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How Dungeons & Dragons made tabletop role-playing games seem cool

Jeremy Irons isn’t in this one (pic: Paramount)

With the movie Dungeons & Dragons: Thieves Among Us out soon, GameCentral examines the appeal of tabletop RPGs and how to get into them.

On a recent visit to the Forbidden Planet Mega Store in London, it was hard not to be filled with a wave of nostalgia, as the shelves were newly stocked with familiar characters from the 1980s Dungeons & Dragons cartoon, including my favorites Bobby the Barbarian and Uni the Unicorn.

These toys have been rolled out to coincide with the release of the new feature film Dungeons & Dragons: Thieves Among Us, which comes out at the end of the month is riding a wave of renewed interest in tabletop role-playing games. The movie has received surprisingly positive early reviews and, just like Stranger Things, should serve as a great way to introduce new players to the world of Dungeons & Dragons.

D&D Beyond, the popular online platform featuring official Dungeons & Dragons content has a collection of stat blocks for each of the main characters from the movie, played by the likes of Chris Pine and Regé-Jean Page, for Dungeon Masters to build into their unique tabletop worlds. With these you can include the characters from the film in your own campaigns, including Forge Fitzwilliam – played by a roguish Hugh Grant.

The plot of Dungeons & Dragons: Thieves Among Us revolves around a group of adventurers who must work together to defeat a powerful dragon and recover a stolen artifact. That makes it sound like a classic Dungeons & Dragons campaign, and certainly fans of the Forgotten Realms will feel right at home. If fact, the latest Dungeons & Dragons anthology, Keys From The Golden Vault, due on March 24, has a similar theme, as players seek out legendary treasures, right ancient wrongs, and journey to the bleak cliffside prison known as Revel’s End.

Tabletop role-playing games have been around for decades, but in recent years they have seen a surge in popularity, with Dungeons & Dragons being right at the forefront. More people are discovering the joys of spending hours creating characters, exploring fantastic worlds, and engaging in epic battles, all through the medium of pen, paper, and dice. At Mutant Freaksmy local Dungeons & Dragons club/community there’s even interactive tabletops to add to the immersion of a Sunday evening adventuring.

One reason for the popularity of tabletop role-playing games is the backlash against the increasing prevalence of digital technology, as everyone’s default entertainment. While video games have been a staple for decades, many gamers are finding that they miss the social aspect of gaming. The feeling of sitting around a table with friends, or even strangers, talking and laughing together, while exploring a shared, imaginary world is a more convivial pursuit than a night being sworn at by Call Of Duty players.

Dungeons & Dragons 5e

Dungeons & Dragon – easier to get into than you’d think (pic: Wizards of the Coast)

Tabletop role-playing games offer a unique opportunity for social interaction, that is hard to replicate in the digital realm. While they take a certain amount of time and mental commitment, that some of us can’t afford, things are getting easier as tabletop communities offer drop in and out experiences where you don’t have to attend every week and can just catch up on everything that’s happened when you come back.

The release of new editions and expansions of popular games like Dungeons & Dragons has breathed new life into the genre. In 2014, the fifth edition of Dungeons & Dragons was released, which streamlined the rules and mechanics of the game, making it easier for new players to learn and play. This has been a major factor in bringing in new people who may have been intimidated by the complexity of previous editions.

The new edition has been praised for its inclusivity and its focus on player agency, allowing people to make their own choices and shape the narrative of the game with diverse voices. Last month saw The Nebula Awards, for science fiction and fantasy, nominate the recent Dungeons & Dragons anthology Journeys Through the Radiant Citadel for best game writing.

In this anthology each adventure was created by an author of color and the book introduced a new location within the Ethereal Plane. It was nominated alongside several notable video games, including Elden Ring and Horizon Forbidden West.

Of course, starting a new hobby can be intimidating, especially one that involves as much creativity and imagination as tabletop role-playing. Starting by rolling a character can leave you befuddled at the number of choices and confusing stats involved. However, there are plenty of resources available for those who are interested in giving it a try.

websites like Roll20 and Fantasy Grounds make it easy to play with others online, while local game shops often host events and provide guidance for new players. There are also countless online communities and forums where you can connect with others, share tips and tricks, and get advice on how to get started.

You don’t even need to commit yourself to a fantasy theme, there are plenty of upcoming and established tabletop games that cater to every taste. If you’re at a loss on how to get your infected fix, now that The Last of Us series is over, you might be keen to try the upcoming The Walking Dead Universedue for release later in 2023.

Here, you can campaign in one of the most popular comic/video game/television IPs ever created and now the TV series is over you control where the Walking Dead goes next, with input from chief content officer and former showrunner Scott M. Gimple.

If you’ve ever wanted to role-play as a battle princess, or something together cuter, check out an upcoming project called Break!! It’s inspired by fantasy video games and anime and is coming to Kickstarter soon. Designers Madrinan and Gray have created some sumptuous artwork and character callouts draw on classic video games such as The Legend Of Zelda.

As Dungeons & Dragons, and tabletop role-playing in general, offer a unique form of storytelling, you’re not simply a passive consumer of the stories; you get to help create it. This collaborative storytelling allows for endless possibilities and ensures that no two games are ever the same. This unpredictability is also one of the key factors that make Dungeons & Dragons so appealing, in short you never know what’s going to happen next.

In recent years, streaming platforms like Twitch and YouTube have become popular venues for Dungeons & Dragons players to share their games with others, to the point where Critical Role, the most famous online offering, even has its own animated Netflix adaptation, called The Legend Of Vox Machine.

Watching others, particularly when they’re trained voice actors, play Dungeons & Dragons can be just as entertaining as playing it, and it has helped to showcase the creativity and camaraderie that makes the game so compelling. The continued mainstream exposure of Dungeons & Dragons has helped to bring more people into the community and connect in fun and creative ways, which continue to be incredibly empowering.

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