Say what you will about its complexity (I know I’ll go on about it if you let me), Arkham Horror does some things really well. This morning, I want to talk about the mechanics of the Doom Track and the Terror Level, and how they lend a legitimate air of inevitability to the game — why that’s a good thing, and well… that.

I’ve mentioned here and there that I like Arkham Horror for roleplaying a lot more than even Dungeons & Dragons. While D&D may have been the pioneer and everything, I’m of the opinion that it’s put all of its rules in the wrong places — the emphasis on intricate combat rules exhausts everyone but the most dedicated bibliophiles.

Dungeons & Dragons, and most roleplaying games in general, has one of its greatest weaknesses in the distractions that go in hand with its class of participants. D&D attracts distract-able nerds. Just as many “best encounter” tales I’ve heard were about the game master flubbing the rules as… about anything related to roleplaying.

One of the most telling parts of a session is when the players look up at each other after someone’s recited an anecdote and nobody remembers what was happening in the game. Numerous books have been published regarding the content of a D&D game, but not so much about playing it. You can’t just pick it up and play it.

One must be inducted into a roleplaying game.

Now, braving the learning process of Arkham Horror is no mean feat either, and once a group has been established, it still proves challenging to keep all of the pieces and tokens sorted. But the primary difference is that Arkham Horror is a game that can be learned and played by a single person with only the rules.

While it has a high dependence on group discovery, the basic game of Arkham Horror can be purchased for less than the cost of the basic D&D library of Dungeon Master’s Guide, Player’s Handbook, and Monster Manual. Right out the door, D&D is more expensive, more complicated, and more clandestine in both learning and play.

And unless you have an experienced game master, far less rewarding.

I’m of the mind that features of Arkham Horror, such as the Doom Track and the Terror Level, lend an awesome degree of structure to the game — not only for the purpose of gameplay, but also storytelling, which is what should be at the heart of Dungeons & Dragons. You must have a scenario before you can assume a role.

The scenario gives context for the role. It makes it clear to everyone at the gaming table, “what’s my motivation for this scene?” In this respect, Dungeons & Dragons falls flat on its face because the default scenario is “none,” whereas the default scenario for Arkham Horror is, “be afraid. Be very afraid.”