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/
It’s easy to picture some literary characters slotting right into your next D&D campaign. For starters, you could fill up a party with adventurers plucked right out of Middle-earth, from Gimli the dwarven fighter to the mysterious ranger Strider, a grim stranger whose weatherbeaten looks hide the noble bloodline of an incognito king.
But you don’t have to limit yourself to Lord of the Rings, which feels almost like cheating. After all, its role in shaping high fantasy as a whole makes it a not-so-distant ancestor to D&D. To really stretch your creative muscles, why not swap out Tolkien for Cervantes, turning Don Quixote into an ardent, windmill-tilting paladin? Or, try building out Odysseus, the “man of twist and turns,” as a rogue who’s ten steps ahead of everyone else on the map.
If you’re the kind of bookworm who longs to slip between the pages of your favorite classic, the tabletop is the closest you’ll get living out those portal fantasy dreams. Just think: roleplaying is all about storytelling, so why not let some of the best storytellers in literary history join you on your next campaign?
And if you don’t feel up to homebrewing a whole setting in homage to your preferred literary masterpiece? Don’t let that stop you. Here are four games that make classic literature playable right out of the box, whether you’re in the mood for axe-shattering adventures or white-gloved courtship.
Released within a decade of the original D&D, this minimalist offering from Fantasy Games Unlimited is ancient among RPGs. Of course, it’s got nothing on its epic source material. The 1980s might have been the greatest decade, but the eighth century BCE was the greatest century. Or so you probably believe, if you’re tempted by the sound of a Homeric adventure game.
No matter what your feelings on the Odyssey-versus-Iliad debate, Odysseus has you covered. Contrary to its name, it’s an equal-opportunity Homeric game engine. In other words, you can use it to relive the Trojan War or to fight your way back home to Ithaca after its conclusion. In fact, because the rulebook focuses so heavily on combat (hand-to-hand and, in a true Homeric fashion, ship-to-ship) it might actually be better suited for running an Iliad game than an Odyssey one.
Either way, Odysseus makes it easy to get an ambrosial taste of life as a Homeric hero, complete with high-stakes battles and prying patron gods. As for whether to outwit a Cyclops or to stoke the rage of Achilles, that part’s up to you. May I suggest you kick off your gameplay with an invocation of the muse?
Speaking of “epic,” here’s an option for aspiring heroes whose tastes lean more Geat than Greek. Like Odysseus, Handiwork Games’ Beowulf claims descent from the western epic tradition, broadly speaking. But this is a very different game.
Created last year for D&D’s 5th Edition, Beowulf has a relationship to its source material that’s far more playful and meta, if no less reverent. Rest assured: this is a more sophisticated adaptation than that Angelina Jolie movie from 2007. For one thing, Grendel’s mom won’t be wearing built-in stilettos.
Beowulf provides a particular boon to those of us who are a little crunched for time: it’s optimized for duet play. The rules will stretch to accommodate a more traditional party, but all you really need to run it? A hero and a gamesmaster. That way, you’ll be able to play even if you only manage to rustle up a single friend who shares your enthusiasm for aiding the Spear-Danes against the monster Grendel.
Whether you’re the player or the GM, you’ll have need of song and good cheer before the evening’s done. Just make sure one of you remembers to bring the mead!
3) The Play’s The Thing
Imagine having the Bard of Avon as your GM. Mistaken identity and ill-timed suicides, donkey transformations and exiting pursued by a bear…. He’d have plenty of plot twists to throw at your unsuspecting party. But of course, you wouldn’t be unsuspecting, not if you’re a Shakespeare fan. Ophelia drowns, Romeo drinks the poison, Lady Macbeth goes mad from the stain of murder on her hands. You can see the tragic endings coming from a mile away.
Luckily, this playful offering from Magpie Games gives you a chance to mix things up (or to save your favorite character from their grisly, scripted fate). This open-ended storytelling game lets you play as, well, a player: a member of a theater troupe putting on a Shakespearean drama.
But you and your fellow actors quickly throw off the Playwright’s attempts to railroad you (which, in this case, means “get you to perform the play as it’s written”).
This isn’t a number-cruncher’s game: if you prefer minmaxing to melodrama, The Play’s the Thing may not be for you. But for armchair thespians and wannabe dramaturges, it provides the perfect stage for acting out Shakespearean what-ifs to your heart’s content. If you’ve ever wanted Juliet to run off with Rosaline instead of Romeo, now’s your chance. Now ask for your robe and crown, because your immortal longings are about to be fulfilled!
