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How Dungeons And Dragons Somehow Became More Popular Than Ever

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BURBANK, Calif. — There was something about Dungeons & Dragons that spoke to Mario Alvarenga in a deep way. He tried it for the first time five years ago — never mind that he was not a teen, as most newbies are, but an adult. While experiencing the role-playing game, he could imagine scenes down to the tiniest detail: the bump of cobblestones on a street, the smell of baked goods in a market, the coldness of the wind. The boredom in his life melted away.

He joined one regular group, then two, then four. Soon, he was leading games as a Dungeon Master at his local game store. Alvarenga, who is 31 and works full time as a caregiver, quickly found his entire nonworking life overtaken by elves, gnomes, dwarves and wizards.

“If you asked me to add up how many hours I spend thinking about Dungeons & Dragons, I’d be too embarrassed to answer,” he says. His only regret? That he didn’t start playing sooner.
 
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Yes, D&D is back. But it’s cool now (sort of). And legions are into it, including an unprecedented number of adult and female players, attracted by a popular recent revamp and new online playing options. It’s the ultimate sign that nerd culture is now mainstream.

Vin Diesel, Jon Favreau, Drew Barrymore, Dwayne Johnson, James Franco, Stephen Colbert, Anderson Cooper, Ta-Nehisi Coates: The list of celebrities who have “come out” about rolling the 20-sided dice is as long as a wizard’s beard. “Game of Thrones” writer George R.R. Martin first flexed his storytelling muscles as a young Dungeon Master, as did the showrunners on the HBO series. Joe Manganiello is so obsessed that he wrote a D&D movie script. The game has been on TV shows including “Big Bang Theory” and “Futurama.” Next month will see the release of a “Stranger Things” tie-in D&D starter set.

 

The game’s popularity has waxed and waned over its 45-year history. But in 2018, its developers, Wizards of the Coast, sold more units than ever before.

“If you told me that a game that has a 328-page rule book would have grown to the size it’s grown in the past five years, I wouldn’t have believed it,” says Mike Mearls, the game’s lead developer. “How in the world of computers and video and mobile games does this stand out?”

 

Essentially, D&D is collaborative storytelling. Players pretend to be fantasy characters who embark on a group adventure. They battle monsters, explore terrain and roll the dice to decide outcomes. A Dungeon Master guides the narrative.

D&D has come a long way since Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson invented it in 1974 as an alternative to miniature-military war gaming. No longer is it a game to hide out with in Mom’s basement.

Today, people play it at bar and restaurant pop-up events such as “Drinks and Dragons” in Philadelphia, and “Orcs! Orcs! Orcs!” in Portland, Ore. They pay $2,650 per person per weekend to play it in Caverswall Castle in Staffordshire, England. They swell the ranks of the D&D Meetup groups from Tokyo (37 members) to Kolkata, India (501 members).

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Clockwise from far left: David Wolkovich, Doug Luberts, Molly Becker, Kris Huelgas, game leader Mario Alvarenga, Carlos Ortega and Alexander Lopez play Dungeons & Dragons at Geeky Teas in Burbank, Calif., on Saturday. (Iris Schneider/For The Washington Post)

During the “Satanic Panic” of the 1980s, D&D got a bad rap. Religious groups who associated it with the occult and devil worship feared the game’s power over impressionable young minds. When two teenagers, both avid players, committed suicide, they launched a campaign against it.

 

Today, however, the warhammer has swung the opposite way: D&D is considered wholesome, therapeutic.

While parents of one of those teens sued a school principal in 1983 for allowing her son to play, teachers now organize students into D&D after-school groups and summer camps. Some therapists use D&D to teach autistic kids social skills. And when a UCLA researcher adapted the game for a third-grade class, the students improved in areas including math, reading comprehension and conflict management.

Casting about for something he and his 11-year-old son, Gustavo, might do together for fun, automotive product developer Jeff Moss, 50, suggested D&D, his old junior-high hobby.

Within days, Gustavo was quoting verbatim from the rule books. Within weeks, he and Dad were logging six hours every Saturday at a D&D table at Boyle Heights Arts Conservatory in Los Angeles.

