Alright, let’s drop the ruse. We all like TV shows and movies, cartoons and video games. There are no special cliques for people who enjoy media anymore. Before the internet, it was easy to call yourself a nerd or a dork for enjoying collecting trading cards and merchandise for your favorite shows, or for being really passionate about a specific topic or field. But now we have apps like Amino and social sites like Tumblr that make sharing fan art, virtual trading cards, achievements and easter eggs incredibly easy and accessible, and mainstream department stores are selling merchandise like it’s the new Prada. The advent of the internet has not only allowed us to create whole communities around the things we love, but it’s also helped to bring those interests into the mainstream, initiating a new wave of media and content in the form of reboots and sequels, and encouraging brand new ideas and spin-offs. The case I’m trying to make here is that things that used to be socially awkward or looked down upon are getting a second chance, and that includes the epitome of traditionally “nerdy” pastimes: Dungeons & Dragons.
A popular tabletop RPG (role-playing game), Dungeons & Dragons has been a staple of nerd culture since the 1970s. It has carried the stereotype in mainstream media of being a complex numbers game for middle-aged men who live in their parent’s basements and exist on a diet of Mountain Dew and Doritos, but anyone who’s actually played it can tell you that’s not the case at all. Ok, it can be sometimes, but in truth, that’s not what the game’s about at all. It’s a social storytelling game, an adventure of your own design, and you shouldn’t let society’s stigmas color your judgments of it.
In truth, Dungeons & Dragons is an excuse for a group of friends to get together and imagine what life might be like in a fantasy realm. You create a character to be your avatar in this imaginary world, one with simple basic stats like charisma and dexterity, and those stats and some dice rolls determine how successful you are at whatever you decide to do. And the beauty of D&D is that you can do basically anything you want. Interested in what that guard has in his pockets? Roll to see what you find. Trying to throw your gnome ally across the battlefield for maximum efficiency? Roll it. Trying to do some sick flips and parkour up a city wall to avoid being arrested for stealing? Better roll high, your acrobatics stat is probably garbage. Your only limitations are the people around the table with you, and your Dungeon Master (DM, or Game Master, GM), who serves as the narrator of your adventures and the determiner of your fate.
The most important thing that people get wrong about D&D is that they assume that D&D players are consumed by their characters and adventures, they dress up and pretend in the first-person, or walk around emulating their characters by speaking in the third-person all the time. As with any large group, you’ll always find one or two weirdo outliers, people who don’t really understand social norms or boundaries and may want to continue the game away from the table; but that’s called “LARPing” (Live Action Role Playing), and it’s a separate interest and activity altogether.
In truth, most D&D players are just regular everyday people, and they treat D&D more like a video game, which is essentially what it is, only instead of a controller and TV, it’s played with a pencil and paper, and your imagination. And, like many video games today, this casual pastime is finding mainstream success thanks to the internet, and with that success comes acceptance. You might be surprised to learn that many of your favorite celebrities also indulge in the realm of fantasy in their spare time.
Big names like Vin Diesel and Terry Crews have come forward and admitted that they either actively play or used to play, and have even lauded it as an amazing learning tool as well as a fun activity, especially for future performers. Comedian and late show host Stephen Colbert even cited D&D as the beginning of his acting career in an NPR interview. And you can’t talk celebrity D&D and mainstream success without mentioning Stranger Things, which not only references the tabletop game throughout its run but even shows the kids playing the game and makes it a part of the story. It doesn’t get more mainstream than that.
If you’re still on the fence and want to see the game in action before you invest yourself, might I suggest checking out some popular D&D podcasts? Fans of internet darlings The McElroys can listen to their dungeon delving and monster hunting antics in “The Adventure Zone,” available wherever you find podcasts, and they span more than just the traditional fantasy genre. They’re a great start for people who prefer a more fast-and-loose approach to the rules and structure of D&D and want a more narrative-driven approach, filled with hilarious hijinks and mystery, fantasy elevators, and secret bases on the moon. If you’re looking for a more traditional approach, and are a fan of such talented voices as Matthew Mercer (McCree in “Overwatch,” Levi in “Attack on Titan”), Laura Bailey (Supergirl in “Injustice 2,” Mary Jane Watson in “Spider-Man” ) and Liam O’Brien (Professor Maelstrom in Netflix’s “Carmen Sandiego,” Gollum in “Middle Earth: Shadow of War”), then I’d recommend “Critical Role,” a long-standing campaign produced by Geek & Sundry, found in podcast form on Youtube and on Twitch every Thursday night.
The true appeal of Dungeons and Dragons is the freedom and possibilities it presents. If you enjoy adventures and storytelling, or have ever wondered what it would feel like to defeat a legendary beast with your friends, then consider giving it a try. The real fun comes from making every campaign your own. Maybe you want to play a bard, but you also want the added challenge of playing as a Kenku ( a race of humanoid birds who only parrot other people’s voices), or you want to see what it would be like to play a pacifist in a world fueled by combat. Play as a Druid with serious pollen allergies, or a Paladin that doesn’t believe in magic (even when his party members are wizards who shoot fireballs from their hands). Be a fighter whose preferred combat style is tickling!! The (fantasy) world is your oyster, so make the most of it (at the GM’s discretion, of course)! Get out there and start adventuring today!
Not sure how to get started? I suggest heading to your nearest comic book store and asking around. Most shops host weekly game nights where people can drop in anytime. If you’re in the East Lansing area, check out Fortress Comics or Hollow Mountain and take a look at their calendars. The D&D community is always welcoming, and they’re always willing to help new players get started. And, in my experience, the real adventure is all the friends you’ll make along the way.
Sarah Nowack is a senior professional writing major who is minoring in graphic design. Her days are spent haunting the local library, consuming copious amounts of coffee, playing unpopular video games, and making terrible puns. She can be found at @battlerouge on Twitter and @shiverbound on Instagram.