Every week, I meet up with my friends out in Columbia. Our stories are rich with larger-than-life accomplishments. In our efforts, we have saved kingdoms, faced off against fearsome dragons, explored strange and exotic lands, and have come across untold fortunes.
These are stories that come from our single greatest hobby: Dungeons and Dragons. For decades, the famed tabletop role-playing game has been a beacon of nerd culture. It has sparked the imaginations of countless people. But there has been something of a boom for the game as of late. Why is that?
You All Meet At A Tavern…
The tale of Dungeons and Dragons is a turbulent one, as documented in the nonfiction book “Of Dice and Men” by David M. Ewalt. What began as a small project from the minds of Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson quickly became a worldwide phenomenon. However, in the ’80s, there were accusations that the game was promoting Satanic beliefs. The company that produced the game, TSR, eventually fell behind in sales in comparison to its competitors. In 1997, TSR was bought out by Wizards of the Coast. In 2000, TSR’s name was dropped to coincide with the release of the third edition of the game.
The game was reborn in third edition, and was succeeded by the still popular 3.5 edition (abbreviated to 3.5e). But not all of it was good news. The system was rules-heavy, meaning DMs could spend a good portion of their sessions looking up rules for any given circumstances.
The character sheet for 3.5 was equally intimidating, necessitating several hours and deep scanning through the Player’s Handbook to find the formulas required.
During this time, MMOs like World of Warcraft and Guild Wars were becoming increasingly popular. Wizards targeted this demographic with the impending release of 4th edition in order to draw in new players.
Total Party Kill
However, the end result was not well-received. Many players felt it was too derivative of MMO concepts and was not conducive to the role playing experience with which they were familiar. Additionally, Wizards’ decision to close the game’s system in contrast to 3.5e’s Open Gaming License meant that producing third party supplements was going to be more challenging. The edition did, however, manage to bring in some new players.
As a consequence, it divided the fanbase enough to make Wizards quickly begin work on 5th edition. The process was going to be difficult, they had to cater to neophytes who were introduced to the game through 4th edition as well as people who were older players.
However, in an act of design alchemy, 5th edition managed to deliver. The resulting influx of players placed the game in a state of renewed interest. Web shows like Geek and Sundry’s Critical Role, Penny Arcade’s Acquisitions, Inc., and the proliferation of online tools like Fantasy Grounds on Steam that facilitate play over the internet have all exposed the game to a wider audience than was previously possible.
Additionally, the audience is growing increasingly diverse. Wizards’ new focus on representation has been praised, including an illustration of a black woman to represent the human race. Additionally, options for transgender and nonbinary characters are built into the game’s rules. In 3.5, such options were absent, though a Dungeonmaster (or DM) could always implement a house rule.
In multiple groups where I have played the role of DM, women are becoming increasingly interested in joining the game. To me, this is a welcome change.
My current group began with 3.5e, and upon the successful completion of my first campaign, we transitioned to 5th edition. We’re all happy with the changes made, and I personally like the background options the game gives you.
For many months to come, we will be playing Dungeons and Dragons. In that time, we will make many fond memories out of our collective imaginations. Hopefully, others will join us.