 

“The Dungeon Master’s describing the final blow to get rid of a monster or whatever. And I’m looking at this kid’s face and it’s just lighting up,” Moss recalls. “There’s no computer screen, but he’s visualizing everything going on. I thought, this is amazing. So I made it a priority for him to play.”

As Moss puts it: “Nerd culture was not cool back in 1982. You’d get beat up for it. Now, everybody knows that the nerds are the ones that hire you.”

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Doug Luberts playing D&D at Geeky Teas in Burbank, Calif. (Iris Schneider/For The Washington Post)
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A D&D dice box at Geeky Teas. (Iris Schneider/For The Washington Post)
 

More people are playing, partly, because it has never been easier. D&D used to be a nitpicky, number-crunchy affair. Then, in 2014, Wizards of the Coast released a new edition — the beloved 5th edition — that is more streamlined, more spontaneous and less rule-driven. As the longtime L.A.-based player Barry Thomas Drake, 58, explains: “No more arguing about the precise number of mouse hairs you need for a certain spell.”

 

The company also made it more inclusive. Gone is the rule mandating female characters’ strength be less than males’. Gone is the sexist artwork — no more armored bikinis, no more monsters with breasts, no more topless ladies (unless her character really, really calls for it).

Characters come in a rainbow of skin colors and body types and sexual orientations — like the wood elves who identify as non-binary.

“You could,” the “Players Handbook” suggests, “play a female character who presents herself as a man, a man who feels trapped in a female body, or a bearded female dwarf who hates being mistaken for a male.”

Women, in particular, love the new edition. D&D was originally a nerdy guy thing, emphasis on guy. Yet the number of female players is at 38 percent and climbing, according to Wizards of the Coast.

 

Their involvement is driven by Web series such as “Girls, Guts, Glory.” Conceived by eight young L.A. actresses, it started as a way for them to hone their improv skills and get together for “scheduled bonding time.” None had much prior experience with D&D, and early episodes were met with cynicism.

 

“There were rude comments,” says one of them, Kim Hidalgo.

“Like, ‘Oh, they’re just models that Wizards of the Coast hired,’ ” Erika Fermina says. “Or, ‘There’s no way they actually play. No one plays D&D who looks like that.’ Someone compared us to the Monkees. A manufactured group.”

“A girl band,” Alice Greczyn says.

The trolling has since been replaced by devotion. One mom in coastal Georgia confesses that not a slumber party goes by when her 12-year-old and her friends don’t tune in.

[‘Growing up, we were the weird ones’: The wizarding, mermaiding, cosplaying haven of Epic Nerd Camp]

These days, even the most surreal of feats is possible: playing D&D as a career. Popular podcasts such as “The Adventure Zone” and “Critical Role” have turned anonymous players into Internet royalty. “Critical Role” began as a group of professional voice actors in Los Angeles goofing around with D&D in one another’s living rooms. It’s become a multiplatform series with an audience of half a million people a week.

 

Satine Phoenix started Los Angeles’s largest D&D Meetup group. She’s now Wizards of the Coast’s official community manager for the 40 million people who play the game worldwide. She travels the globe spreading the D&D gospel, organizing charity events, hosting Web series, fielding “social navigation” questions from Dungeon Masters and generally “orchestrating all of the experiences.”

Phoenix, who has played since age 8, cites D&D as her “longest relationship.”

“It’s a dream come true. And I didn’t even know I had this dream. Didn’t know it was an option,” she says.

Technology has been a game changer. In 2019, people play D&D by video conference, via Skype and Discord. They use dice-rolling apps, fill out online character sheets and draw maps on laptops and iPads instead of on graph paper. They live-stream on Twitch. When they can’t make it to a physical tabletop, they log on to “virtual tabletops” such as Fantasy Grounds and Roll20 to crawl through dungeons with players half a world away. Here, Dungeon Masters hire themselves out like itinerant knights — they’ll lead your campaign for $10 to $20 a head.