4) Good Society
This lavishly produced jewel of a game ranks among the best that indie RPG has to offer. If you didn’t think Jane Austen would translate well to the tabletop, the folks at Storybrewers Roleplaying are here to prove you wrong.
With its focus on romance, reputation, rumor-mongering, and social events, the game boasts social mechanics sophisticated enough to put many combat systems to shame. But the game’s narrativist (sense and) sensibility means you won’t be rolling dice to “win” the social season. (In fact, there aren’t any dice at all!) Instead, you’ll be fleshing out your character’s relationships and motivations to tell a compelling, collaborative, Austen-worthy tale.
To keep your DIY regency romance coherent, Good Society comes pre-stocked with tonal playsets: Farce, Romantic Comedy, and Drama. That way, you’re free to channel Emma with light-hearted social satire, or to go full-on swoon-worthy with a Pride and Prejudice remake.
Maybe you’re a diehard bibliomane whose Penguin editions share shelf-space with your rulebooks, or maybe you want to relieve your AP English glory days. Either way, there are plenty of games that can bring some literary flair to your time around the tabletop. It might make you see a hoary old classic in a playful new light.
Lucia is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects authors with the industry’s best editors, designers, and book marketers in self-publishing. In Lucia’s spare time, she enjoys drinking coffee and trying to shoehorn a character from an interwar comedy of manners into a medieval fantasy campaign.
Picture Reference: https://www.magpiegames.com/our-games/theplay/
Dungeons and Dragons is all about imagination and improvisation. But sometimes, we can get caught up in the grind and the game loses its magic. Bring your game group together for a no pressure day or night of fun with a figurine Painting Party!
1) Make it a Party
Organizing a "painting party" with your DnD campaign group can bring you together in a fun and relaxing way. The campaign party is more than just a group of people playing a game, you’re, presumably, friends. And a great way to bond as a group is to kick back with some paints and some snacks, and have a blast talking about your favorite adventure or even what’s going on IRL (in real life). Painting the figurines together also gives the opportunity for input from your party. You might need a tie-breaker for what color your armor should be, or you might receive the best suggestion on what color will best show off your special weapon.
2) Bring the Game to Life
The adventure of Dungeons and Dragons relies on a lot of imagination, and sometimes having tangible representations can make the magic of the game even more real. Utilizing figurines on the board, rather than just tokens or markers, makes you feel more connected to the action. But taking it a step further and painting your figurines gives another layer of “reality” to the campaign while making the game feel more unique to the party. Of course, there is the option of buying figurines already painted, or commissioning an artist to paint them for you, but you lose that personalized quality that comes with painting them yourself. Painting figurines by yourself can sometimes seem like a lonely chore. Making the activity into a party with your group makes the work go by faster and makes it a lot more fun.
3) Conquer as a Team
Painting your character figurines, and even helping the Dungeon Master (or Game Master) to paint some of the monsters you'll face, can bring out even more ideas about your character and how you'll interact together as a team. It could be a fun surprise for the DM to reveal that you’ll be painting a Lich that the party will be fighting at some point down the road, without revealing when that fight will be. It makes the game board more engaging to customize the monsters and NPCS (non-player characters) you face to give them added personality. What if your skeleton army suddenly had runes painted on their bones? A whole new story could be unfolding in the DM’s mind because of some creative painting choices the group made just for the fun of it.
4) Take a Break from the Grind
Hosting a painting party can also be a great break to take in between long campaigns to refresh your imaginations and get back to the roots of why you love playing the game and with whom you love playing it. Painting isn’t about rules or the luck of the dice, it’s all about letting your imagination take over. Sometimes the game can get too serious and tempers can flare. Getting back to basics and spending time with your group in a no pressure setting is the perfect way to bring back the fun of the story and the rewarding challenge of working together.
5) Discovering a New Hobby
An afternoon painting figurines with your friends might be the opportunity that reveals your love for painting. Whether it be painting figurines for other groups on commission, or even doing canvas paintings, all it takes is that first joy of selecting colors and seeing your creation come to life. DnD is a great platform to discover and grow other creative pursuits, such as drawing and writing stories. Exploring color and form through painting is just another way you can tap into your imagination and experience the magic of the DnD world.
It's important to remember that a Painting Party is meant to be fun, so painting skills are not required. Have a laugh or two, swap stories of your favorite battles, and get back to the magic that turns game night into an epic quest!
Alice Liddell is an author, artist, and performer who loves bringing magic and fantasy to all aspects of her working and personal life. Whether it’s DnD with friends, or a round of Fable solo, Alice has always loved gaming of all kinds. You can find her work on her social media handles Facebook, or under littlalice06 on IG and Twitter.
All blog materials created and developed by the staff here at High Level Games