Despite being a game that once fell strictly within the realm of nerds, Dungeons and Dragons has had a huge resurgence of popularity over recent years and is now a prominent artifact of pop-culture.
The tabletop role-play game, which was once reserved for social outcasts dwelling in their mother’s basement, now has over 40 million players worldwide and has featured on prominent television shows such as The Big Bang Theory, Stranger Things and Community.
In 2020, more than 45 years since the first edition of Dungeons and Dragons was released, the game is more popular than ever.
Having never played before, I decided to join some avid D&D enthusiasts on a campaign and see what all the hype was about. After bumbling my way through a myriad of articles and podcasts on how to make a good character, I was ready to play.
And to my own surprise, I enjoyed it! After overcoming the initial confusion of watching a group of twenty-somethings express genuine concern over the ‘constitution’ of a fictional troll, my skepticism subsided and I found myself immersed in the fantasy realm that these boys adored.
That evening, I was transported from a dingy flat and into a mythical world where a firbolg, a warforged, a gnome and a high-elf could defeat a giant lobster-like creature and still find time to share a feast with a village of goblins.
I have to admit, the five hour long game time was a tad tedious, however, I admired their enthusiasm. And I could definitely understand the appeal of a game that made every player a storyteller.
“Dungeons and Dragons is about creating a story around a fictional character that has input from not just one person but the entire group,” said Chris, an avid D&D player from the campaign. “It’s like having one book but it's written by several authors.”
Chris explained that D&D is about living a more exciting life than we have, without facing any of the consequences of living that sort of life.
“You get to live the life of a great hulking beast or a very sly and cunning rogue. You can even be a very lonesome ranger on the very fringes of society – it’s like acting but with less pressure.”
As a role-playing game, D&D offers personalisation and creativity to its gameplay that many players feel they can’t receive from online gaming. D&D’s success, unlike many tabletop games, hasn’t depleted due to the emergence of online gaming. Instead, D&D has continued to grow in popularity with video games like League of Legends or TV Shows such as HBO’s Game of Thrones, enticing more people into the fantasy genre.
“I think that’s the attractive part of D&D – you can really tailor the game to the people playing it, which you can’t do with online games,” Chris said. “Online games have a base set of rules for people across the world to play.”
Matzi, a science student and experienced Dungeon Master, explained that his interest in D&D occured after seeing its media depictions and hearing about the game from some of his friends. Eventually, he decided to start his own group in 2018 and this group is still together in 2020.
“Being a Dungeon Master, you have essentially created a story with your friends as the main characters,” he explained. “Your job is to not only challenge your players but to also put them in situations that will allow them to shine.”
Chris, James and Matzi all agreed that they’d encourage anyone with even a passing interest to give Dungeons and Dragons a try. Matzi offered advice for prospective Dungeon Masters who may be interested in starting a campaign for their friend group.
“If you want to become a Dungeon Master, I’d highly recommend reading through some published adventures and maybe playing one of those while adding your own spin,” he shared.
James agreed; “Reading the Dungeon Master’s guide is a simple way to understand how a D&D game is run. The only way to truly become a good Dungeon Master is to do it. You’ll discover what you’re good at and what can be improved and each session will run better than the last.”
“I’d also recommend watching other people play,” Matzi added. “There are some great streams and podcasts of people playing that can give you more knowledge of the game’s mechanics and how it flows.”
D&D is a game that feeds into our human desire for escapism, and yet you’ll find yourself reconnecting with the people you entered the game with. Despite my reservations, I enjoyed my night of D&D and was able to conceal my confusion for the most part. D&D gave me the opportunity to see some friends I hadn’t seen in a while and to pretend I was a Princess Elf on a quest to save her people.
Honestly, there are worse ways to spend a Tuesday night.