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D&D Stereotypes, Old and “New”

Socially awkward. Trouble-makers. Devil-worshippers. Outcasts and misfits.

These are a few D&D stereotypes that whirled about when I was a kid. Blame it on media influences at the time (the 80s were a notorious decade for discounting and literally demonizing D&D), or perhaps the fact that I knew it was something my religious parents would never approve of me playing.

I really knew nothing of the game itself. But being the impeccably squeaky-clean kid I was, I knew that if “authority” said it was bad, then it must be bad. And that was all I needed to know. End of story.

I was wrong.

A change of direction

Fast-forward to February 2016.

While scrolling through my Facebook feed, I came across a post that featured a group of voice actors who play D&D and stream their game online. That got my attention. I had been curious about D&D for some time, but never really entertained the idea of learning how to play.

Rewind to the mid-90s.

In college, for one summer I worked and lived on campus in student housing as a summer conferences coordinator. One of the staff happened to be a Dungeon Master. One day while prepping for a group’s arrival, he asked if he and his friends could use the conference room that evening because they needed space to play a game. That game, of course, was Dungeons & Dragons.

I think I gave him a blank look, to which he extended an invitation for me to join. I kick myself now for not giving it a try then. Though, looking back, the idea of embracing anything that seemed remotely “geeky” wasn’t on my radar yet, even though I didn’t realize it was secretly brewing. I was trying to — unsuccessfully — figure myself out as a young adult, and I had the perception that playing D&D wasn’t something that others around me would approve.

Critical Role cast/players in the midst of a battle in the first campaign.

The adventuring begins

Fast-forward again to February 2016.

The previous year, I celebrated coming out of the geek closet, loud and proud. (Entering a certain middle decade of life got me to flip the “I’ve gotta be me already” switch!) So when I stumbled upon the Facebook post about the D&D show, it was the binding Force that pretty much cemented my geek status.

I started from the beginning with episode 1 of Critical Role (known as Campaign 1 — last month they started a brand-new campaign), when the group began streaming on Geek & Sundry online. At that time, they had already been playing the game offline for a couple of years, in the comfort of one of the member’s home, and the campaign was heavily established. So I had to watch a few episodes before I could grasp what they were doing and who their characters were.

What drew me in was not only the fact that I wanted to see how the game was played, but that they voiced and role-played their characters on the fly! The more I watched, the more the role-playing aspect became the defining factor for WHY I wanted to keep watching, and what led me to play for the first time. It was all storytelling, and I wanted more! (Disclaimer: because Critical Role is an online show, language is NOT censored, so if you’re sensitive to, or don’t want your young’ns to hear a fair amount of cursing, you’ve been warned!)

Above all, however, was that I saw for my own eyes that D&D wasn’t weird, and it wasn’t just a nerd thing. There were no creepy voodoo or satanic rituals involved. And women played, too! The D&D stereotypes I had believed in my youth no longer applied. D&D was for everyone!

My first D&D character, Faywyn the Hafling Bard.

Embracing the dragon

Fast-forward to May 2016.

By this time, I had caught up with all the past episodes of Critical Role, and I was faithfully watching the livestreams every Thursday night. My husband (you know him — that guy, Joe, who owns that store, The Ogre’s Den Gaming) started a campaign as DM for me and another friend. And while we only got to play a handful of times (life, man!), it was all I needed to confirm that D&D and tabletop role-playing games on the whole are awesome!

Since watching the show, and since I had a taste of creating my first character and playing her, I noticed an increase in both my need for creative expression and absorption. I started to write more, read more, and engage in crafty projects. Professionally, D&D helps me to look at alternatives, to expand my creative practices, and to not be afraid to try new ways of doing something.

Before I knew it, I was on my own path to breaking D&D stereotypes. I was embracing the “dragon” that people either ridiculed or abhorred.

A D&D scene from the first episode of the first season of Stranger Things.

Why is D&D so popular now?

It seems like all of a sudden, it’s cool to play D&D. I think much of this can be attributed to Hollywood “hype” in recent years. Shows like CBS’s “The Big Bang Theory”, Netflix’s “Stranger Things”, and of course, Geek & Sundry’s “Critical Role”, have nudged playing D&D (and tabletop RPGs in general) over to the cool kids table instead of being something dark and questionable.

Naturally, Hollywood’s cultural influences garner weight in popular culture. So when you learn that celebrities like Vin Diesel, Joe Manganiello, and many other creatives in the entertainment industry have played D&D their whole lives, you can’t help but reconsider those D&D stereotypes from the 80s. If they play, then maybe it’s not so weird after all!

Add to all this the release of the 5th edition of D&D in 2014, which from what I understand, is a massive improvement from the previous edition. Of course, Wizards of the Coast have released more manuals and new character classes since then, adding even more hype to both running a game as a DM and being a Player Character.

A family breaks D&D stereotypes by learning how to play together

A family taking the Gaming 101: Intro to D&D class together.

Breaking the old D&D stereotypes and building new foundations

In this age of technology, where you can have a million “friends” but never have met a single one in person, there is more of a need for games like D&D to help humans authentically re-connect with one another through cooperative play and storytelling. Not to mention, it stimulates critical thinking, communication, and problem-solving.

D&D is becoming an educational tool, and an avenue for strengthening family bonds. It’s gaining steam as an acceptable outlet to encourage social bonding and face-to-face interaction amongst friends, kids, within families, and even between strangers.

We’ve offered the Intro to D&D class every month since August last year. Those who’ve expressed interest and signed up are typically family members who want to learn together. Parents tell us about how much they loved D&D in their childhood and now want to share it with their kids. Or, their kids have expressed interest in it and they want to learn together as a way to spend time with each other.

This is not a new concept.

Some final “newbie” thoughts…

I did feel somewhat awkward in my first session. At first, I was afraid of doing it wrong. But it didn’t take long before I was fully immersed in our little world of adventures. I learned that it’s not a matter of playing the “right” way, but letting yourself go, trying things, being inventive, and having fun while discovering what’s going to happen next!

If I remember correctly, when last we left off in our campaign, we were trekking through a wooded area on our way to a coastal village. I don’t know if my little Halfling Bard will ever return to her adventure with her Tiefling companion, but I hope she does.

How you can slay D&D stereotypes at The Ogre’s Den Gaming:

  • Take the Gaming 101: Intro to D&D class! It’s offered every month. It’s free. It’s even better when you can learn with a friend or family member!
  • Sign up to play. RPGs are offered every month, and are not limited to just D&D. (Pathfinder, Starfinder, Call of Cthulhu, and Star Wars: Edge of the Empire are just some possibilities). Check our calendar to see which ones you’re interested in, or join The Ogre’s DENizen Gamers Facebook group and see if a DM or GM is interested in running one.
  • Ladies, try out an RPG during a scheduled Lass & Lady Gamers Group. While we play different kinds of tabletop games (including board and card-based games), during certain months we focus on tabletop RPGs.
  • Start one yourself! Do you have the itch to run a game? We’re happy to schedule it, whether you want to run something long-term or offer a one-off.

Rosie Huck is the Web Coordinator and Town Crier for The Ogre’s Den Gaming, and is married to Joe, the Den Master. Rosie loves to geek out regularly through several fandoms, including Star Wars, Harry Potter, Disney, and The Walking Dead. You can contact her via email at: rosie@theogresdengaming.com.