Old School vs. Critical Role Generation: What's the Future for Dungeons and Dragons?

Old School vs. Critical Role Generation: What's the Future for Dungeons and Dragons?

Old School vs. Critical Role Generation

In the aftermath of the reactions to the first trailer of the film, what is the future for Dungeons and Dragons and what does it mean to be a player of this game in 2022? How its community is being changed by the media exposure of Critical Role, Stranger Things and the new film Dungeons & Dragons: Honor of the Thieves?

In 2020, due to pandemic and lockdown, Dungeons & Dragons has had a massive enlargement of the player base, force play on virtual platforms. But it is 2022 that is consecrated as the year of D&D, increasingly in the limelight in mass products and in the collective imagination. This is not a sudden and impromptu event, this conquered popularity is the result of a series of factors, which involve a decade of successful marketing choices inside and outside one's area of ​​belonging and the determination in wanting to establish itself as a herald of the playful world.

The arrival of the film Dungeons & Dragons: The honor of the Thieves, and the consequent online discussions are therefore only the last piece of a meticulously constructed mosaic that has had (and will have ) as a direct consequence of welcoming new players into the community. In this article, let's try to reflect on Dungeons & Dragons and the relationship that this name has in relation to its fans, old and new,

Dugeons and Dragons Essential Kit is available for purchase online.

What is the future for Dungeons and Dragons? 2022 is Year One

A step away from its half-century of age, Dungeons & Dragons is a game that in the collective imagination, for most of its existence and especially in the United States, has been associated with a series of controversial characters and events, which often negatively and painfully affected both the image of the game but also the lives of many players.

It is no coincidence that only a few weeks ago the general conversation revolved around Stranger Things, the character of Eddie Munson and the "satanic panic", that is the unfounded controversy that associated role-playing games, mental plagiarism, heavy metal and Satanism in the 80s and early 90s. Eddie's character also gave way to a discussion among fans about the collective perception of this character, the most beloved of the fourth season, nowadays and as some pointed out how in the real world such a character, in which so many fans have identified themselves, has never received more than so many sympathies.

Stranger Things, the boom of Critical Role and actual play on online platforms are all consequences of this social change that sees Dungeons & Dragons (and in general all role-playing games) a fun and meaningful activity, to share with everyone.

This momentous moment in the life of the game, which will culminate in 2023 with the arrival at the cinema of Dungeons & Dragons: The Honor of the Thieves, brings with it new opportunity, but also a heated discussion within its populous community, about the game and how it is understood and represented.

What is the future for Dungeons and Dragons? Two generations compared

The role-playing universe is vast and varied, with games of all kinds able to appeal to different players. There is consensus on one thing: whether it is BECMI or Fifth Edition, anyone who has started role-playing games has played Dungeons & Dragons at least once in their life.

Who is passionate about D&D he then chose his own path, from those who stayed for years with the same group of friends, to those who passed from one group to another, to those who started their adventure in the Adventure League circuit, to those who stayed with the old editions, from the first to the fourth (yes, we exist) and obviously who plays the Fifth. This internal fragmentation between players animates the community with a playful parochialism that is unmatched in other RPG fanbases.

In recent years, however, we have witnessed a democratization of the gaming world thanks to the penetration of the internet and social networks, a greater representation of pop culture in cinema and on TV and the rise of Critical Role and other shows, both foreign and Italian.

In all this during the pandemic and the very hard period of lockdown Dungeons & Dragons and the role-playing game also had a function of refuge, comfort and socialization mechanism in a moment of forced cancellation of social contacts.

Those who do gatekeeping often do so out of resentment and because they perceive that the community it is no longer a refuge for kindred souls but is becoming something broader and sometimes very different. In fact, with the arrival of new players, new sensibilities and ideas also arrive, often in contrast with the more traditional visions or with the inveterate habits of the old players.

Dungeons & Dragons: The honor of Thieves, adverse reactions

An emblematic case of an adverse reaction from the "old guard" concerns a hot topic of the moment: the trailer for The Honor of the Thieves. In the boundless sea of ​​social media, every D & D enthusiast felt compelled to speak out about him, more or less loudly, making us aware of how each frame had exalted or indignant. Although the trailer was received with generally positive reactions, a fringe of fans felt extremely disappointed and frustrated.