 

“Gone is the era of ‘I can’t find a group,’ ” Phoenix says. “Now, it’s ‘what style of game do I want?’ ”

But still, as in 1974, all you really need for a good game of D&D are paper, pencil and dice.

“When you’re at a table, no matter what age you are, it’s invigorating,” Phoenix says. “Even if it’s just for those couple of hours, you feel . . . you feel.”

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“If you asked me to add up how many hours I spend thinking about Dungeons & Dragons, I’d be too embarrassed to answer,” says Mario Alvarenga, left, who leads games as a Dungeon Master in Burbank, Calif. (Iris Schneider/For The Washington Post)

On a balmy Saturday night, a dozen people are sitting around a D&D table at Boyle Heights Arts Conservatory. Frank Contreras, 18, who typically plays two back-to-back sessions here every weekend, says he likes the “possibilities” D&D stories offer. “Our world, the real world,” he adds, “is kind of dark.” He’d just finished decapitating an ogre.

With D&D, a quiet, gray-haired accountant on disability like Leigh-Anne Anderson might reinvent herself as a sexy barbarian criminal enforcer suffused with rage. Anderson, 50, plays in Contreras’s evening group.

“I have a picture,” she says, unfolding a drawing of a buxom woman with long, flowing red braids. “That’s me.”

For their Dungeon Master, Mike Arellano, it’s less about escaping the real world than building an alternate version of this one. Arellano maintains a home library of more than 1,000 D&D-related books — on the history of China, Africa, Egypt, on coinage and trade and castles. “Because you never know when you might need to describe the proper layout of a burial vault.”

For pretty much everyone, the game is about connection. Across town at Mario Alvarenga’s table at Burbank’s Geeky Teas, analytical chemist Kristi Halbig, 40, admits that playing D&D forces her to “talk to real human beings.” She’s painfully shy and could otherwise spend her entire day staring at a computer.

Sitting next to her, 17-year-old Jacob Whaley concurs: “My dad says, ‘I don’t understand what it is. But I’m happy you’re hanging out with people.’ ”

 

 

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That's very cool.

 

I'd think with all the emphasis on superhero movies that Champions could become a phenomenon like that. When I've gone onto Twitch, YouTube, etc. to try to find some group playing a game, or even seeing an archived game, I've come up empty.

 

I've got one kid who plays in two D&D groups over Discord. But she has a private place where she can do it without interruption. When I've tried doing anything over DIscord, I'm always having to shut it down quickly either for background noise from other people who I can't control or being called away from the computer completely.

 

Could we find out if anyone here knows someone who is even marginally famous who plays? If we could get that person into a game with some mature people who do some high-spirited roleplaying on camera, maybe that could turn into a thing.

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I know an astronaut (he was a grad student at the time) who played in a Fantasy Hero campaign I ran, but that was ... early 1990s.  Superheroes as a genre is near the bottom of my personal preferences list, unfortunately.

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  The world wide crossover popularity of Game of Thrones had to have had some influence on the resurgence of D&D, but I also believe that the pendulum has just swung back to people wanting face to face personal interaction in gaming and away from individual solitary computer games.

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On 4/24/2019 at 6:38 PM, archer said:

That's very cool.

 

I'd think with all the emphasis on superhero movies that Champions could become a phenomenon like that. When I've gone onto Twitch, YouTube, etc. to try to find some group playing a game, or even seeing an archived game, I've come up empty.

 

 

I don't think Champions will ever become a phenomenon like D&D, at least not with Hero System build whatever you want rules. There are just too many options and rules to learn to build your own characters or to use pre-made characters. It is so hard to compare one character to another so people have a hard time "visualizing" their own character and the other characters. We all know how a munchkin build can ruin a game, and those can happen accidentally if you have new players making characters for the first time. Too many options can be debilitating. Damage classes, 1/2 damage classes,  1/4 limitations, and on and on. I love it, but 99% of people just wanting to play don't. 

