Sunday 29 September 2019

The problem with Dungeons and Dragons

Dungeons and Dragons is a subcultural phenomenon, there's no denying it. With D&D, Gygax and Arneson created an entirely new form of entertainment and little would they comprehend that when they formed those rules that it would become the behemoth it is today. D&D is great - it's the touchstone of the hobby and generally a lot of fun. But there's a problem with it.

Wizards made some incredibly smart decisions with 5e, from larger event-based releases to bringing streaming into the forefront of their marketing. It's worked effectively and as such the game is likely bigger than ever, with approximately 13.7m players worldwide. Target had an exclusive on the Essentials Kit, Rick and Morty and Stranger Things sets exist, tapping into a broader, non-gaming audience. The media is now constantly talking about D&D. But this is the problem. They're talking about D&D - not tabletop roleplaying games. Tabletop roleplaying games aren't getting more popular - D&D is.

Imagine if every videogame were referred to as Super Mario, or every book The Da Vinci Code. It sounds ridiculous, but that's what D&D is right now - shorthand for every single RPG out there. I see questions online about how you'd play a horror game using 5e. You wouldn't - there are plenty of games specifically for horror.

The problem is, this skews people's expectations about what roleplaying games are. This is supported by Twitter discourse, where so many default discussions are about D&D. Don't get me wrong, there are lots of really cool, smart people who are super into D&D. I'm not knocking the players here, just the culture that means it's tougher to build a playerbase for a different game because there's not a Critical Role or a Stephen Colbert or millions of dollars being funnelled into the game. I worry that so many indie creators who are doing exciting, bleeding-edge stuff aren't getting a look in because of the D&D monopoly.

But there could be a silver lining here. D&D, in general, is a gateway drug to the rest of the hobby. It's where I started decades ago. We could see a post-D&D movement where more people begin to explore other options. More people in the hobby is good for the hobby - they just need to peek of our from behind the DM screen and see the vast world beyond.


  1. I do appreciate how with things like OGL, D&D has historically always been very open, and I don't think tabletop RPGs would have persisted to today if not for that (or they'd be a very different beast, in any case). That being said, I think for all the lip-service Wizards pays to the broader RPG community, I think they could do more to promote it as a whole.

    I'm not saying they need to be doing charity work for paizo or anything, but I really do think it would be in Wizard's best interest to show casual or prospective consumers that there is more to tabletop than just D&D. There is certainly an audience out there that might not be interested in fantasy adventuring, but would be interested in, let's say, romantic comedy RPG. Right now, there might not be a large enough market for it to make sense for Wizards to publish that game right now, but maybe they promote some indie game, and as people become aware that that's an option and it does well enough, now Wizards can invest in making their own romantic comedy RPG.

    I dunno, I'm not an economist or marketer / finance / business person, but intuitively I think there is some logic to what I'm saying, maybe.

  2. Just picture your favorite nonD&D RPG as a small country bordering Russia.

  3. My thought is that while the scale has changed, the situation has not. To the greater population, it's always been D&D. It's on the players to expand their range if they want more. Should they? Will they? Are there enough gems out there in the background? Answers will be subjective.

  4. I have just finished playing DnD with some home ed children aged 7-11 and frenkly, I'm glad. If it wasn't for the fact that one boy loves it, I would have chosen something much easier like Hero Kids, No Thank you Evil or Tales of the Village. If I didn't know about those games, I would have had to slog through DnD and probably put them off with all the rules.