I am the product of a new age, a time known online as the Dungeons and Dragons renaissance. It’s a fascinating blip in the history books, one I doubt future generations will study but interesting all the same. At this brief moment in time a board game first created in 1974 has reached new levels of popularity in a digital age of instagram and fortnite.
For the uninitiated Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) is a fantasy tabletop role-playing game, and the precursor to video games like World of Warcraft. D&D is a game in which you and your friends create characters, and guided by a narrator figure are faced with a series of obstacles and challenges that you have to overcome to string together an epic story of daring adventures where your success or failure comes down to the luck of a set of dice.
The D&D renaissance isn’t an exact space in time, it roughly equates to 2017 onwards, though thanks to Google Trends you can certainly see the increase in searches for D&D beginning with the release of 5th Edition D&D in August 2014. But why?
Well there are many proposed reasons for the recent popularity of D&D and one of the main reasons I can see is that D&D 5E (5th Edition) is better than previous editions. Now I know this may not be a popular opinion with some fans of earlier D&D iterations and I want to emphasise that I have not played any of the older editions. But from what I have seen 5E has done a great job to streamline and simplify the game making it easier to understand and more accessible to new players. I know some equate streamline with dumbing down, I get that, but in truth considering even 5E at first feels more like a maths exam than a game I dread to think how earlier game mechanics performed.
Another reason for D&D’s success is the internet. In its early days D&D was something you could only really hear about from friends. You needed to be introduced to the game by someone you knew who played it. Thanks to the internet people like myself could discover the game, research how to play and get some friends together to play it. No one I now play D&D with had ever played it before and without the internet it’s likely we never would have. Also thanks to the internet people are now able to play D&D online. We are no longer reliant on knowing people in our neighborhood who share our geeky past times. We can find them online. We can also now use systems like D&D Beyond to bring the game into the 21st century using tablets to enhance the game instead of having a small forest of paper in front of you (though I personally prefer pen and paper).
Leading on from the ease of access the internet has given new players the popularity comes in part from us being in the age of the geek (trademark pending)! It may be more of a feeling than an official moment in time but recent years have seen us geeks and nerds moving out of the metaphorical basement and into the light. Loving videogames, fandoms and D&D no longer seem like the points of embarrassment they once might have been. Geek culture has in a way become more mainstream and in the process those elements of that culture that were once hidden in the shadows have become increasingly more popular and well known. D&D is just one example of this wider shift in opinion.
The last reason I can think of for D&D’s recent success is the recent drive among us internet users to spend time in the real world. It feels like only a few years ago no one cared how long they spent on their phones or on some other screen (well accept old people). But in recent years us screen users seem to have developed a greater drive to moderate the amount of time we spend online. D&D is a social game and it can be played online but it is designed to and best enjoyed face to face. In a time when people are worrying about how long they are spending glued to a screen, finding a game that allows you to be with your friends for hours on end joking laughing and telling stories is an amazing way to spend your time away from your phone.
The renaissance of Dungeons and Dragons is a fascinating moment to be a part of if you want to read more on it this article in the New Yorker is a good read! I would like to know, do you play D&D? And if so what got you into it?