‘Nerd renaissance’: Why Dungeons and Dragons is having a resurgence

It’s no secret that a “nerd renaissance,” as Daniel London calls it, is taking place.

He is one of a few professional Dungeon Masters — someone who designs and directs Dungeons and Dragons games as a full-time job.

He’s seen the popularity of The Big Bang Theory, Stranger Things and Marvel movies and how they have brought activities like role-playing games out of the shadows.

Dungeons and Dragons — a fantasy game based on storytelling that was created more than 40 years ago — is one of those games.

Dungeons and Dragons is enjoying a resurgence thanks to some experienced players who are helping new players get into the complex game. (David Burke/CBC)

Where there was once a “nerd shame” associated with playing, London said veterans who have been playing with friends since childhood are able to be more open with their interest.

Getting in the game can be tough

For new players interested in its resurgence and looking to get into the game though, one thing — the gatekeeping —hasn’t changed all that much.

“When I was in high school in the early 2000s, there was three or four groups of people who would play D&D, and that was it,” London said. “Nobody wanted to come and join our groups, and we were very hesitant to let people in.”

That’s something he’s trying to change.

London runs a Dungeons and Dragons drop-in game reserved exclusively for beginners. It’s a way to bypass the hurdles associated with starting out in the game.

Though there aren’t many classes similar to London’s, he says demand for them is high as people look for ways in to the notoriously complex game. (Jackson Weaver/CBC)

As complex as it can be, a group of friends interested in fantasy and role-playing is needed to get a game going, London said.

On top of that, the many rules make for a steep learning curve, and, if the other players have been playing since childhood, it can be difficult to keep up.

New-found acceptance

All that combines to make the game somewhat inaccessible to new players, despite its new-found acceptance. 

“Just struggling to not know people in the circles is a big problem, and not knowing where to go to find people,” London said.

“That’s why I post online, saying, ‘I’m looking for anybody willing to try it out.’ And you’d be surprised the kind of scope of people I get to come in to play.”

Those bi-weekly drop-ins, London said, have proven to be successful, showcasing a need for more opportunities like it.

“I have had easily 150 new people at my table,” London said, “which shows that in a city this size there is an outcry for it.”

Jackie MacLeod is one of London’s players. She got into the game a year ago, and said it can be difficult to get started. (Jackson Weaver/CBC)

Jackie MacLeod, a recruitment administrator and new player, agrees.

MacLeod said she first became interested in playing Dungeons and Dragons more than 10 years ago, as friends of hers at the time were playing, but she didn’t feel comfortable joining their games, or starting herself. 

“If you don’t know someone who knows the game, it can be really challenging to get started,” MacLeod said.

It wasn’t until years later that she stumbled on Dungeons & Flagons, a similar introductory D&D experience, through a Good Robot Brewing.

Players from varied backgrounds

It was her search for something more consistent and structured, for other players at a similar level, that brought her to London’s table.

Both London and MacLeod stressed the various backgrounds present at these games, as they’re often filled with people all searching for a space to get started.

“I have lawyers, doctors, mechanics, janitors, the whole spectrum comes into play games, people I wouldn’t have expected, to be honest,” London said.

It’s a development he’s glad to see, and one he says he hopes continues.

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