The main criticisms concern the lack of fidelity to the rules of the game, the tone of the film too light-hearted and the total absence of the metaludic component, in The Gamers style. Given that "haters gonna hate" and expressing an opinion on a film that has not yet been released based on less than two minutes of editing is a sterile exercise, below we try to argue why in our opinion this kind of criticism is a missed opportunity.

Let's start with the “against the regulation” scenes that the trailer would be guilty of showing. The Stone of Scandal is a scene in which the druid, played by Sophia Lillis, uses the Wild Shape to transform into a bear owl. Wild Shape, by regulation, allows the druid to transform into an animal-type creature, such as a wolf or a bear, while the bear owl is a monstrous creature and therefore not allowed by a literal interpretation of the rules. A question of guesswork that however has sparked numerous controversies, also calling into question the game designers of Wizards of the Coast, who instead endorsed the creative choice of the film, and which demonstrates on the one hand the love and attention to detail of the community and on the other, however, an excessive zeal and a strong polemic, almost Sheldonian vis.

Dungeons & Dragons is first of all a shared game, a choral narration: the possibility of changing the rules, the so-called Zero Rule, has always been part of the DNA of this game since its inception, already in the first edition of Gygax, and has been repeated in different editions of the game. Each D&D table has its own house rules and we bet that even the most hardened critics of the bear owl have modified parts of the rules to meet their gaming and storytelling needs.

There is also the so-called "Rule of Cool" , which can be translated as the rule of coolness, a philosophy that states that if an action is particularly cool and surprising, this can be approved by the DM without hesitation of any kind. And the bear owl, a majestic hybrid between raptor and urside, is definitely cool.

At the center of the game experience there must always be fun and understanding between the Dungeon Master and players, with the aim of create something memorable all together, even sacrificing a few rules at times.

If you play a druid in my campaign, I'll let you turn into an owlbear. #dnd #wotcstaff

- Christopher Perkins (@ChrisPerkinsDnD) July 22, 2022

Another consideration on the D&D film concerns film production, in particular the language and limits of the cinematographic medium, which is different from that of TV series and videogames.

If we look to the past, telling Dungeons & Dragons is not an easy task, before getting to this film we must remember the previous films , all united by unsatisfactory results. The choice of staging an action comedy full of elements that seem to have jumped out of the pages of the various manuals, seems to us a good way of mediating the intransigence of the fans and the lightness of the general public, in search of a film of pure entertainment. Another limit that a film imposes is that of its duration, which usually is around 2 hours and 20 minutes and which imposes precise narrative choices, aimed at making the public understand in a short time every aspect of the story (plot, narrative arcs characters, motivations and so on). TV series and video games have more dilated times and can afford more experiments supported by different tones and atmospheres.

Finally, many were expecting a film rich in metagame elements, which would follow the film 2002 indie The Gamers, an account of the game sessions of a group of friends, which included both the actual narration of the adventure from the point of view of the characters, and the chronicle of their game at the table. This film quickly became a cult among roleplayers all over the world, because it staged all the typical elements of a session and narrative tropes, familiar to anyone who has attended even a few sessions in their life.

Because of the different gameplay and metagame elements The Gamers is for some the perfect example of an RPG movie; however, a similar solution, in our opinion, would have been too self-referential: in order to really appreciate that film, knowledge of the context and specific language on which the whole story is based is in fact required and would therefore have been unsuitable for the general public. We can argue that Paramount and eOne wanted to play it safe, preferring a more proven approach rather than a more experimental one, but not that the iconic elements of Dungeons & Dragons are used and represented without respect for the source material. br>
This brings us to the final point of our reflection, which will be the consequences for the game after the release of the film.

The importance of Dungeons & Dragons: The honor of the Thieves

Dungeons & Dragons: The honor of the Thieves will represent for fantasy and role-playing games a historical moment comparable to what happened in the past for two other important products protagonists of pop culture. We refer to the films of The Lord of the Rings by Peter Jackson and the TV series of Game of Thrones. Both of these works, whether you like them or not, have had the merit of having allowed our world to be more visible and known and consequently also accessible and accepted by skeptics, suspicious and simply by those who had never had the opportunity to approach these themes. .

If The Honor of the Thieves is successful, a new generation of fans will arrive with their contribution of new ideas, stories and solutions able to enrich the world of Dungeons & Dragons games, which, in its almost 50 years, has always demonstrated longevity and resilience by interpreting the changes in society within the gaming world and beyond.

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