‘Dungeons and Dragons’: Campaigns and one-shots
Since fantasy movie Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves was released, achieving an impressive score of 90% on Rotten Tomatoes, interest has been revived in role-playing games (RPGs) like D&D. Although the game can be more difficult to set up than traditional board games, like Monopoly and Trivial Pursuit, it’s easy once you get started. All the different dice and game systems can be intimidating to a newcomer but, with the guidance of a patient Game Master (GM), anyone can start playing RPGs.
First published in 1974, D&D was originally derived from pre-existing tabletop wargames. Now, D&D’s publication is recognised as the beginning of modern RPGs and has influenced the creation of similar game systems. However, it remains the market-leader as well as the best-selling and best-known RPG. Despite being released in the ’70s, the popularity of D&D peaked in 2017 when it had more players than at any point in its history, including 12 to 15 million in North America alone. It’s likely the sudden jump in players can be linked to it being featured in the first season of Netflix’s Stranger Things the previous year.
There has been a similar spike in interest following the release of the recent Dungeons & Dragons movie, leading to more people asking how they can start playing tabletop games.
The easiest way to get involved with RPGs is to find a local community who run campaigns (although it’s also possible to form a group online nowadays and lots of adventuring parties play entirely over Discord). Unfortunately, RPG spaces can be heavily dominated by men, which can make them slightly intimidating to outsiders. But looking online or for specialist groups can make it a more comfortable experience — tabletop games can take a long time, including spending many hours together, so it’s important to feel relaxed around the rest of your party.
It’s obvious the RPG has risen in popularity and is less stigmatised than ever before
At University of Warwick, Tabletop Games and Roleplaying Society run events throughout the year, including one-shots specifically designed for newcomers: in first term, I joined one of their all-day fantasy campaigns and was made to feel very welcome, despite never having played an RPG before. My lack of experience didn’t affect my ability to join in and have a good time.
It’s a common mistake for people to think D&D is the only RPG you can play, due to it being the most well-known. But there’s actually a wide range of different games, from fantasy and historical-themed ones (Vampire: The Masquerade), to science fiction and action (Cyberpunk 2077). There’s definitely something for everyone. While some campaigns are very long (with the longest lasting up to 40 years), one-shots are designed to start and finish within a single day. It’s worth researching what RPGs you’re most interested in playing, as the games can vary drastically.
If you’re more interested in the story aspect than actually playing yourself, there are plenty of campaigns available to watch or listen to online. Critical Role, The Adventure Zone, and Dimension 20 are among the most popular shows, blending comedy and storytelling with the mechanics of tabletop RPGs. All have played multiple genres of RPGs, including the ever-popular D&D, and can be an interesting replacement for watching TV or listening to a podcast. While my partner loves Dimension 20’s Neverafter series, which subverts old-fashioned fairytale stories and makes them darker, I enjoy the more lighthearted Fantasy High, about a group of supernatural high schoolers.
In the past, there was a certain stigma attached to people who enjoyed tabletop RPGs due to the games taking so much time and being based in fantasy worlds. However, these games have grown in popularity over the last decade, especially due to their central role in Stranger Things. In particular, D&D has also been featured in several mainstream TV shows, including the infamous Community episode, The Big Bang Theory, and even Riverdale. In addition to the recent D&D movie, it’s obvious the RPG has risen in popularity and is less stigmatised than ever before.
Whether you’re a lifelong player or just looking for somewhere to start, RPGs can be a great hobby to pursue, especially once exam season is over. Find your adventure party, overspend on some dice, and let the fun begin!