 

D&D is easy.  Roll dice for stats, Pick a race, Pick a class. Write it all down. Get some weapons and gear and you are done. From the books you know what your race is like, what their culture is, what their history is. For classes, you know what they do, what is cool about them, and what powers and abilities you'll have as you level up. It is all right there for them to see and imagine and visualize. 

 

This also makes it easy for GM's to plan adventures and campaigns. 4 5th level Players? Cool. I can make an adventures for that (or just buy and run one). 

 

but 4 400 pt characters in Champions can be vastly different in powers and abilities. Some powers can make an adventure pointless or finished in minutes. Some builds will be killed before another similar point build is even hurt. 

 

Maybe if someone, someday, made a Champions game that had Classes (Brick, Energy Projector, Mentalist, etc...) with pre-built powers and pre-built power progression (yes, levels. I know many people here hate that), then maybe Champions could gain more widespread popularity, and do stuff like mentioned in the article, but until then, it is not going to happen. 

 

Set classes, levels and powers allows GMs to plan correctly, it allows for adventures, campaigns and settings that can be played by every group worldwide (which in turns creates a community as people can discuss and laugh about how their group did the campaign compared to another person's group who they just met). So until Champions puts out a set of rules like that, I don't think it will ever be even 1/8th as popular as D&D. 

 

 

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5 hours ago, mallet said:

So until Champions puts out a set of rules like that, I don't think it will ever be even 1/8th as popular as D&D. 

 

That is pretty much it.

 

Every RPG has two distinct sets of rules. Set 1 is the system build rules (for Characters, creatures, NPC's, magical devices etc). Set 2 is rules for the game in actual play. 

 

D&D and similar games has the Set 1 rules (Chargen in the Players Handbook, Creatures/NPC's in the various Monster Manuals and treasure in the Dungeon Master Guide.    And they have Set 2 rules in the Players Handbook with expanded items follow on books.   What they do not release is the actual system rules, that I call the System Meta-rules, that they use to write the Set 1 and Set 2 rules. 

 

Hero on the other hand Hero plops the System Meta-rules in the buyers lap and says "go for it".  The problem is that it takes a lot of work to turn System Meta-rules into a playable game.  

 

My suggestion has been this.  For Fantasy Hero create a Set 1 and Set 2 rules using Hero for a "generic fantasy world".  Just like D&D and Pathfinders introduction set worlds.  When you compare the actual setting information and starter adventures for D&D and PF, they are pretty  much the same thing and the village/adventure is easily used in either game. 

 

So build a starter fantasy game with predesigned Archetypes , predesigned races and predesigned abilities to mirror the Classes, Feats, Class Abilities and Spells and so on of D&D and PF.  Build these predesigns to mimic up to about the 3rd level.   Split the predesigns into three groups and tie them three introduction adventures.  Group 1 is available to use in Adventure 1,  Group 2 becomes available after Adventure 2 and the Group 3 for Adventure 3.  Include several "example" PC's that can be used as guides or played as PreGens.

 

As I write this I can see members of the long time Hero core fandom's heads exploding and convulsing on the ground with foaming mouths at the thought of anything connected with Hero being prebuilt.  But the target is NEW players. 

 

Break Fantasy Complete into a book divided into 3 parts.  Part 1 contains what I described above with a last section that talks about how the rules and items they have been using were all built using the rules in Part 2 and that they can customize everything and that the build annotation for everything in Part 1 is located in Appendix A and that they should read Part 2 and see how to build stuff.  Insert FHC pages 5 to 152 as Part 2, Creating things with Fantasy Hero Complete (with minor editing to reflect the existence of Part 1) and the remainder of FHC complete as Part 3, Playing Fantasy Hero Complete.  Add a couple of pages at the end of Part 1 to talk about how you can make changes to the existing prebuilds in Part 1 with a short example using one simple spell and telling the reader that reading Part 2 will show them how and then attach an Appendix with all of the build annotation form what was provided in Part 1.

 

Now you actually have a book that can be called Complete.   A new to Hero player/GM can pick it up and actually play a game "out of the box".  Once they have PLAYED, they then can move on and build their own cool stuff.  Win, win, win, win.....

