General Discussion for D&D and its resurgence

Is this the right place to comment about D&D? Interesting how it has made a resurgence recently, after many years of being hidden, at least to me.

I had the books and played a lot…in my pre-teen and early teen years. It was THE thing in the early 80’s. By the 90’s, video gaming and games like “Magic the Gathering” seem to have supplanted D&D.

But then, starting a few years back, some younger colleagues (I am at a University) started playing D&D and I got the occasional invite. Not sure what happened to D&D in the interim years.

But yes, the alignment chart was the same way back then as it is in the OP.

This would be better in its own thread in the Game Room. I’ll spin it off in a few minutes.

I never stopped playing 1st Ed {and I started pre-DMs Guide} until maybe 4-5 years ago. My kids were very enthusiastic about 5e. They and their friends played it primarily. It really is the cause of the resurgence and easily the best version since 1st Edition.

I really need to sell my 2e stuff on Ebay, I’ll never use those again anyway.

So I started with D&D the 3 small format book box set and the extra basic blue covered book. I got the Monster Manual and Player’s Handbook shortly after I started. I have an absolutely beat to crap 1st print run of the DMG on the day it went on sale.

I played 2e, 3e, 3.5e and then 5e.

I was into the D&D craze back when it was making all of the Christian Karens nervous (early 80s, when I was a preteen) and I did so basically as a reaction to the Satanic Panic. I created characters, read stories, etc. I only actually played the game a handful of times, though. A session is an hours-long commitment and who has that kind of time when they’re 12 and there are bikes to be ridden and girls to be wooed?

I forgot about it for 35 years until, by chance, I met a married couple who are into it and they invited me to join them. Been playing religiously (5e only) for about five years now.

All of my characters are Chaotic Good. Always will be. I figure it’s easier to play a character with an alignment that matches my own, personal, real-life alignment.

From what I understand, D&D had a slump with 4th Edition where a number of people were disappointed with the new mechanics. Even in 3rd edition, it was struggling which is why Pathfinder was able to get established. With 5th edition came more of a return to “traditional” D&D play as well as the rise of internet streaming which spread its reach significantly (Critical Role, et al). Then you had other media like Stranger Things making it “cool” and it was really just a good blend of technology and circumstance that let it take off like it has.

All that said, I’m kind of getting bored with 5e and the direction its heading. I assume they’ll double down on it for later editions so this might be the last edition I get into, having first played in 1981-82. On the plus side, online play has allowed me to get into other systems; I just finished a Starfinder campaign and just started a Pathfinder game. I definitely prefer table play but online lets you explore a lot more than trusting in the population at the local game/comic store which is 5e dominated.

Hah, I find it to be the opposite. I had nearly infinite time as a kid and could easily spend the stereotypical weekend in the friend’s wood paneled basement, drinking two liters of soda and rolling dice. Now I need to schedule around work and family and grown up commitments and just not falling asleep on the couch.

Yeah Stranger Things bugs me in the way they depict D&D. Like when one boy says to another, “Let’s go play some D&D!” First of all, you can’t play D&D with two people; well, you can, but at this level it’s basically one person reading a story to another. Second, even if you could, what about the rest of the party? The other players are themselves a part of the narrative, you really can’t proceed without them. There’s also the fact that you don’t just play D&D on a moment’s notice when you decide you have nothing better to do some afternoon. It takes planning and commitment, you’re not doing it on a Tuesday afternoon after school, not when you’re 12 and there’s homework to be done, your parents getting on you about dinner, yada yada.

Third edition wasn’t a struggle: third edition catapulted D&D into an enormous revival, after the near-moribund status it had fallen into with second edition. It introduced some obvious-in-retrospect mechanics. For example, previous editions considered your armor class to be better the lower it was, and you had to deal with adding negative numbers when you attacked someone; the new edition made armor class, like (almost) everything else, better when it was higher. Previous editions had spells like “charm person” that worked on a laundry list of enemy types (“bugbear, dwarf, elf, gnome, half-elf, half-orc, halfling, hobgoblin, human…”). The spell would arguably not work on some homebrew creature (“half-gnome”) that wasn’t on the list. Third edition introduced monster types (e.g., “humanoid”), and the spell works on any creature with that type. It vastly regularized a lot of stuff.

