The streaming site Twitch has more than 100 channels dedicated to Dungeons & Dragons. Critical Role, a live play campaign by voice actors, has become a YouTube hit that recently raised more than $ 11 million for an animated special. RPGs have also inspired dozens of podcasts, both fictional and live games, such as “The Adventure Zone” and “You Meet in a Tavern”. The Netflix show “Stranger Things” made Dungeons & Dragons a central theme: The boy characters play the game and use his vocabulary to understand the bizarre happenings in their city. (You can even purchase a Stranger Things-inspired D&D starter kit.)
From the basement to the zoom.
Before the pandemic, when people already seemed to be mostly online, tabletop RPGs were seen as a break from the multiscreen life, a more artisanal and analog way of connecting. “The ability to meet up with friends and put on a show is a pretty amazing experience,” Sell said. During the lockdown, role-playing games continued as the ability to get together wore off. Many of the most popular games had already found a home online. Websites and apps like Roll20, Role Gate, World Anvil, Astral, Fantasy Grounds and D&D Beyond have created platforms to enable online games. Many have tools – like character generators – that make a campaign easy.
RPGs don’t require tactile experience (sorry to those who hand-paint miniatures for their characters) so they adapt well to online play. “Almost everything that happens in Dungeons and Dragons happens in your imagination,” said Winninger. “It makes the transition to the virtual game easier.”
If you have WiFi, you’re in and don’t even need dice: Wizards of the Coast has a side where you can virtually roll the dice. Other sites offer game enhancements like virtual maps and the ability to sync your game to a selection of scary music. Do you want to run your own game? Gather a group on Zoom, Skype, or Discord. Don’t have like-minded friends? Wizards of the Coast launched the Yawning Portal, a website that compares gamers to virtual games. Other websites run message boards and marketplaces that connect individuals with groups and groups with game masters. Newbies can easily find experienced players to show them the ropes and chains as well as the dimensional shackles. Post-school programs and local libraries offer games for children and teenagers.
Building a bridge across the social divide.
And yet we lose something if we can’t play in person or share Cheetos. Since role-playing games depend on storytelling, experience wanes when we are no longer confronted with our fellow narrators. “It’s about looking people in the eye and performing with your body,” said Fortugno. “If you lose all of that, the game will be stilted.”
But searching through dark forests or dangerous caves from the comfort of your couch can still be exciting. And because RPGs have an inherent structure and twist, they may offer a more natural engagement than your average Zoom cocktail hour. Having a common goal – virgin rescue, treasure hunt, sphere of avoidance of annihilation – lets the conversation flow. And players can now meet across the country and on every continent.
Avery Alder, a game designer (Monsterhearts 2, Dream Askew) who lives in rural British Columbia, hosted weekly personal role-playing games at a nearby post-and-beam town hall. The pandemic ended that, but it still plays out when work and childcare allow, which is not often the case. She argues that maybe now more than ever we need role-playing games.