2004- What happened to Dungeons and Dragons? - by Darren Waters

by Victoria Jesswein published 2022/11/12 09:28:24 GMT-7, last modified 2022-11-12T09:28:24-07:00
BBC News Online
Last Updated: Monday, 26 April, 2004, 12:40 GMT 13:40 UK 
What happened to Dungeons and Dragons?
By Darren Waters
BBC News Online
In the 1980s millions of teenagers world-wide would battle dragons armed with just dice, paper and pens. D&D became part of youth sub-culture but as the game celebrates its 30th birthday, is anyone still playing?

D&D lets you live out your heroic fantasies
In 1974 two men in the US Midwest, Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, created Dungeons and Dragons, the first ever role-playing game.

Developed out of war gaming using table-top miniatures, the paperback rule books were an instant success, a genuine phenomenon which spawned an industry and influenced a generation of film-makers, writers and videogame developers.

An estimated 20 million people worldwide have played D&D since it was created, with more than $1bn spent on game equipment and books.

"I thought we would sell about 50,000 copies," says Gary Gygax.

Co-creator Dave Arneson recalls: "When we started playing we thought we were kind of crazy. It seemed to start quite well and sold better, and better and better."

The game spread by word of mouth and became a cult in schools and in universities across the globe.

It was even a cult at a Wisconsin naval base. "At one time every nuclear submarine had a D&D group," says Arneson.

 There is something in D&D that strikes a chord in many people; the call of adventure
D&D co-creator Gary Gygax
D&D is a game in which a group of friends create and develop characters by rolling dice which determine skills and abilities.

The characters are taken on adventures which are plotted by a separate player - the Dungeon Master.

You can be a fighter, a thief, or a magic user, perhaps even a bard, a druid or a cleric. But there is no board or counters - just pen, paper and an active imagination.

"I get to be braver, stronger, wiser, smarter, faster, handsomer, and just generally more than I am in real life," says current player, Joshua Turton, 29, from the San Francisco Bay area.

"I can perform miracles, save damsels, slay dragons, cast spells, right wrongs, raid tombs, drink ale, and live dangerously."

Brad King, author of Dungeons and Dreamers, which charts the influence of D&D on early videogames, says D&D should not be confused with board games.

D&D rules grew out of war gaming in the early 1970s
"It was the first really interactive game. If you play board games there is always an objective or goal.

"D&D is the opposite. It's about sitting down and telling stories with your friends."

At the height of its popularity in the 1980s the game became a target for cultural conservatives.

The game was wrongly implicated in a missing persons case, a teen suicide and a number of murders. Some schools banned the game, and many parents refused to let their children play.

The controversy inspired a 1982 TV film, Mazes and Monsters, starring Tom Hanks. A later cartoon series and a more recent film kept the brand name alive among non-players but were derided by D&D fans.

In the late 1970s and 1980s, lawsuits began to fly - Arneson and Gygax sued each other over the development of the game.

Neither man has any current official involvement in D&D - both selling their royalties to publisher Wizards of the Coast in the 1990s.

Arneson says: "We see each other at conventions. He does his thing and I do mine. There's no stabbing each other in the back."

 It allows us the chance to play out a dream of being the classical hero - the slayer of dragons, the hero who saves the land from some terrible foe or danger
D&D player Delwin Shand
D&D's popularity began to wane in the early 1990s as the videogame boom began.

"D&D never went away," says Liz Schuh, marketing director for Wizards of the Coast. "It was huge in the 1980s and then dropped off the radar screens but it never went away."

"D&D was so successful that it spawned an industry that ate it," says Mr King.

There are now hundreds of different, competing role-playing games which have all taken a bite out of the market dominance D&D once had.

Dave Arneson
Dave Arneson is still involved in the games industry
But the game remains - even thrives. Wizards estimates that three million people play in the US each month.

Angus MacDonald, a 45-year-old D&D player, who lives near San Francisco, has been playing on and off since 1975.

"The game is social, it is a form of storytelling, and it has allowed me to develop deep friendships with people over the years."

Delwin Shand, a 47-year-old who has been playing for 30 years, says: "The reason the game has survived is that it allows us the chance to play out a dream of being the classical hero - the slayer of dragons, the hero who saves the land from some terrible foe or danger."

Gygax and Arneson are still actively involved in the industry and are revered by D&D players for their creation.

Gygax says: "There is something in D&D that strikes a chord in many people; the call of adventure.

"I am certainly happy that it has made people happy and brought so many people together. There is a great fellowship among role players."