It was also incredibly fiddly, with a rule for everything; and as more and more options were added, people found combinations that were stupid powerful.

Fifth edition is much much simpler; and where third edition saved the game, fifth edition made it mainstream.

One of the great things about gaming is the huge variety of other games out there. My current favorite is Kingdom RPG, a DM-less system for describing a society and its problems, and working through these problems in a semi-cooperative, semi-competitive way. It requires a lot of energy from every player, but when it works, it’s glorious.

I think that’s very table/intent dependent. At age 12, I often played with a single friend and it was often “Gimme ten minutes to put some squares and lines on this graph paper and we’ll start”. Also you had the classic DMPC traveling along, not making decisions on where to go but participating in combat. But even the old AD&D 1e DMG had random dungeon generation tables in the back for people who just wanted to dungeon crawl on short notice. After all, we weren’t really playing back then for the rich inter-character drama, it was all about stabbing kobolds and power fantasies.

Well, Pathfinder came into being when WotC decided to go in a different direction with 4E, which was an attempt to create an addition which played more like an MMORPG, and thus (hopefully) appeal to WoW players. 3E/3.5 had been very successful (and really was the first “resurgence” for D&D), and WotC had spun Paizo off to publish their Dragon and Dungeon magazines, as Hasbro (which had bought WotC) didn’t want to be in the magazine business.

When WotC announced 4E, they also pulled the Dragon and Dungeon titles back from Paizo, leaving that company without a business model.

But, as the core rule system for 3.5 was “open source” (the SRD, or System Rules Document), and as many D&D players were perfectly happy with how 3.5 worked, and were not excited about 4E, Paizo saw an opportunity, and was able to create their own game system – Pathfinder – using the 3.5 SRD as their base. Both Pathfinder and 4E D&D were launched at, more or less, the same time (summer of 2008).

4E turned out to be pretty much a trainwreck for WotC, to the point that, for several years, Pathfinder actually outsold D&D as the top RPG in the U.S.

Gotcha. I thought it overlapped into the 3.5 era but I’ll admit I wasn’t paying any attention to Pathfinder for most of its existence

“Nerd stuff” has been growing slowly more cool and mainstream over the last twenty years or so, but D&D’s resurgence took a lot of people (WotC included, I bet) by surprise. Stranger Things helped for sure, but I think Critical Role (and the many real-play podcasts that followed) helped even more. Anecdotally, I know a lot of people who never would’ve considered playing but became intrigued by some podcast or another.

As for my own history with D&D:

I started playing when I was 17, in 1982; I’ve extensively played all five of the “main” versions of the game (not counting the D&D games, which were distinct from AD&D, in the '80s).

2E was probably the low point for me, as far as playing D&D; It wasn’t a particularly wonderful system (it was largely just an update and refinement of 1E), and it coincided with the period during which TSR was, to a certain extent, wandering in the wilderness, and was being run by people who weren’t gamers and didn’t love the game. I was, indeed, playing a lot of Magic: the Gathering back then, as well as other RPG systems (particularly West End Games’ Star Wars RPG).

3E/3.5 definitely brought me back into the D&D fold; soon after 3E came out, I got involved in the RPGA (TSR/WotC’s organized play organization of that era, which ran games at conventions and game stores). And, at that same time, WotC got the Star Wars RPG license, and created a d20 Star Wars game – so, between D&D, and Star Wars, I was playing a ton of 3.5 and d20 from 2000 through 2008.

And, then, 4E came out. It truly felt like a different game (because it was), and while D&D has always been on the “crunchy” side, rules-wise, 4E took it to another level. I played a lot of 4E for a couple of years, but got burned out on it – largely because I came to realize that the rules were so complex, and made the players (and DM) keep track of so many effects and durations, that the system was actually making it harder to enjoy other aspects of the game, like story and role-playing.

The breaking point, for me, was around 2012 or so, when I was DMing a 4E game for one of my gaming groups, and I was trying to describe a scene — and I realized that none of the six players at my table were paying any attention to me, because they were all face-down in their character sheets, studying the various bits of rules about their characters’ abilities.

