There’s no doubt about it. D&D has broken into the mainstream, and is having a spot-light moment.
An article in the New York Times entitled, In a Chaotic World, Dungeons & Dragons Is Resurgent, Ethan Gilsdorf writes that the famous role-playing game has made a surprising return to mainstream culture in its 45th anniversary year.
It wasn’t that many years ago that Dungeons & Dragons had been nearly left for dead.
The tabletop role-playing game had once been “one of the coolest, most meaningful fantasy brands on the planet,” said Nathan Stewart, who runs D&D at Wizards of the Coast, the Hasbro subsidiary that makes the game. But when he was hired in 2012, he said, “it was really obvious that the current edition of Dungeons & Dragons was not ubiquitous. Everyone wasn’t loving it.”
Players from its 1970s-1990s heyday had grown up and moved on. Younger generations, embracing video games and smartphones as their escapism of choice, seemed indifferent or bored by D&D’s make-believe world of swords and sorcery, labyrinthine rules and polyhedral dice.
“My main goal was to help this glorious brand get its swagger back,” said Stewart, who grew up playing D&D and its digital relatives, like Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights. He joined Wizards of the Coast, based in Renton, Wash., after more than a decade working in brand marketing for such video games as Madden NFL and Backyard Sports and for companies like Xbox and Rockstar Games.
Now D&D appears to have been resurrected as if by a 17th-level necromancer. It celebrates its 45th anniversary this year and is luring a more diverse fan base. You can see its reach on live streaming platforms like Twitch; in classrooms, therapist’s offices, living rooms and bars; and in shows like Netflix’s “Stranger Things,” which weaves D&D’s tropes and monsters like the Demogorgon and mind flayer into its plot.
A number of key transformations are highlighted as accounting for the resurgence of D&D, including the return of older players (ahem) who are joyfully introducing the next generation to the hobby. But the decision to redevelop D&D with a fifth edition that was geared towards new players is also singled out for attention:
The game’s fifth edition, or “5e,” was released five years ago and emphasizes storytelling and role-playing. The goal was not only to court old players whose D&D habit had lapsed, but to attract curious newcomers who were turned off by its nerdy reputation.
“I wanted to make sure that someone who had played D&D back in the ’70s and ’80s could play this edition and it would feel like the same game,” said Jeremy Crawford, the lead rules designer for Dungeons & Dragons.
Crawford, who is gay, also wanted the new rules to reflect the racial, ethnic, gender and sexual diversity of its players. No more cisgender damsels in distress, scantily clad in chain mail bikinis. Your adventuring party might contain a lesbian elf wizard, a brown-skinned dwarf fighter and a nonbinary half-orc rogue.
“Just as in on our world, humanity is wonderfully diverse,” Crawford said. “We wanted to make sure that people remembered that’s also true in these fantasy worlds.”