For people of a certain age, the name Dungeons & Dragons brings to mind the heyday of the “Satanic Panic.” In the early 1980s, pearl-clutching mothers and fathers worried about heavy metal, drugs, and tabletop games as surefire pathways to the Devil’s door. Thus, growing up Catholic, I was never allowed to play Dungeons & Dragons nor did I know anyone who danced with the devil by a pale D20. Today, however, tabletop games are in the midst of a resurgence. For example, Hellboy is getting a new tabletop roleplaying game. And in a time of social distancing and lockdowns because of COVID, fans of tabletop games use modern technology to stay connected. In fact, thanks to shows like Stranger Things, Gary Gygax’s Dungeons & Dragons has never been more popular or easy to get into.
In my day (he says oldly), people looking to play D&D needed a lot of stuff. You had to have the rule books, dice, character sheets, and (if you were serious) miniatures and maps of your adventures. People would gather in dorm rooms or parents’ basements to go on the fantasy adventure of their choosing. However, today using sites dedicated to D&D and social media apps like Discord, you could find yourself in a game faster than you can say “I cast Dimension Door!”
There’s a reason that writers, actors, and artists all gravitate towards these games. While they have established rules, the players’ imaginations are the limit. A group of characters can use brawn, brains, or thievery to accomplish any number of tasks in their game, called a campaign. The storytelling and characterization players’ create are as determinative to what happens as the rules. Either way, D&D is a great way to connect with old and new friends during quarantine.
How Technology Helps Tabletop Games Happen During COVID Quarantine
Image by Moroboshi via Wikimedia Commons
As my curiosity about D&D grew, I sought out groups online to see if I could get some experience of what playing the game is like. Via a group on Facebook, I found the “Baldur’s Gate” server on Discord (barely six weeks old at the time of this writing) where an entire fantasy town now exists. Using any number of tools, from DNDBeyond.com to regular old Google docs, players create a character and drop them into this town where they have to get jobs, find lodging, and go on quests to advance the larger narrative on the server.
In the handful of quests I’ve participated in, most people were only barely familiar with or totally new to the game. The players are all very welcoming to newbies, and the moderators are all very helpful as getting people into roleplaying and questing is the heart of the server. At the time of this writing, there are slightly more than 100 players in this group. Much of the roleplaying is done in the various chat servers, and the moderators will even create personalized quests for people hoping to flesh out their backstories.
One player is a mother, but in the game her character is a child (who is also a werewolf). In the real world she’s taking care of her family, so when she comes to play D&D she acts up and allows other player characters to care for her. Others take on the roles of leaders, villains, heroes, or anything their imaginations can fathom. Players can be anyone they want to be in the game, and sometimes that’s just the kind of escapism people are looking for. Playing virtually is just like a regular D&D campaign, only it involves dozens of players and is ongoing 24/7.
The creator of the server, who goes by LegendsZero said this:
“I used to play D&D in real life, but with the virus my group couldn’t meet. I started using Discord and after I tried other servers, I wanted to try my own. I wanted to create a community where people can come and play and do what they want. The goal of the server is to get to a point where there are multiple games running per day.”
Currently, the Dungeon Masters are training up a new crop of game leaders, so that people will be able to pick up quests and go adventuring whenever they want. Yet, playing the game itself seems almost secondary to the community LegendsZero and the others are trying to build. People who’ve only just met in these servers become fast friends both in and out of the game. Thanks to modern technology, people can use these tabletop games to connect with others during the COVID lockdown.
Are Tabletop Games Right For You?
The short answer, I’ve discovered as a 40-year-old man playing pretend with wizards and goblins, is it’s for everyone. The long answer is it depends on you. The roleplaying aspect of the game is easily as challenging as learning stats, dice rolls, and game commands. We’re used to acting out characters in video games, but when the source for these characters is your own imagination it can be daunting. Yet, with practice and patience, you might find that D&D and other tabletop games using familiar technology provide some short relief from COVID lockdown woes. Because even though people are playing characters, there are people on the other end. And it’s a great way to make new connections at a time when we’re all so distant.
The real trick to mastering games like D&D is not the think of it as a game. No, I’m not talking about going all crazy like a young Tom Hanks did in the 1980s TV movie about D&D. Think of it as an interactive story rather than a game that’s all about rules and “winning.” It’s not a competitive thing, but rather a collaborative effort between creative folks to tell an exciting tale. It’s no accident that your favorite actors and writers probably honed their storytelling skills playing what most people long dismissed as a silly game for nerds. But, with the world the way it is today, a silly game for nerds could be just what you need to step outside of the stressors of life for a little while.
There are many places were people looking for virtual D&D games can find them. If you want to check out the Baldur’s Gate server, click this link to join the Discord server.
Do you play D&D? If so, how have you found that modern technology helps people play tabletop games during the COVID lockdown? Share your experiences in the comments below!
Featured image via Wizards of the Coast
Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. The first books he read on his own were comics, and he's loved the medium ever since. He is the greatest star-pilot in the galaxy, a cunning warrior, and a good friend. His book "What I Learned: Stories, Essays, and More" is available in print from Amazon and from all electronic booksellers.