 There are no million dollar special effects - so imagination must fill in the blanks
Ed Stark
Ed Stark, special projects manager at Wizards, says imagination is pivotal to the game. "People often say playing D&D is like writing your own movie at a table.

"But of course there are no million dollar special effects - so imagination must fill in the blanks."

In the age of the iPod, mp3s, DVDs and online videogames, it is perhaps remarkable that a game based purely on pen, paper and dice remains so popular.

Read a selection of your comments on the 30th birthday of D&D.

Man, we played this for a good decade now. When we were younger we would play until 5 in the morning and still did not want to stop. Our Dungeon Master would have weeks of events and quests lined out just in case we kept going into the mid-morning. Which we have done on several occasions. Just so many good memories that came about because of D&D.
Tyler, USA

Dungeons & Dragons shall live forever. It's a defining experience.
Nils, Frankfurt, Germany

I wish I still had my spell-book and magic dagger. Surely one of the best games ever invented.
Abhijit Joshi, India

Twenty years ago my college roommates played D&D every weekend. Now a former roommate is playing D&D on the other side of the country with some people who are the same age we were then. All his new D&D characters are the children of the characters we played when we were younger. Occasionally they tell the other players the legends of the Fighting Lady Red and Euell the Druid, characters who lived in our imagination when we were young.
Larry Smith, USA

Just reading these comments have brought all the memories flooding back. It must have been 10 years since we last met up to to go on an adventure. This will cause me to now find my lost friends and start the adventures rolling once again.
nathan, UK

Good grief - I thought my husband and his mates were the only D&D geeks still out there! Once a week, every week, shut in a spare bedroom - I think it's where they'll finally shuffle off this mortal coil (having first slain several dwarfs, clerics and wizards on the way). Sad to say, the dice have given way to a computer generated version but they're avid enough to web-cam in a friend from the wilds! Pity me, won't you?!
Suzanne Rogers, United Kingdom

Haven't played for 15years but reading all the comments has brought back the memories! Barry & Jared if your out there fancy dusting the dice off??
Darren, UK

D&D has been the cement which has kept a fantastic group of diverse individuals togeteher for over 20 years. Just about to start a new island campaign. Hope we dont meet any giant ants.
David, England

Locked in a shed, at the bottom of a garden, the world and its occupants seem to fade away making D&D for me, the ultimate escape. Now with wives and children, we continue to escape into our thirties.
Chris Caswell, UK

After time at work spent playing politics and minding the rules it is a great stress reliever to blast a fireball at something!
Lee E, UK

I failed my A levels because of this game, but never regretted it. It seemed far more constructive slaying dragons and rescuing fair damsels than getting drunk and depressed about reality as it was in the 80s. There is a sort of camaraderie which infuses this style of gaming that is hard to find any where else. I would recommend it to anyone.
Steve, UK

I was first introduced to D&D by the vicar's son on the school bus when he brought it back from a holiday to the US. We couldn't understand how you could have a game without a board or counters! I haven't played for years, but your article brought back happy memories of Belfin the Dwarf and his trusty +2 spear!
Neil Morrison, UK

D&D is alive and well in my world and my only wish is that more people would open themselves up to a new experience. It really does change your life - for the better.
Martin, Reading, UK, previously South Africa

I am now 33 and have to say that some of the most memorable moments of my life involved 20 sided dice! Sadly at present, I am not actively playing, but I will play again one day, I hope. Long live D&D and all the other RPGs that it spawned.
Matthew Harffy, UK

I remember that Mr Cooper, my religious education teacher at school, was convinced that D&D was devil worshiping! He always used to try and catch us out (I suppose he expected us to be chanting or sacrificing goats or something!)
John Neal, Southampton, UK

Now where in the loft did I put my Players Handbook?
Andy Hume, UK

Those respondents above that spoke of losing the time to play, lost pals, impositions of jobs, girls, distance, social acceptability et al were all so right in their comments that I feel a lump in my throat and a yearning for those days back again. Can one jump in the same river twice? .! ..Damn it! Where are my dice ?!
Jason Mann, Australia

D&D? Reminds me of unusual spotty students drinking cider and eating wheat crunchies - obsessively playing Hotel California on the juke box whilst pretending to wizards and serfs. Why bother? The real world is more fun.
Daren, Scotland, UK

Lost an entire year to D&D at art college - the best time I ever spent! Forged epic memories, great friendships and wondrous stories that still excite and move when I think about them 12 years on. Sadly, we all grew up, got jobs and got far too serious about life. Have been back to 'Fisten Gawn' a few times since, but each time it never held the same magic as it did back then when overthrowing the dark lord Karngorv was the most important thing in my life.
Rob, Salisbury, UK

