I’ve been wanting to write this article about Dungeons & Dragons since I started this blog way back in September (hey, it seems like a long time ago for me!). I’ve been reading a lot lately about the game and its somewhat shocking resurgence in the past few years–ever since the release of the Fifth Edition, or “5e” as we call it–and I thought I’d share my thoughts on why it’s gotten huge again.
I mean, even The New Yorker has written about D&D, for crying out loud! How legitimate can it get?
SIDE NOTE: I do feel like there’s still an unfortunate stigma attached to the game left over from the “satanic” scare of the ’80s. I didn’t even want to mention that, but I felt like it was the elephant in the room. Suffice to say that it was a case of parents not really knowing what their kids were up to, and then jumping to the wrong conclusions thanks to news reports and “60 Minutes” sensationalism. If you want to lean more, check out this article from Geek and Sundry.
Let’s just say that D&D has more or less moved out of the basement and into the living rooms and dining rooms of many families and friends. (Although it’s still fun to actually play the game in the basement, if you’ve got one…)
Let’s talk about all of the factors that played into this recent D&D resurgence.
The Nostalgia Factor
This is so very true for me. As a kid of the late ’70s and ’80s, I was right there when the early editions of D&D were getting huge. It seemed like everyone was familiar with the game, though lots of parents didn’t really understand it. As I discussed in my first blog about D&D, I got a bit obsessed with the game when I was 11 or 12. Which is the same age my kids are right now.
So it was a huge thrill to me to not only play the game for the first time EVER in the past year or so, but I also got to teach my sons how to play. I got to see what it looked like to have a kid obsessed with the same things I was obsessing over!
And of course I have to mention the impact of great shows like “Stranger Things” and “Freaks and Geeks” that show their characters playing the game and having a blast. People start to wonder “What is this D&D thing?” and then they pick up the Starter Set, and then it’s all over.
The “In Real Life” Factor
I think people are yearning for some face time with other people. We’re always starting at a screen of one size or another (a phone, a tablet, a laptop, a big TV), and for a lot of that time we’re alone. I’m not a big video game player, but I used to be, and a lot of that time was spent alone, just me and the computer or console. I didn’t want my kids to grow up like that.
One of the nifty benefits of D&D is that it’s best played in person, usually around a dining room table. You have to get organized and invite folks over, making sure it fits into everyone’s schedule. You have to have snacks, of course, and other refreshments. It really is a party.
And when the game gets underway, you have to work with the other people at the table. You have to read their expressions and listen to what they’re saying. You have to be PRESENT! No gadgets are allowed at our table. It’s strictly pencil and paper.
We’ve even tried playing outside, at night, as in the photo, above.
And it’s incredible. I love watching my sons’ eyes light up as they explain their crazy plan to set a trap for goblins outside their lair, or the sly look they get when they’re about to use their new magic sword in a dungeon battle. You can’t really get that from a video game or an iPhone app.
I read that one of the D&D designers, Mike Mearls, was at a gaming convention, and he said that when he went to watch people play video games, their faces were deadly serious. Everyone playing video games was intently focused on the game, no joy at all, barely even blinking. But when he watched people playing Dungeons & Dragons, they were laughing and clapping and having a blast. That’s the game I wanna play!
The Live Streaming Factor
Wizards of the Coast, the makers of D&D, knew what they were doing when they started doing “live streams” of their employees and other folks playing the game. I was skeptical of these at first, but I was quickly won over. Not only are the streams fun to watch, but they’re educational for people who want to figure out how to play and how to get better as well.
Here’s a short list of “actual play” streams and/or podcasts that I think are great for new players:
This year Wizards of the Coast had a whole weekend of live streams called the Stream of Many Eyes that talked about all their upcoming products, and it worked like a charm to get people in a frenzy about the new campaigns and storylines coming out.
What’s great is that you can access lots of these streams as videos on YouTube and podcasts that you can listen to on your morning hike or commute.
The Biggest Factor of Them All: Fifth Edition
I have to say, the biggest factor of them all is simply the amazing job the wizards at Wizards of the Coast have done with the Fifth Edition of Dungeons & Dragons. While the game is definitely filled with rules and details, it’s still possible to teach a brand-new player how to play in less than ten minutes. I’ve taught almost a dozen people how to play the game now, and many of them never had to read the Players Handbook to get started. As I’ve always said, all you need are some dice and a character sheet and pencil, and you’re pretty much ready to play.
I think that along with streamlining the rules, the other big innovation that “5e” has is the strong emphasis on story-telling. D&D these days is NOT a competition between a grumpy Dungeon Master plotting to kill all the players behind his DM’s screen. Instead, everyone in the game is working together to tell one huge story, and also to advance and deepen the story of each character.
It’s like writing a fantasy novel on the fly! It can be nerve-wracking, especially if you’re the DM, because you often feel like you’re juggling flaming chainsaws while riding a unicycle. But if you trust your storytelling (and improv) instincts and also trust your players, you’ll soon realize your creating something truly unique and special. Even though you’re playing a game, you’re creating some amazing memories.
And finally, there’s one other aspect of Fifth Edition that I really love, and this is coming from a totally geeky perspective: Fifth Edition acknowledges all that has gone before it. There’s a sense of cohesion with this game, because the designers and storytellers are using all of the lore from the past 40 years and integrating it into new stories and adventures. You can tell that the D&D folks grew up playing the game, and want to honor the previous editions, all the while not retreading anything so it feels repetitive. It’s quite a feat.
And personally, I love learning more about the Forgotten Realms and Eberron, and all the other worlds they’ve dreamed up!
For more reasons why folks love D&D these days, check out this video from D&D Beyond:
Anyone itching for a dungeon crawl now? I know I am!
One Last Thing…
On a personal note, I want to tell you that I’ll be taking a bit of a break from the weekly blogs here at D&D Dad. Weekly blogs are time-consuming, as much as I enjoy them.
However, I’m prepping for my first-ever official campaign as a DM: Storm King’s Thunder! Up until now, we haven’t played anything longer than the Starter Set and a bunch of one-shots, so getting ready to run this huge adventure has been taking up a lot of my time (and I’m loving it!).
Also, I feel like I’ve more or less come full circle here since my first blog article about my history with Dungeons & Dragons, and I really just want to play more and write about it less. I also am feeling the urge to do some fiction writing again, so watch this space for news about an upcoming novel or two.
But when the urge to share my thoughts about Dungeons & Dragons hits me again, I’ll be sure to come here first to share. ‘Til then, happy gaming!!!
Thanks for reading! If you’re enjoying this blog, feel free to take a look at my books at UnWrecked Press and Amazon. If something I wrote here improved your gaming experience or you just want to say thanks, buy a book or two!