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Dungeons & Dragons goes digital

A Dungeons & Dragons game

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AMY SCOTT: Shares in Atari Inc. hit record lows today. The plunge followed warnings that Nasdaq might de-list the company due to its falling stock price. Atari's had a lot of competition since it hit the scene in 1972 with the video game "Pong." But it isn't the only victim of the rise of fancy game consoles like Nintendo's Wii. David Chong takes a look at one retro game trying to reinvent itself for the digital age.


Dungeon master: And?

Player: Draw a bow and hit the ogre, I guess ...

Dungeon master: OK, draw a D20?

David Chong: Listeners in tune with their inner-geek probably recognize the sounds of Dungeons & Dragons, the iconic pen-and-paper role-playing game. Players pretend to be fantasy characters like wizards and elves for epic adventures similar to Lord of the Rings.

This game group in Santa Monica, Calif., gets together every Saturday night. Led by their Dungeon Master, they come armed with their imaginations and, of course, the D20, the 20-sided die.

But the casting of dice and spells could soon be moving from the kitchen table to the Internet where battling monsters tend to sound a little different.

That's actually from the online game World of Warcraft. Players also fight ogres and orks in a fantasy universe, but Warcraft players only meet online and follow a preset plot, instead of a Dungeon Master's imagination. The classic Dungeons & Dragons board game served as a model for many of these online games. And they've become a multibillion-dollar industry.

Liz Schuh: So we decided to kind of turn that around and say, What can we take from electronic gaming that we see that is an improvement on traditional pencil and paper role-playing games.

That's Liz Schuh. She's in charge of marketing Dungeons & Dragons. She doesn't want to sacrifice the intimacy of having players get together to roll some dice. But Schuh says it's time to add some online features. One is an online game board, where players will no longer have to meet face-to-face.

Schuh: We expect a lot of people to play D&D around their kitchen table just like they have always done. But we've also added the option for people who may live in remote corners of the world to log in and play what we call the virtual kitchen table.

College student Jeremy Lueth understands how tough it is to keep a gaming group together. His high school gaming group went to different colleges and only gets to meet once a year.

JEREMY LUETHL: So if there's something that gives us online access, and something that makes it easier for us to communicate from long distances, we may be able to get together and play a game.

A voice feature lets players talk over the Internet, and a dungeon master still facilitates the action. But what will traditional table-top players think about rolling a virtual 20-sided die?

Long-time player Arthur Turney is dungeon master for the Santa Monica group:

ARTHUR Turney: That's not the be-all and end-all of the game. The dice merely gives you a chance to see how the story is supposed to go. And it doesn't matter if you roll the dice or if the computer rolls the dice for you.

Dungeons & Dragons producers say they aren't interested in a piece of the online role-playing game business. The idea is to get people hooked on Dungeons & Dragons so they keep buying the figurines and other accessories. Player Jeremy Lueth says if the game gets more popular, maybe non-players will see it as a little less geeky.

Lueth: I think there's definitely sort of a stigma behind D&D for a lot of people -- and for role-playing games in general. If some of that went away, that'd be better.

In Los Angeles, this is David Chong for Marketplace.

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