When I’m not working at the library, I’m a college student at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. There, I also run the Dungeons and Dragons Network, a club dedicated to finding groups of people who want to play DnD together. I’ve somehow brought the hype back with me, because I honestly can’t stop talking about Dungeons and Dragons.
Historically, DnD was created right here in Wisconsin, only about an hour away from Germantown in Lake Geneva, by Gary Gygax. The game, when released in the 1970’s was met with acclaim and controversy, and in the 80s, was synonymous with “nerd”. Since then various editions have come out. Right now, the popular one is 5th edition.
Despite DnD’s history as a nerdy underground game, one typically sidelined to the dorky friend’s personality in 80’s high school movies, DnD has a pretty major following. I think a lot of this hype, as least in the recent mainstream sense, can be tied to Netflix’s Stranger Things, which actually has it’s own official adventure book now. That and the fact that kids who played DnD back when in came out are now the ones in the Hollywood writer’s rooms.
Turns out, Dungeons and Dragons, today, is en vogue. Well, as en vogue as a tabletop roleplaying game can be. You’d be hard pressed to find someone whose into reading but not interested in learning about or wants to try DnD. Celebrities play DnD. In fact, Joe Manganiello pretty famously has a basement dedicated to the game and a DnD inspired clothing line.
If celebrity RPG tables isn’t enough to convince you that Dungeons and Dragons has come back with a fervor, maybe the sheer amount of content dedicated to the game might. The podcasts, the YouTube videos, the books! One of the more popular DnD podcasts, Critical Role, was just turned into the Amazon Prime show The Legends of Vox Machina. My favorite DnD podcast, The Adventure Zone has been turned into a series of graphic novels (soon to be available at your local Germantown Community Library).
But in all of these storylines and formats, there’s a common thread through it all, and there’s surprisingly a lot to learn from DnD.
Aside from how to roll and calculating ability scores or battle strategy, DnD is the perfect way to learn about storytelling. Because, underneath the numbers and character sheets and stats, what DnD is at its core, is a collaborative story. It’s a Choose Your Own Adventure book but with 90% more customization. It’s a way to delve into what makes a story great, and bring everyone else along the ride with you. When you play DnD, it’s not like a video game, where you can be placed in a situation and there are a certain number of moves and combinations, or certain objectives with a storyline that ends up generally the same. Video games have a level of complexity all their own, but I don’t think I’d be able to find one that does exactly what makes DnD so unique.
I don’t think a video game will ever be able to replicate the feeling of creating a character, a backstory for that character, a personality for that character, a family for that character, a goal and aspiration for that character, and then to have that character give her life to save a lady who gave her a rock one day. It’ll never replicate the customization of encounters, how that same character, in all her “rush in and do good recklessly” glory, completely decimated a fellow party members illusion. Or the one time we had a complete makeover montage right before our dragon encounter. Or the time we had to save the city of Detroit from being lost to the abyss.
I’m a first time Dungeon Master, and I’ve got the dice to show for it. I’ve never had more fun playing Dungeons and Dragons than I am right now, planning and improvising on the fly, creating NPCs with weird, inconsistent accents (hey, not all of us are extremely talented voice actors like the cast of Critical Role), and most importantly: telling a story with others, having the players affect the story, mess with its outcome. No session ever turns out exactly as I plan it, and that’s the great part! In every single iteration of DnD in the media, the story has never never been the same. Not even a close resemblance. The possibilities are endless, whether you’re playing the beginners module (which both The Adventure Zone and I have done, to EXTREMELY variable results) or homebrewing your own campaign.
It’s a weird, kind of beautiful way to spend your time. You create a fictional universe that only lives in your head, then you share it with others, have them play there, have them affect the world, have them mess with the people there, have them struggle, have them triumph. All in your head. All in theirs.
Hopefully, I’ve convinced to give Dungeons and Dragons or its related media a try, because we’re bringing DnD to the library!
There are some DnD sourcebooks available for checkout in the Young Adult section! That, and our Teen Advisory Board is getting on the DnD train too. We’re having a DnD Info Session on Monday, May 16th, where tweens and teens can learn about the game, get a feel for it and maybe even make a character.
It’s a great game, and it is what you make of it. I hope you make something cool one day!
Youth Services Specialist