By Goblin Gaming on March 3rd, 2021 ~ 7 minutes Read
Have you noticed that you’ve been hearing about Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) way more than you used to? You’re likely not imagining it. D&D popularity has seen an unprecedented surge over the last decade. In fact, D&D merchandise sales have grown by double digits every year for the past five years showing how many new gamers are getting involved! Not only has D&D experienced a massive boom, but that train is still rolling and even picking up speed. So why when it used to be known as a “nerd’s game”, is D&D more popular now than it’s ever been since its creation in 1974?
Read on to explore how online streaming, the newest release of D&D and popular media have all contributed to the skyrocketing popularity of this awesome tabletop roleplaying game.
Release of the Fifth Edition in 2014
The original D&D launched in 1974. Since then, there have been four additional releases, with the latest release in 2014 hailed as the much-needed advancement for the game. Some credit the 5th edition, published by Wizards Of The Coast, as the reason why D&D has reached new heights of popularity.
This new release focused on storytelling more than previous releases. It was also better positioned for helping beginners to get started, smoothing the path for non-gamers to join the D&D world. While it could be expected that these changes would boost sales. What wasn’t as easy to predict was that popularity for this edition hasn’t waned at all. The game continues to be more and more popular each year.
Another factor aiding Dungeons and Dragons popularity is that it has become one of the more popular tabletop games to tune into in real-time on the popular streaming service Twitch, which has itself exploded in popularity over the last few years.
Twitch pumps out quality content that millions of fans follow daily. And one popular D&D web series that has launched on the platform is Critical Role. It’s an extremely high-quality live show where cast members (who are successful voice and screen actors) play out the D&D campaigns, giving them the feeling of a true fantasy epic. Critical Role first aired in 2015 and it’s been enjoyed by many who wouldn’t have originally classed themselves as D&D fans, simply due to the epic storytelling and chemistry between the cast.
Other series include Girls, Guts, Glory featuring an all-female cast. Plus popular D&D podcasts Dragon Talk and Join the Party have expanded the ways fans can get in on the D&D action.
While D&D has always been about storytelling, the newest edition of Dungeons and Dragons placed a large focus on welcoming beginners and newcomers into the fold.
For those who haven’t played Dungeons and Dragons before, it can seem a daunting world to delve into. On one hand due to the sheer scope and open-endedness of the D&D fantasy world. But also, it’s original branding as a nerdy game excluded people who didn’t see themselves as part of nerd culture or part of the traditional gaming world.
The fifth edition of the game addresses these issues, with many more beginner-friendly options and campaigns available, and even better, a much more progressive attitude overall. Many sexist elements of the game, such as females required to have lower strength than males, highly revealing female armour, and the inability to be non-binary or non-heterosexual, have been axed. What remains is an edition that invites anybody to join, regardless of their gender or sexuality. You can now make the most popular D&D races into just about any type of individual you want.
What is certain is that D&D has entered the mainstream media. What is up for debate is when that happened. A strong argument for the culprit is the Netflix show Stranger Things, which featured D&D as a minor plot element early in the show. It eventually called the main antagonist a name plucked directly from one of the more popular D&D monsters: the Mind Flayer.
While Stranger Things was not the first show to mention Dungeons & Dragons, it was by far the most-watched of the last 30 year to do so. And it’s important to note that the show didn’t outright mock the fantasy tabletop RPG, much like other movies and TV shows have. While the show didn’t kick off D&D’s popularity, since the fifth edition was released two years before the first season of Stranger Things, it’s clear that it helped keep the hype alive and spread the game to a broader audience.
For better or for worse, celebrities do have a lot of sway when it comes to popularising emerging trends. And for D&D this has been no different. With the rising popularity of D&D, there has been a slew of stars proclaiming their love for the game and the frequency at which they play it, even joining other celebrities for bouts of all-star D&D campaigns.
The list of outed celebrity D&D players is long, but some notable presences are Marilyn Manson, Anderson Cooper, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Drew Barrymore, Stephen Colbert, Vin Diesel, Terry Crews, Joe Manganiello and the list goes on and on. These celebrities are big names, so it often gets people asking, “If Terry Crews plays D&D, it’s got to be cool, right?”
Back in D&D’s early years, campaigns mandated that every adventurer physically show up to each session, and the same problem would plague nearly every attempt: players would flake. Making the drive over to your Dungeon Master’s house every week or two just couldn’t fit into everybody’s busier and busier schedules.
With the advent of videoconferencing, however, this issue has been hugely mitigated. D&D’s nature is extremely suitable for video calls, with screen sharing, video feeds, and the availability of the internet for quick rule-checking. And we all know how much more comfortable we’ve gotten with video calling lately (you knew you couldn’t read an article that didn’t mention COVID). It’s hard to claim that playing D&D without being in each other’s physical presence is as good as the real thing, but nowadays, you at least have that option.
How Popular Is D&D Compared To Other Tabletop Role-Playing Games?
D&D, as we all know, is the tabletop RPG. It’s a complete cultural icon, and most of the population wouldn’t be able to name a single other tabletop RPG. But does that match up with the actual player population? According to Polygon, D&D is over five times more popular than any other tabletop RPG, representing over half of the player population. So, not only is D&D coming to dominate as a more mainstream entertainment option, but it also dominates in its field.
As you can see, the rise in popularity of Dungeons and Dragons is not without explanation. Several factors all built upon each other have given D&D its biggest boon in over 45 years. The release of the stellar fifth edition kicked things off, and technology and celebrities helped build the appeal further and further, to a point that defied everybody’s expectations. For perhaps the first time, D&D is seen not as nerdy and inaccessible, but as something that, eventually, you cannot afford to miss out on.
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