 Its great being part of an underground world which baffles 90% of people you talk to about it
Simon Andrew, UK
I strongly remember the Christmas in 1981 when I received my first D&D boxed set. I spent hours reading the rules and carefully filling the dice in with the weird crayon thing. It was probably the best christmas present I have ever received. RPG's like d&d provide the perfect structured social setting to help maintain excellent friendships. It's also a chance to star in your own subjective version of any film or novel, admittedly with much more laughter and micky taking.
James Dodd, UK

I'm 40 now, haven't played for 15 years, and I miss it.
Rob I, London, UK

I've been playing, running and collecting RPGs for over 20 years. I derive more enjoyment with each passing year and have made some very good friends through this fine hobby. No other recreational activity provides the level of escapism and boundless wonder of role playing. Long may the dice continue to roll.
Sacha Ratcliffe, England

Played many of the RPGs during the 80's. Then work and girls came a higher priority. I took it up again about 3 years ago - taught my wife and some neighbours. So when we get together we still pull out the odd Dungeon map. In hindsight one thing D&D gave me and many others was an improved ability to converse with others. Long may the adventure continue!
Tim Mulhall, Hereford, UK

I met my husband through D&D and we are still playing regularly twice a week, some 16 years later.
LJS, Stockport, UK

It's still going strong and not only in the English-speaking countries. Been playing for 20 years now and still with some high-school buddies!
Ralf Schemmann, Germany

I remember many a summer night spent hacking my way through skeleton filled dungeons with a band of fellow adventurers. Dungeons & Dragons or AD&D was not just a game. You developed close attachments with your characters and debarked on many world changing adventures with them. I'm quite sad I have stopped playing!
Wesley McDade, UK

I've been playing D&D with the same group of friends for 20 years. Without a doubt D&D has kept us together, given us a reason to stay in touch. We started playing when we were still at school and, despite the varied directions of our careers and lifestyles, we still meet bi-weekly for an evening of adventure and above all laughter.
Lee Hadley, London, UK

Well it's about time roleplayers could come out of the closet! I've been gaming with a group of friends for nearly 20 years and can honestly say we still talk about some of the greater moments a decade on. Just think, if politicians played more D&D they might find real warmongering a trifle less exciting.
Chris Palmer, UK

Oh please - it's for kids, but it's worse than adults reading Harry Potter.
Sven, UK

D&D is a social activity so by definition people who play D&D are social people. D&D set the standard for roleplaying systems and until the introduction of systems such as GURPS D&D was king of the hill.
John Everitt, UK

You bet we are still playing it, and with dice and paper and pens! It is the ultimate escapism, stress-reliever and cure for all life's ills. Our group of friends play every Saturday night without fail, with three Dungeon Masters running their own Dungeons on a rota and have done for close on 20 years now. So what better pastime for a crowd of ageing hippies, ageless teenagers?
Edith Bowman, Scotland

 Dungeons is alive and kicking
David Dipple, UK
20 years later the only difference for me is finding the time to play... and the players have grown from a bunch of hairy students into teachers, scientists, policemen, computer techs, sales reps, tree surgeons etc... It's still one of the best ways to enjoy an evening & catch up with your friends.
Bertie, UK

D&D is still going strong today. It fosters imagination and social interaction, as it always has done. Here's to the next 30 years!
Paul "Wiggy" Wade-Williams, Devon, UK

Why has D&D survived? Everyone needs to escape from reality sometimes and D&D is cheaper and more readily available than Class A substances. Though not as socially acceptable. Also, D&D has evolved over the years, so there is was always new for each successive "generation" of players.
Rob Sandy, UK

Video gaming did not kill off D&D, it added a whole new dimension, with games like Bioware's Baldur's Gate, Icewind Dale, and most recently Neverwinter nights, using the D&D rules and game structure, in both single and multiplayer storylines. The games master is merely replaced by a PC!
Claire, UK

My kids (11, 13) discovered my old D&D stuff and plunged right in. Despite having their PS2, Gameboy and PC games, they love the active use of imagination and the storytelling.
Roy Smith, UK

D&D is still alive and kicking. As well as the good old pen and paper version some of the best computer games in the last few years have been pure D&D. When you couldn't get your group together you could play Baldurs gate or Neverwinter nights on the PC.
Sion Phillips, UK

