Josh Brocklehurst
My first peek into Dungeons and Dragons
Opinion, games, insight
8 mins
Last month I somehow managed to sign myself up to a regular Dungeons and Dragons session with a group of people I had never met. What was supposed to be a non-committal catch-up with an old housemate, led to me enthusiastically agreeing to regularly quest in a tabletop fantasy world. Whilst the morning after agreeing I was filled with a sort of bemused horror, one ‘chemistry meet’ later and I’m actually feeling quite excited about getting stuck in on a semi-regular basis.

The more I got thinking about who or how I was going to play, the more I noticed the inherent inclusivity to the game’s system, which despite being set in a Tolkien-esque, high-fantasy world is perfectly able to cater to any leaning of interests, identity or self-expression. For those who don’t know, Dungeons and Dragons essentially lets you be who you want, however you want, along a series of adventures in a fictional land, whether that’s an elf who lives a shadowy life of intrigue and guile, a bumbling wizard who who has a knack for eviscerating goblins, or a barbarian who’s both quick to laugh and quick and terrible in their wrath (or anything in between!). Once you have a character, it’s up to the designated Dungeon Master to guide & referee your and your companions’ journey, but you make all of your character’s decisions.

As I delved into the overarching mechanics and lore of Dungeons and Dragons, I started thinking: just how many other people have been missing out on all of the fun this narrative-driven fantasy game has the potential to offer? As it turns out, Dungeons and Dragons is incredibly popular. The game has seen an explosion of growth in the past 5 years, and there are currently an estimated 40 million players worldwide. Whilst also telling of people’s growing desire for immersive experiences, the recent rise in popularity is in no small part due to today’s entertainment climate.

Fantasy storytelling is currently rife. The popularity and prevalence of franchises such as Game of Thrones, Marvel, Harry Potter and recently Stranger Things, has meant that there’s a little bit of fantasy escapism and adventure for everyone. Stranger Things in particular has played a huge role in elevating the 1980’s tabletop roleplaying game in question, due to both the presence of Dungeons and Dragons in the show and the way the narrative comparatively unfolds. Video game titles also have their part to play, and large open-world roleplaying games filled with agency are no longer a niche, but often expected.

Game of Thrones

What I find particularly interesting is that plenty of the famous storytellers who have contributed towards kickstarting an interest in Dungeons and Dragons began flexing and honing their narrative muscles in the game itself. George R.R. Martin, who conceived Game of Thrones, James Gunn, the filmmaker behind the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise, even Steven Spielberg, are all huge advocates of the game. Perhaps my favourite thing is that Vin Diesel wrote the introduction for the third edition Players’ Handbook! I can’t help but wonder how much D&D helped solidify their ability to spin tales & captivate audiences.

We as consumers absolutely love the richly textured narratives and worlds created for us by writers such as George R.R. Martin. And while we have seemingly endless access to a remit of tales created by storytelling legends, we have again reached a point where people are looking for a little more than the passive consumption of pre-packaged narratives; we now want to get involved with telling such stories.

Dungeons and Dragons has done well recently to capitalise on the fandom of a franchise that helped put the game back on the map. Earlier this year D&D released a Stranger Things themed box set, which contained all the tools for players to embark on their very own Stranger Things inspired adventure to “Hunt for the Thessalhydra”. Overall positively reviewed, and with a relatively low entry price, it’s likely intersections like this are going to further propel tabletop roleplaying games, both core and crossover, because they utilise stories we have already deeply connected with.

D&D starter set

And why stop at early adults and teens? Children’s love for storytelling and roleplay is both distinctive, developmentally driven and universal. It’s in our DNA. There are plenty of opportunities to expand into the kids’ space, and whilst platforms such as Dungeons & Dragons may need to mechanically dial themselves down for a younger audience, the tropes and characters of fantasy roleplaying games are ingrained in the entertainment they enjoy. Marvel already has its own pen and paper roleplaying line, but if we take Guardians of the Galaxy as a case study, a hugely popular franchise with young audiences, its fundamental premise is just a Dungeons and Dragons game in space. It’s a tale of distinctly different and outlandish personalities thrown together on a whirlwind adventure to, regardless of personal motives, achieve a common goal.

Whilst I am yet to play Dungeons and Dragons myself, it isn’t a niche or elitist fantasy experience. The game’s traditional base is comprised of individuals who were looking for a method of self expression and a place in society. It’s a game about inclusivity and letting people tell their own story, which is something everyone should be involved in, including children. Aside from that, D&D is brimming with problem-solving, and social-, developmental- and confidence-building opportunities - something which I want to explore in more depth once I have finally taken the plunge myself!

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