 

The same can be done with Champs.

 

The adventures do not need to be elaborate, just well written enough to allow play. 

 

That is the key, get them PLAYING and then introduce the ability to customize.  

 

If they do not PLAY there is no incentive to tackle the core build rules. 

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5 hours ago, mallet said:

 

I don't think Champions will ever become a phenomenon like D&D, at least not with Hero System build whatever you want rules. There are just too many options and rules to learn to build your own characters or to use pre-made characters. It is so hard to compare one character to another so people have a hard time "visualizing" their own character and the other characters. We all know how a munchkin build can ruin a game, and those can happen accidentally if you have new players making characters for the first time. Too many options can be debilitating. Damage classes, 1/2 damage classes,  1/4 limitations, and on and on. I love it, but 99% of people just wanting to play don't. 

D&D had about 10 yr jump on Champions

LotR and The Hobbit were very much in the for front for the mainstream
Comic book supers where still a kid thing for the most part

5 hours ago, mallet said:

D&D is easy.  Roll dice for stats, Pick a race, Pick a class. Write it all down. Get some weapons and gear and you are done. From the books you know what your race is like, what their culture is, what their history is. For classes, you know what they do, what is cool about them, and what powers and abilities you'll have as you level up. It is all right there for them to see and imagine and visualize. 

if you like cookie cutter, sure go that route
nothing says you cannot lift your concept from other media
and with the internet now you can search billions of images or get in contact with an artist and discribe your concept

 

5 hours ago, mallet said:

This also makes it easy for GM's to plan adventures and campaigns. 4 5th level Players? Cool. I can make an adventures for that (or just buy and run one). 

as the GM you can approve or disapprove a character
I have blindsided GMs with tactics and have blown through adventures with prebuilt characters

 

5 hours ago, mallet said:

 

but 4 400 pt characters in Champions can be vastly different in powers and abilities. Some powers can make an adventure pointless or finished in minutes. Some builds will be killed before another similar point build is even hurt

it is your job as DM to say what is a valid worthy character,either over or under powered

 

5 hours ago, mallet said:

Maybe if someone, someday, made a Champions game that had Classes (Brick, Energy Projector, Mentalist, etc...) with pre-built powers and pre-built power progression (yes, levels. I know many people here hate that), then maybe Champions could gain more widespread popularity, and do stuff like mentioned in the article, but until then, it is not going to happen.

already done with Character Creation Cards

 

5 hours ago, mallet said:

Set classes, levels and powers allows GMs to plan correctly, it allows for adventures, campaigns and settings that can be played by every group worldwide (which in turns creates a community as people can discuss and laugh about how their group did the campaign compared to another person's group who they just met).

again this up to the DM to validate before play begins

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29 minutes ago, Beast said:

D&D had about 10 yr jump on Champions

LotR and The Hobbit were very much in the for front for the mainstream
Comic book supers where still a kid thing for the most part

 

Not really.

 

D&D sold 1000 copies in 74, 3000 in 75 (in accordance with wiki, which could be wrong:nonp:).  My local game shop first heard about it and put it on the shelf in 77.  Wargames (microarmor, Napoleonics, ancients) were the popular games back then. This was in Texas.  It was after I started playing D&D that I heard about the LotR and the Hobbit and read them at that time (78ish and I had to special order them through intra-library loan).  Champions came out in 81.  Dissemination of product in the 70's and 80's wasn't like today.  Back then you had to actually see a copy or read about it in a hardcopy catalog/magazine/flyer.  The first version of D&D I played actually required you to have and use a copy of the medieval wargame rules called "Chainmail".  A good percentage of the gamers at the shop didn't like Chainmail so they didn't give D&D a try. 

 

So while the original D&D did come out earlier than Champs, that doesn't really mean as much as it would have today, or even ten years ago.  Even conventions were more limited and generally were aimed at something else than gaming itself. 

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2 minutes ago, Spence said:

 

Not really.

