Tabletop RPGs of the Modern Era

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Tabletop RPGs of the Modern Era

Mini figures and dice used in tabletop RPGs, specifically Dungeons and Dragons.

Mini figures and dice used in tabletop RPGs, specifically Dungeons and Dragons.

Kylee Henrie

Mini figures and dice used in tabletop RPGs, specifically Dungeons and Dragons.

Kylee Henrie

Kylee Henrie

Mini figures and dice used in tabletop RPGs, specifically Dungeons and Dragons.

Kylee Henrie, Writer

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The clanking of dice and cheers of joy are joined together with groans of disappointment in tabletop RPGs (role-playing games) across the world. Players eat snacks as they narrate their actions and prepare for the fight of their lives as Game Masters create stories of monsters and villains. The question is, what is happening to this storytelling game in our era of technology?

RPGs are group storytelling games where those who play explore, fight and interact with a world they imagine together. In these games, players create characters and bring snacks for the Game Master (GM), who runs a premade or custom campaign, a.k.a. the adventure. The GM plays as characters in the world and monsters the players fight. In some cases, the GM provides snacks for convenience; however, there are even more terrible cases in which no one has brought snacks. Games that fall under tabletop role-playing games include Pathfinder, Paranoia, Star Wars RPG and Dungeons and Dragons (D&D).

Video games are getting better graphics, multiplayer is becoming more stable over long distances, and getting players together is always a challenge. So, are tabletop RPGs no longer feasible? The collective love of these games says otherwise. The popularity of these games has increased greatly in recent years. In a 2018 article by Joss Weiss of Syfy Wire, Weiss said that (as of the article being released) 2017 was the best sales year for Dungeons and Dragons since Wizards of the Coast bought it in 1997.

Karl Liggin, a veteran Game Master who runs various tabletop RPGs at Lowe Mill’s Steam Works, attributed some of the recent spike in interest to the shift in the media’s portrayal of role-playing games. “D&D is still at the top of the public’s consciousness, you can say D&D or Dungeons and Dragons and most people will know. There are tons of other systems like the World of Darkness [or] GURPS (generic universal role-playing system).”

According to a survey of Bob Jones students, 59 percent don’t play tabletop RPGs but know of them, 15 percent play D&D or Pathfinder, 15 percent don’t know what tabletop RPGs are, and 3 percent play other RPGs.

Another reason for the recent spike in interest is digital tools created to make play easier. Countless apps and sites have been created for players and GMs alike. Some are created by the game companies themselves, like D&D Beyond, while others like Roll20 are independently made. Players can use dice rollers to make math simpler and character builders to shorten the creation process. GMs can plan campaigns in writing apps like World Anvil and quickly find creatures or spells in sites like donjon.

Karl Liggon stated, “D&D Beyond and Roll20 are companies that make money while allowing an easier way for people to access what was previously a more complicated hobby, more hardcore, super nerdy and geeky kind of hobby. What the digital accessories are doing is they are making them more accessible.”

Technology has also helped players play without being in the same place, which can make planning games easier. Cassie Volkin, a senior at Bob Jones, Skyped into a recent D&D game, and many use technology to play games with other players around the world.

There are a couple resources that help people trying to do this. “Roll20 has done a lot of the work for you as far as playing the game, so that’s why a lot of people like it. You can plan a campaign and play with people who are not with you,” Karl Liggon explained. “With D&D Beyond, it’s strictly ‘here’s the book online, here’s the character sheet online’ as opposed to ‘oh hey you’re in Europe and I’m in America and you’re in Australia, let’s all play together.’ ”

This has also lead to the recent rise of D&D and RPG shows like “Critical Role” and “The Adventure Zone”. “Critical Role” is a primarily D&D show with famous voice actors playing together, and “Adventure Zone” now has story arcs in several RPGs like Monster of the Week, D&D, the Fate System and Urban Shadows hosted by the McElroys. Countless other shows like “Dice Camera Action”, “Sirens of the Realms”, and “Acquisitions, Inc.” have also become increasingly popular.  On the January 10th episode of “Critical Role”, viewership peaked at 39,321 viewers and averaged 32,344 viewers.

“Dice Camera Action” and “Sirens of the Realms” are live-streamed events every week on Dungeons and Dragons’ official Twitch channel, where the audience takes part of the story in their reactions in the stream chat, or in things they create around the shows, like fan art, becoming a silent but ever-present member of the game.

These games have even caught the interest of people who have never played a tabletop RPG, expanding interest in the game. Aaliyah Coe, a sophomore at Bob Jones, said, “I love “The Adventure Zone” despite having never played D&D. The dialogue and narration allow me to become more immersed in the game.”

In this era of technology, many tools have been made to make playing tabletop RPGs easier. The media has brought in more positive attention for the genre, and a network of people has been built to share ideas and connect. It truly is an amazing time to play and be a fan of these games.

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