Thanks to online players, 'Dungeons & Dragons' makes a comeback

Why the fantasy role-playing game is more accessible than ever

Dimension 20 combines D&D with high school.
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Vintage tabletop game Dungeons & Dragons isn’t fading into obscurity anytime soon.
 
Thanks to the game’s representation in shows like Community and Strangers Things, and the novelisation of several franchise stories, D&D has experienced a resurgence in popularity. According to Syfy, 2017 was the game’s most successful year since 1997. 
 
D&D, created in 1974, combines the best aspects of improv, fantasy storytelling, and gambling into one adventure-filled experience.
 
The game is often played in small groups. Each person creates a fantasy character who’s plunged into an imaginary journey created by the Dungeon Master, a player who orchestrates and narrates the quest’s events. Sets of dice dictate the consequences of your character’s actions, which can range from picking a lock to stabbing an enemy. If you roll higher than a certain threshold, you succeed; if you roll lower, you fail. 
 
In one game, you could take on the role of an elven princess, and in another, you could be a gnomish rogue. The possibilities of D&D are endless—the game is only limited by your imagination.
 
Thanks to the internet, new platforms for D&D have emerged. Through podcasts and videos, roleplaying fans can immerse themselves in campaigns without even playing.
 
Podcasts were the first venue for players to share their campaigns with the world. One of the most popular, The Adventure Zone, started in 2014 and features brothers Justin, Travis, and Griffin McElroy. Along with their father, Clint, the brothers narrate their various adventures in the game. The podcast has been so successful that it was adapted into a graphic novel last July.
 
Other notable podcasts include Critical Role, which features voice actors and occasional celebrity guests like Felicia Day and Joe Manganiello, and Dames and Dragons, an all-female campaign buoyed by humour and a mysterious storyline. 
 
The most ambitious D&D show I’ve had the pleasure of watching is CollegeHumor’s video-based campaign series, Dimension 20
 
Once known for its comedy skits about young adulthood, CollegeHumor recently rebranded by launching a paid platform called DROPOUT. The website hosts the skits fans love and also features comics, chat-based stories, and episode-length shows.
 
Watching Dimension 20 has been my favourite pastime since its first eight episodes were released for free on YouTube this past October. Hosted by Dungeon Master Brennan Lee-Mulligan, with a cast made up of improvisers and Collegehumor alumni, the show’s first season made me laugh, cry, and grit my teeth each episode.
 
The premise of the show’s inaugural season is relatively unique compared to other “high fantasy,” Tolkien-like campaigns. Instead of being set in a fantastical medieval realm, the show’s characters are high school students attending an “adventuring academy” for young quest-takers in a small, 1950s-inspired town.
 
The intrepid heroes contend with evil teachers, enchanted arcades, and annoying parents. The campaign has all the intrigue, excitement, and magic of a classic D&D campaign—with the added bonus of teenage romance and family drama. 
 
The light-hearted show is a great introduction to D&D, especially for players who aren’t familiar with the intricacies of fantasy storytelling.
 
Thanks to the cast’s background in improv, the story’s plot and dialogue have an impressive flow. Characters often generate funny one-liners or inspiring speeches on the fly; inside jokes follow the cast from the first episode to the last and make viewers feel like they’re part of the campaign.
 
High production value also adds to Dimension 20’s immersive experience. Each episode is filled with mood lighting, background music, and sound effects that enhance the viewer’s experience. In battles, specially-designed figures of the characters and detailed sets give visual representations of the fight’s progress.
 
I find podcasts and shows about D&D entertaining because they make the game accessible to beginners and people without an established campaign of their own. 
 
As a university student, I can’t devote a few hours a week to playing tabletop games in-person. Instead, I satisfy my love for the game by watching my favourite online personalities play together.
 
If you’ve never heard of D&D and are interested in learning more about the franchise, the internet’s the place to start. D&D-inspired media is scattered across the web, and it’s making the role-playing franchise more popular than ever.
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