It is a good way of meeting like-minded people. It gives someone to be a part of exciting adventures and recreate cinematic moments, kinda like being in a film where there is no defined script. It is a good way of developing teamwork skills. More than all though, its fun.
Paul Grogan, Herts, UK

I started playing in 1988 and D&D was the first roleplaying game I ever bought. For me, D&D brings back memories of my first week at university, a slightly scruffy room with oak panelling and take-away wrappers everywhere and some slightly scary individuals who knew so much more about bards and wizards than I did. I still play roleplaying games on an occasional basis and have made some wonderful friends through the hobby.
Paula, UK

 Still playing? Never stopped!
Mark Buckley, UK
It is sad to see people waste their lives in fake adventures when there are so many real ones out there. If anyone wants to know what it is like living in mediaeval times, I can point them in the direction of parts of the world where serfdom etc still exists. They will soon find the horrible truths behind their 'imagined' worlds of heroes and villains.
Karl Dunkerley, UK

D & D was just THE best thing whether in the dining room on a rainy autumn Saturday, or in the garden on a balmy summers day - we had a scream, and my weapon of choice? It had to be the +1 magic rat-on-a-stick!
Alison Rothwell, England

Been playing since 1974, and still am every Sunday! Was one of the first in Scotland to play and still have the original "WhiteBox" rules, albeit a bit tattered. Always great fun to play and that is what it was really about, having fun with friends.
Roger Pascal, Shetland, Scotland

D&D isn't the end of it - the RPG genre caters for sci-fi fans, historical fans, modern era gaming and everything! I didn't enter this hobby through D&D and it isn't the main game I play, but I thank it for the fun I've had. It really is like making a movie or tv episode, with RPGs like Farscape, Star Wars and Everquest you make your own adventure!
Simon Hildreth, UK

I started playing D&D some time in 1977, aged 13. To my friends and I it turned up at the same time as punk rock, girls, and was part of our teenage landscape. As a Christian I was always massively annoyed at the way some small minded elements of the Church tried to smear it for crimes it was never guilty of. Control freaks are always going to be afraid of young people letting their imaginations run riot- which is what they're there for. I'm 40 now, and still like D&D in the same way I still like punk rock and girls.
Mike Maddox, England

Dungeons is alive and kicking in Lechlade. Took a few years off when the kids were born but now they are playing as well.
David Dipple, UK

My boyfriend got me into playing D&D a grand 4 weeks ago, and it is far more fun than it has any right being
Aisling Tracy, UK

I love playing D&D because every time I play, it is like watching Lord of the Rings for the first time. It is like writing a story without knowing the outcome. Some people may use the game for the sake of escaping reality but that's not for me. I just enjoy seeing the story folds out and how my character develops.
Diana Thirring, UK

We have successfully run a D&D club at my school (a GIRLS SCHOOL) for 7 years now. Our girls won the prestigious British Schools D&D Team Championship a few years ago, for which the prize was an all-expenses paid trip to GenCon in Milwaukee. They love playing it! I urge people who'd like to see the lighter side of D&D to seek out the comic 'Knights of the Dinner Table' - it is tremendous fun.
Drew Buddie, England

I've been gaming for 24 years, which drives the wife mental.
Harvey Barker, Cambridge, UK Role-playing is still alive an well, the US conventions are huge, the number of games available is huge, I have friends in multiple countries who play often. Even in the UK it is still big. Once you can suspend the self-consciousness it is a brilliant time, a no restrictions game, can't be matched by film or computer in that aspect.
Malcolm Brown, UK

This makes me feel old! What now could get 10 adolescents into spending a Sunday evening talking to each other and enjoying themselves in a way which just doesn't seem possible today? The sad thing is, I'd still play it if there were enough people around to do so!
Simon Holt, UK / Ireland

I have been playing role playing games(RPG) since mid 80's when I was young kid. We started with D&D moved to AD&D and after I have played every major RPG there is. Core of group we started playing is still pretty much the same we have today, same 'ol friends.
Teemu Tuominen, Finland

Still playing? Never stopped! I started around 1975 with Tunnels & Trolls (as D&D was too expensive for me at that time), and later on branched out into many other role-playing games. The best times are just those of sitting with friends (many made through the game itself), making up stories, telling ridiculous tales, and sometimes, and best of all, having the story go off in a direction that no-one (including the game master) expected...
Mark Buckley, UK

RPGs are still alive and kicking, I don't play much D&D nowadays having moved on to other settings and systems, but I do occasionally get the old books out for a trip down memory lane!
Paul, UK

For sheer escapism, fun and imaginative release D&D is the original and best. Always was, always will be. Huzzah!
James Walker, Cheltenham, UK