 

D&D sold 1000 copies in 74, 3000 in 75 (in accordance with wiki, which could be wrong:nonp:).  My local game shop first heard about it and put it on the shelf in 77.  Wargames (microarmor, Napoleonics, ancients) were the popular games back then. This was in Texas.  It was after I started playing D&D that I heard about the LotR and the Hobbit and read them at that time (78ish and I had to special order them through intra-library loan).  Champions came out in 81.  Dissemination of product in the 70's and 80's wasn't like today.  Back then you had to actually see a copy or read about it in a hardcopy catalog/magazine/flyer.  The first version of D&D I played actually required you to have and use a copy of the medieval wargame rules called "Chainmail".  A good percentage of the gamers at the shop didn't like Chainmail so they didn't give D&D a try. 

 

So while the original D&D did come out earlier than Champs, that doesn't really mean as much as it would have today, or even ten years ago.  Even conventions were more limited and generally were aimed at something else than gaming itself. 

77 is when I got into the game using printouts from CalTech and that was a clone that restarted it's universe every new school yr(this later became "The Complete Warlock's Tower" game system
I was in HS at the time and the print outs came from an older student's brother
it was pretty large group who played during lunch in the computer science classroom
I found the Last Grenadier in Burbank Ca and for the base box then the rest of the books by the end of the school yr in 78
I read the Hobbit in 78 as a book report in summer school(it was assigned, not my choice, the only time I went to a catholic school)

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20 hours ago, mallet said:

Maybe if someone, someday, made a Champions game that had Classes (Brick, Energy Projector, Mentalist, etc...) with pre-built powers and pre-built power progression (yes, levels. I know many people here hate that), then maybe Champions could gain more widespread popularity, and do stuff like mentioned in the article, but until then, it is not going to happen. 

 

14 hours ago, Beast said:

already done with Character Creation Cards

 

again this up to the DM to validate before play begins

 

There's also the Superhero Gallery from the Champions genre book (and its seperate expansion).

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Mostly D&D is popular now because a certain outsider perspective on Geek Culture became popular, and D&D is familiar to those people while other games are not.  So it gets prominent mention and depiction in entertainment media such as TV shows, movies, etc.  I'm not confident that it is more popular now than before, I mean toy stores and book stores were carrying D&D stuff in the 1980s.  But its experienced a resurgence in popularity.  WOTC didn't use some clever technique to get it to this point so much as ride a wave of cultural sensibilities.

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The current resurgence in popularity of D&D has been helped by this weird interest in watching the game streamed online. It somehow became a spectator sport, and maybe having one or two celebrities (actors) associated with the game helped that a little bit as well. If there were regular live twitch streams of Champions being played that were of the caliber of, say, Critical Role, then maybe it would pick up some momentum. It would at least get some exposure.

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1 hour ago, zslane said:

The current resurgence in popularity of D&D has been helped by this weird interest in watching the game streamed online. It somehow became a spectator sport, and maybe having one or two celebrities (actors) associated with the game helped that a little bit as well. If there were regular live twitch streams of Champions being played that were of the caliber of, say, Critical Role, then maybe it would pick up some momentum. It would at least get some exposure.

I seem to be of the minority that never go into this.  The times I have tried to stream " the best mostest excitingest stream in history" I was simply bored to tears and went to do something more exciting like laundry.

 

Obviously people like them, but not all.

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5th edition really simplified the game to the point where normals could play it.

 

Additionally, the original players had enough time to grow up, raise families and have kids that were now old enough to play it with them.

 

Add to that the absolute smashing success that Critical Role turned into and it exploded beyond anyone's expectations.

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Some other factors for your consideration on the enduring appeal of D&D:

 

- The published D&D products always seemed to be first-rate quality during its period of release. Even with first edition that came out in the 1970s, the hardcover and softcover books were excellent quality. The cover and interior art featured some of the best known artists in the genre (e.g. Erol Otus, Larry Elmore). D&D products always seemed more readily available to review and purchase also. My first reading of a D&D book was not in a game or toy store, but in the book section of a department store (Horne's) in downtown Pittsburgh. D&D books could also be readily found in toy stores and book stores (e.g. Toys R Us, B. Dalton, Waldenbooks when they existed in the marketplace). By contrast, I wasn't aware of the superhero RPG until the mid-1980s when my local game store featured Villains & Vigilantes. Champions wasn't even featured at that store, and my brother came across it by word-of-mouth and went to a store in the next town over to purchase Champions (Third Edition) as a gift for me.

