For the longest time, I spent my time in the roleplaying game fandom on its fringes. The only community I was an active participant in was one dedicated to games from Japan. Don’t get me wrong, the folks in that community are great, but after an ugly encounter with a newcomer (that stemmed partly from a lack of tact on my part), I figured it was time to go out and refamiliarize myself with the larger RPG fandom.
I spent the following months becoming more active in other Discord servers, as well as connecting with other folks of the TTRPG Twitter-sphere, and even attending some Dungeons and Dragons panels at the Kentokyocon anime convention in Lexington, Kentucky. I’ve always known I was an oddity and the worst possible example of what’s normal, so this mission was to give myself a point of comparison: to better understand what IS normal.
What I learned in that time will no doubt be obvious to some of you, but I still believe it bears saying, if only so there’s a snapshot of the scene at this point in time.Since this is still an article about a leisure time activity, though, I believe it deserves an element of whimsy, so I will be including some dragon slaying metaphors.
With all that said, I present to you all: 5 Things I Learned Reconnecting With The D&D Fandom!
1) Dungeons and Dragons Is Still King Of The Hoard
Attention and participation are gold, jewels, and other fine treasures, while Dungeons and Dragons is a dragon sitting atop a giant pile of it.
The statistics that Roll20 used to publish on a yearly basis is the largest set of data we have on what games are being played. It’s far from a perfect dataset, since it’s only one platform, and it doesn’t list every possible game one could use the platform for, nor allow users to “fill in the blank” if their game isn’t listed. Rigors of the data aside, it does paint an unsurprising picture of the top dog: Dungeons and Dragons or some derivative thereof.
A quick look through the #ttrpg tag in Twitter adds to this picture: even though the tag is an acronym for “tabletop roleplaying game,” much of what you’ll find is geared towards Dungeons and Dragons. From pictures of the 7 piece polyhedral set, fantasy artwork, and memes alluding to situations that could only happen in D&D.
For a tag that uses such a broad term, it certainly has a narrow scope. One of the next biggest franchises in the RPG fandom, Shadowrun, doesn’t look like it’d fit in with this tag. It’s a near future, cyberpunk, urban fantasy, it only uses d6s, and while magic items and talismans exist, they’re almost exclusively used by magical characters.
2) There Is A Hope For A Dragon Slayer
Be they driven by curiosity, or a desire to see their world be the best version of itself, they want the dragon slain, so that the hoard can be shared by all. This, I had in common with some of them all along.
If you dig around enough in some of the dialogues that take place on Twitter, you will occasionally find a few dissenting voices: people who want more attention to be paid to other RPGs besides Dungeons and Dragons, and others who would gladly oblige them. Their reasons vary and range from an acknowledgement of D&D’s flaws, to wistful expressions of not wanting to miss out on everything that the RPG fandom has to offer.
These are the people I naturally gravitated towards, given my background of having divorced myself from D&D many years ago. The community I was in had a very strong distaste for Dungeons and Dragons; we were aware of the flaws, and we knew they could be fixed, we in fact played other games that did!
Our frustrations lead to some fairly cruel jokes we would tell at the expense of Dungeons and Dragons players, often in the format of “Why would you play that game? You can get the exact same experience by playing Pathfinder with these splatbooks and my homebrew system.”
Though, stepping outside of the bubble I was in made me realize: it may not necessarily be out of stubbornness that people cling to Dungeons and Dragons; but rather just not knowing how great other games can be. I had always known this might’ve been the case, but it was a different thing to see it for myself.
3) Everybody Wants To Be The Dragon Slayer
Many are confident in their abilities, believing they’ll be the one to slay the dragon, or that their efforts will contribute to its downfall.
The indie roleplaying game scene is huge. There’s numerous new games, splatbooks, and scenarios everywhere, created by all kinds of people. There are also scores of people recording and broadcasting their own games for the enjoyment of others. Many with aspirations of being the next big voice.
These modern days of the Internet Age also constitute a creative Golden Age: we have a huge collection of information, tutorials, and software available to us at our fingertips. If you have a computer and an internet connection, you can feasibly learn how to make anything. The Dungeons and Dragons fandom is just another example of this.
If you dig deep enough, you can find those same people who want D&D to be taken down a peg, wanting to rally people together so they can collectively have their fair share of the market. Whenever one of these calls goes out, it usually ends the same way: parties show up talking about what they’re doing to that end, how they’re different and how they believe they’re going to be the one to make a difference.
4) Conformity Is What The Dragon Wants (And Gets)
The dragon has its methods for maintaining its hoard: let a few people take from it, and collect tribute from others. Then the dragon won’t need to fight the people or try to stop them, but rather let human nature defend the dragon’s hoard.
There’s a lot of market forces at work that keep Dungeons and Dragons on top. They’re the biggest name in the industry, and for better or worse, being that big reinforces its top position. Anybody who wants to make some kind of living creating for the RPG fandom will likely need to make something catering to Dungeons and Dragons. The predictability of computer algorithms makes it impossible to be discovered if you’re not on a known tag or keyword, and if your end goal is to make money somehow, your best bet is to aim for the biggest market share and hope you’re noticed.
One of the major selling points of Dungeons and Dragons is the sheer volume of content there is; when one sees so much, it’s easy to come to believe you don’t need anything else. Somebody else likely has already made what you’re looking for. Wizards has even created a marketplace specifically for content for D&D and D&D alone.
Most damning to those that would want to topple D&D is this: humans are creatures of conformity. Being like everybody else is soothing to us, even if it’s ultimately detrimental. Newcomers come in, see it’s all D&D, and come to believe D&D is all there is, or that anything else is in the tabletop RPG fandom going to be similar to D&D. (Even though D&D’s genre, Dungeon Crawl Fantasy, is fairly unique in what it does.)
It also leads people to believe that since D&D is a complex game with several specific rulings that must be known, every game is. That since most people play D&D before they run it, they must play other games before they can run it. That since so much of the onus is on the DM, the same must be true in every other game. This leads to trepidation that is then soothed by remaining in line with what’s familiar, even if it ultimately falls short.
5) There’s More Than One Dragon
The dragons are everywhere, and thrive in this world. Wherever there is treasure to hoard, there is a dragon to guard it jealously, often with the same tactics.
I originally set out to write an article about roleplaying games and human nature when we gather around media. As I added to these points, I realized that a lot of what I had seen as I put myself back out there into the D&D world were things I had seen everywhere else.
Even though comics are now mainstream and cool, it’s weird to like anything that isn’t DC or Marvel, and if there’s any issue that needs to be addressed in the comics fandom, the onus is only placed on those two juggernauts to resolve it. (Even if a different company had already taken steps to address it; it may as well not exist.)
The only way to be recognized as a fan or critic of comics is to work with the larger companies; it might be possible to claw your way to recognition through other means, but the faster route is often to get lucky placing your bets in the oversaturated market.
This is a phenomenon across all kinds of media, and arguably even other industries, too. A throng of titans control the lion’s share and dominate both the market and a space in everybody’s mind.
If this article veered a little too far off the rails for your liking, just remember what I said at the start: this is a little more than just an experiment I made when reconnecting to the mainstream. It’s also a snapshot of how I see the world right now.
Aaron der Schaedel spent his 31st birthday writing this article; which would also have been Gary Gygax’s 81st, were he still with us. Sharing Gary Gygax’s birthday has granted Aaron no special powers or abilities, and he is still, in fact, really salty about that. You can tell him to get over himself via Twitter. You can also check out his YouTube Channel, which is his own attempt to slay the metaphorical dragon.
Picture Reference: https://www.facebook.com/pg/kentokyocon/posts/
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