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Why Dungeons & Dragons Is an Old Game For New Adventures
Exploring the magic and history of D&D, a tabletop game that still brings friends together, both in the real world and on TV.
Are you ready to enter the fantastical world of Dungeons & Dragons, otherwise known as D&D? If not, don't worry, you aren’t alone. Plenty of us still cringe at the thought of players’ manuals that read like algebra textbooks or the musty smell of a basement meet-up. Still, it’s hard to ignore that this beloved tabletop role-playing game, which has influenced so much of pop culture, is having a moment. Once considered a pastime for geeks in thick glasses 👓 with diets consisting solely of pizza 🍕 and Doritos, D&D has now become a cultural phenomenon thanks largely to its mention in popular TV shows.
Walk into any Target or Walmart, and you'll find the D&D starter set, some extra fancy dice, and plenty of campaign books. Wizards of the Coast, the publisher of the game, reported their best year ever in 2020, with sales up by 33%. This is in part due to the variety of D&D focused YouTube channels, D&D meetup groups in almost every city, and the plethora of nostalgia merchandise. From classic books to vintage collectibles, throwback gaming to retro movies, D&D has become the game that keeps on giving.
So what makes D&D so appealing?
For starters, Dungeons & Dragons is the perfect game for a bunch of friends who want to escape reality and embark on wild adventures together.
First published in 1974, the tabletop classic has influenced all things role-playing, from table top to modern multi-player online games, and the RPG genre would not be what it is without it. You don't need much to play, just a piece of paper, a pen ✍️, a set of special dice, and most importantly, creativity! You can fight fantastical creatures, do trades with some merchant in a small village in the mountains, and cast spells that could either save the day or fail miserably–depending on the mood of the Dungeon Master. The game was heavily featured in Netflix's Stranger Things. In the first episode of the series, we see Mike and his friends in his basement, playing a campaign together. And the foes they encounter in their game soon become obstacles in their real lives, both internal and external conflicts. D&D is featured in a variety of ways throughout the series, thanks to the creators' love for the game.
The 80s were a magical time for pop culture icons and retro favorites. And if you were a fan of Dungeons & Dragons, it was a wild ride of controversy and creativity. Conservative Christian outlets were convinced that playing D&D was the express train to hell. But despite their best efforts to ban the game, it only fueled the fire of those who loved it. And boy, did they love it. It led to a D&D cartoon series which aired for three seasons on CBS from 1983-1985 and was a beloved childhood favorite. Several movies based on the game have been made too, but all have been fire-breathing duds. Video games, on the other hand, were a different story. Some, like the Baldur's Gate and Neverwinter Nights series, were huge hits and cemented D&D's place in retro gaming history.
Many other TV shows have sung a bard’s songs to D&D in the past years. The Big Bang Theory mentions the game multiple times, and the characters even play it in five episodes! Freaks & Geeks shows how the game can bring together even the unlikeliest of friends, and Community had two episodes dedicated to it entirely.
And “community” really is the keyword, here: D&D has been bringing people together for decades. When you sit down at a game table–either a real or a virtual one–you let go of your backgrounds, your job titles, your worries, and your personal Tiamats (that was purely pandering to the D&D nerds, sorry). Old school RPGs let you become part of a rag-tag party of warriors, mages, halflings, elves, and thieves that your imagination brings to life. You have to listen 👂 to your fellow players and share your strengths to make it through the toughest challenges. It's a form of companionship that's sorely lacking in our fast-paced, competitive world. And for adults who play, it's a chance to let loose and be a kid again. Do you have a poorly rehearsed impersonation of an old, wise wizard 🧙♂️to share with the group? Go for it! There's no judgment around this table. Just pure, unadulterated fun.. and half-empty 2-liters of grape soda.🥤
So what's next for the world of D&D? Well, how about you take a break from that table top and join your D&D pals for a watch party! Some new D&D content is on the way. 🍿
A new movie 🎥, Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, starring Chris Pine and Michelle Rodriguez, drops on March 31 in theaters. Will it flop like the last ones? Only time will tell. But I will say, Chris Pine is pretty funny in the trailer. And it looks like they fight a bunch of fantastic creatures, which should be a ride. It also has a bit of an Ocean’s Eleven vibe, which might give it the fun of a heist film rather than pure high fantasy. In our post-Game of Thrones world of high-brow fantasy, that could be exactly what the franchise needs to set itself apart.
Paramount+ has also ordered a live-action D&D series 📺, with eight episodes for now. It seems they're trying to create their own version of another Netflix hit, The Witcher. But hey, if it attracts new players to the game, I’m sure there will be plenty of Doritos to go around.
So, grab your 20-sided die, roll for initiative, and join the adventure. Because this trend doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. I mean, who knows? One day, families might play D&D campaigns on holidays like they've been playing Monopoly for a century.
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