready to use after a few adjustments to my prompt. When choosing the right words can be a tedious task, DMs feel a sense of relief.
Can you learn D&D with ChatGPT?
Chat GPT could be a great aid or even teacher for someone trying to learn D&D.
Matt Collville, a prominent D&D YouTube personality, once quipped that D&D is a game that can only be learned from someone who already knows how to play. Because there are too many rules and too much information spread across so many expensive books, it is difficult to figure out how to play D&D. But ChatGPT, much like Colville’s “Running the Game” series on YouTube, is a great aid to demystifying parts of D&D for new players.
A short prompt in Chat GPT, such as “what class should I play in D&D if I want to play an elf who fights and uses magic?” generated a 600 word analysis of the best classes and subclasses with detailed descriptions of each one. Without A.I., this information is spread across at least three 200+ page official D&D books, each costing $50 dollars or more.
ChatGPT could be a good DM.
This is a difficult no.
ChatGPT was difficult to get to understand my desire to make it a dungeonmaster. This even though I used the same prompts as others for Reddit threads and articles. ChatGPT would sometimes write both the DM response and the player responses, instead of allowing my game to continue. Sometimes it would relay error messages to me when I entered prompts. Although it did work fairly well as a DM it was too intrusive with the story and didn’t allow me to interact with the events in a satisfying manner.
The experience felt much more like an advanced choose your own adventure, or even a text-based adventure game from the dial up days of the internet, than a lively game of D&D. It was amazing how the system adapted to my characters’ actions. However, it felt almost like you were watching the same magic trick over and over again.
ChatGPT is able to DM a game, but that’s another matter. D&D as well as other live role playing games inhabit a unique niche but they’re comparable to other activities in modern day society. It’s a mix of theater, improv, and board games with an emphasis on building a story together. The social experience is the best part of playing D&D. That’s why D&D surged in popularity during the pandemic, when people were experiencing a lot of loneliness.
As someone who has been on both sides of the table, it is hard to imagine ChatGPT finding an audience as the game master for role playing games at this stage, except with hardcore players who want to play D&D by themselves and people who can’t find other gamers to play with.
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