There are still lots of clubs active in the UK, like my one, "Dragons On The Hill", and we still get new young people turning up at the pub to try it every week. It doesn't matter about colour, gender, race or country... everyone in a group just enjoys playing with the game.
M Haswell, England

I once played D&D-type games for six joyful years. However, at 29 years old, I am now unable to create a new group of players because anyone who would participate is simply too geeky! And yes, we did once get visited by someone from the Salvation Army who cast various aspersions at us without any justification whatsoever.
Mike Foster, England

D&D and other roleplaying games offer a subtlety of interaction with a story that video games cannot. At times it can be challenging and rewarding in ways that other entertainment cannot.
Tim, UK

I think that D&D is a good way to spend an evening with friends. My group get together once a week and try and save the world, but most of the time we end up randomly chatting about all sorts of things. I'm an actor as well, and as I've been playing the same character for about 2 years now in one game, it's like a role i can fall into at a moments notice. it's much more enjoyable than sitting on your own playing against a computer.
Sandy Wilson, UK

Better than Star Wars and deeper than Lord Of The Rings.
Stuart Bennett, UK

I've played since 1983 as a player and a DM. Now on 3rd edition rules. I've also played just about every other game system since on occasion. Its great being part of an underground world which baffles 90% of people you talk to about it.
Simon Andrew, UK

My best memories are the stupid moments like the time my wizard chained himself to the knee of a pit fiend and promptly died. He was trying to use an artefact that controlled devils. Of course, it was supposed to go around the neck, not the knee but the knee was all he could manage.
Marc Quatromani, Portland, US

We're still here, we're all among you, we might be your boss, your wife (ok, maybe not that one), your mechanic, your MP. And one of these days, when you least expect it, the roleplayers of the country will rise up, shout "roll for initiative" and we, the meek (/geek) will inherit the earth. Then you'll be sorry for taking the Michael, oh yes :) "...first up against the wall when the revolution came."
Phil Ward, Wales

It's a game that spawned an industry with a number of spin-offs. Gamebooks, card games, miniatures and live-action roleplaying to name a few. Every major city has at least one store - more than can be said for some niche hobbies.
Simon, UK

I've played the game for 24 years (since I was eight). I've introduced it to many friends and my wife and family. Playing has always been a great, popular, social event and I hope to keep playing for at least another 24 years.
James Semple, England

I loved the campaign I was involved in when I was a senior in high-school. We had the best Dungeon Master I have ever known. We truly got involved with the playing of characters as opposed to just hack-and-slash. This of course was way back in the old 1st edition days, when men were men and giants roamed the earth. I played a human monk, which at that time was a rarity. Staying up to wee hours of the morning; eating pizza, potato chips, and tortilla chips; being amongst friends - these are the memories I cherish.
Collin D. Freeman, Kansas City

D&D still goes strong in the UK with a number of gaming clubs and events for charity around the country. By my reckoning, roleplaying events raise in excess of £5,000 each year for a number of charities, something that goes largely unnoticed by the masses. Aside from that, its a great social hobby which requires imagination, intelligence and the occasional bit of luck. Long may it continue
Terry , UK

The thing I most enjoy is immersing myself in a role in such detail that the seem alive all on their own. I have heard of actors talking about such when they play roles for movies.
Samantha, St Louis It's the social side as much as anything that keeps the game going. There's something of a roleplaying revival at the moment. Nothing that quite matches the early 80s but the internet is bringing gamers closer together all over the world.
Steve, UK

D&D, and role-playing games in general, not only give me an excuse & inspiration to exercise my imagination, they have encouraged me to learn about mathematics, probability, history, warfare, & countless other topics. Plus, they're lots of fun & a good excuse to hang out with some friends for a few hours every week.
Robert Fisher, Texas 15 years after I last played and I still remember the characters and adventures. For a young teenager, D&D provides intellectual and social stimulation way beyond that gained just by hanging out with your mates. Everyone I know who was involved has gone on to a balanced adult life and successful career, more than I can say for some of our contemporaries.
AT, London, UK

First played in 1977, then solidly for fifteen years. Now play pc games, but I miss the social interaction with other people and am looking for an RPG group in Sheffield
David Linkletter, UK

Long live D&D, and all the other games out there.
Jeff Taylor, UK

My best D&D memories have always been narrow victories in imaginary battles, shared in the presence of real-life friends. In the real world, not all battles come out victorious and the good guys don't always win; it's nice to share times with friends when the good guys DO win.
Henry Link, South Carolina

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