Digital Dice: How Dungeons & Dragons exploded online

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By WVUA23 Digital Reporter Jas Orr

The classic roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons has taken on new life in online spaces following the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns. 

Compared to video games, D&D is deceptively simple. All it takes is a set of dice, a pen and paper, a few friends and your imagination. It’s helpful to have The Player’s Handbook, a book that contains all of the basic rules of the game, but it’s not necessary. 

A game of D&D, called a campaign, generally tells one cohesive story over one or multiple sessions. The campaign is led by one player, called the Dungeon Master, who creates the world and story, and interacts with players through created characters and creatures within it. The rest of the players create individual characters to play and act as. Typically, D&D games are full of roleplaying, combat against monsters, puzzles and traversing through dangerous dungeons. 

Originally, D&D was played in person, around a table. However, in the modern age, D&D has changed drastically. The COVID-19 pandemic moved most home games online, and subsequently, online spaces have exploded in popularity. Wizards of the Coast, the company that produces D&D, reported that during March 2020, searches for “dungeons and dragons” were at an all=time high. On Instagram alone, #dungeonsanddragons has nearly 4 million posts. 

Online resources to facilitate games have expanded, too. Roll20.net gives players access to find new games, play on a virtual tabletop and share character information. Roll20 reported just after the beginning of the pandemic, the number of running games on the website nearly doubled, and the growth hasn’t stopped. Dndbeyond.com has easy character builders and is full of resources for new and veteran D&D players alike, including a free version of the basic rules.  

The inception of actual-play D&D shows and podcasts like “Critical Role,” “Dimension 20,” and “The Adventure Zone,” where various groups broadcast their own campaigns, made the game even more accessible, launching its popularity into the, albeit still somewhat niche, limelight.

“D&D podcasts are one of the major reasons that I started actually playing D&D — I wanted to understand what my friends were enjoying, and I wanted to enjoy it with them,” said Mercer Joiner, a Tuscaloosa resident. Joiner now plays on their own D&D podcast, “Next in the Order.”  

D&D continues to push further into the mainstream. Earlier this year, Critical Role launched “The Legend of Vox Machina,” an animated series based on their first campaign, through Amazon Prime Video after a hugely successful Kickstarter campaign. April 28, Stephen Colbert is set to join the cast of “Critical Role” for a charity livestream benefitting Red Nose Day. In 2023, a movie titled “Dungeons & Dragons,” starring Chris Pine, is slated for release.

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