That was when I (and my groups) started playing more Pathfinder, and largely abandoned 4E. At that same time, I also started exploring other game systems, and started to fall in love with systems that were less crunchy, and (IMO) did a better job of encouraging collaborative storytelling and roleplaying – Fate, in particular, became my RPG system of choice for GMing.

I played a bit of 5E when it first came out, and then didn’t touch it for a couple of years. At about that same time, I was also playing less Pathfinder, again because my tolerance for rules crunch (and the ensuing debates and fiddliness that dominate play with a crunchy system) has really decreased over the last decade.

About four years ago, one of the members of one of my groups volunteered to run a 5E game for us. We’re still playing that campaign (though mostly over Discord and/or Roll20, due to travel issues and COVID), and while I adore my character (a bard), I find that I quickly tire of rules debates during games, and having to keep track of those fiddly bits.

While I’d agree that 5E is not as complex as 3.5 (much less 4E), it’s still more complex than I prefer these days. Also, many of the published adventures (which is what our group has been playing) tend towards old-school “dungeon crawls,” and those don’t fit well with how I like to play these days, either.

But, even if 5E isn’t a good fit for me, I have to say that I’m thrilled at how well D&D has recovered from the 4E experiment, and just how mainstream D&D, and other RPGs, have become.

I don’t think I ever did this for D&D, but I definitely did this many times for superhero RPGs like Champions or Villains & Vigilantes: pick a villain, pick a map and start rolling dice!

One other D&D-related thing I wanted to add:

D&D is, directly or indirectly, responsible for a significant part of my social network:

  • I joined my first D&D group in May of 1982; I’m still good friends with several of the people who were in that group, at that time, and we still play together regularly – the 5E game that I mentioned is with that group.
  • I met the woman who became my wife thanks to D&D – one of my good friends from the above-mentioned group introduced me to this young woman with whom he’d gone to high school (and who was a member of his D&D group in high school); she and I hit it off.
  • My primary social activity in college was playing D&D, and I’m still good friends with most of the people from that group.
  • Most of my closest friends are people I met through gaming, and D&D in particular. I do things with those friends that aren’t always about gaming (though there’s often a nerdy bent to what we do together), but it was D&D that provided the initial glue for the friendships.

Back in the day, D&D was definitely an “uncool” thing. Not that we nerds cared, but we did recognize that others shunned us.

Nowadays, if I casually mention to my students that I play D&D, none of them consider it in the least remarkable. Not all of them play, of course, but they all consider it just another hobby.

I wonder if the wider acceptance of video games has helped move things along as well. Basically no one blinks about video games these days and if you’ve played Skyrim, Final Fantasy, World of Warcraft, Dragon Age or multiple other RPG style games then it’s not much of a hop to playing a tabletop game. Both in terms of “nerdiness” and because you’re probably familiar with most of the broad tropes: elves & dwarves, healers & tanks, hit points and spells, rogues in light armor & fighters in plate, etc.

Ha, maybe this is already a new topic (I seem to have a knack for getting topics spun off lately), but I remember this. Growing up in the 70s and 80s, stuff that a lot of kids do today…imagination play like D&D, geeking out over technical stuff, learning math…were seen as geeky = bad. However, these activities seem to have dropped this social stigma by the 1990s.

I remember asking my little (half) brother about his hobbies and expected him to say he was shunned as a geek or something, but he just didn’t seem to care. It also seemed like society had, by then, finally recognized (through the success of the likes of Bill Gates) that smarts and computer savvy was a GOOD thing.

The Internet seems to have helped normalize major parts of the geekery of prior times. The extreme success of The Lord of the Rings & Harry Potter Movies also seemed to have helped D&D seem more normal I think.

Now Super Hero stuff has also gone mainstream.

As to computers, they went from very much the domain of us nerds to not only at one in every house, but one in every pocket.

Yes, this is very much the case in my experience also.

Neither of those points agree with my experience. I’ve played, and run, single-player games, and have played games at a moment’s notice more times than I care to count.

Possibly because I don’t play primarily dungeon-delving type D’nD, so concerns about making elaborate maps and the like aren’t really a thing for the kind of games I run, and weren’t 20 or 30 years ago, either. I make it up as I go (and take notes so I don’t contradict myself)