 

- D&D was able to reach a much wider audience that other companies. It had the 1980s cartoon, a comic book series published by DC, and was supported by various fantasy novel series (e.g. Dragonlance) that generated interest in the product. Years later, many of this is considered nostalgia for players to re-introduce to their kids. Yes, the D&D theatrical and direct-to-video films were awful, but at this point I think it's considered camp where, "they're so bad that it's actually good to laugh at." Also, being mentioned periodically in popular culture (e.g. Big Bang Theory) certainly helped as free-advertising.

 

- The popularity of the fantasy genre in mainstream film and television and computer games most likely kept genre interest going to enable players/DMs to bring in new players. The popularity of Warcraft, Warlords Battlecry, Heroes of Might & Magic, Lord of the Rings trilogy, Willow, and so on likely made it easier to recruit new players who may have been gun-shy at first but those mediums probably made D&D seem more appealing. Although they've been around a long time, superhero movies didn't seem to really pick up as a recurring theme until the first X-Men film came out (outside of the first two Superman films with Christopher Reeve and Batman films with Michael Keaton).

 

Could Champions, or the superhero genre in general, be as popular and enduring in the RPG world as D&D? It's hard to say, even in retrospect. Champions had a comic series for a while published by Eclipse Comics, but it was a small, independent company and distribution was limited. For me, Champions issues were hard to come by at the comic store. Having the aforementioned factors certainly could have helped Hero Games expand to a wider audience and generate/sustain interest. DC Heroes (Mayfair Games) and Marvel FASERIP (TSR) faded away when licensing agreements ended by the early 1990s, which definitely hindered things since both had mainstream connections, especially since later RPGs were poorly designed and/or supported and ended soon after release (e.g. DC Universe by West End Games). Not sure why DC Adventures that used the Mutants & Masterminds game engine ended so quickly in terms of licensing agreements and publishing between Green Ronin and DC Comics since the products were first rate and is a highly playable system. 

 

Given the popularity of superhero movies and television, it's certainly possible and there are certainly superhero games that are out there trying to tap into that market (e.g. Mutants & Masterminds, ICONS, Champions, and Mighty Protectors).

 

If the product is high quality like the Champions 6th Edition sourcebook was and marketed right, Champions Now could help revitalize the brand along a similar way Mighty Protectors (Villains & Vigilantes) and Prowlers & Paragons for its current fan base and branch outward. If it's a disappointment like Fantasy Hero Complete was in terms of graphic design, then a great opportunity was probably missed.

 

Anyway, just some food for thought towards the discussion.

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The streaming has been a major part of it, it is a form of guerilla marketing. Pax is a very big billboard as well. WOTC found a small group of passionate, and talented folks, and gave them a budget.😲 so they could back the Aquisisions Inc brand, and hook into cosplay etc...

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On 6/11/2019 at 8:39 AM, fdw3773 said:

If the product is high quality like the Champions 6th Edition sourcebook was and marketed right, Champions Now could help revitalize the brand along a similar way Mighty Protectors (Villains & Vigilantes) and Prowlers & Paragons for its current fan base and branch outward. If it's a disappointment like Fantasy Hero Complete was in terms of graphic design, then a great opportunity was probably missed.

 

As I see it, D&D has the following advantages:

 

  • Name recognition.  D&D has by far the most name recognition out of any RPG and is, still, in 2019 A.D. synonymous with paper and pencil roleplaying.  In the marketing progression of repetition -> association -> trust, D&D is farthest along and is therefore most likely to be tried.  I doubt most normals could even name a second RPG.
  • Production values.  Even the worst D&D publications have had high quality writing and graphic design throughout. 
  • Support.  There is no shortage of modules, expansions, settings, and sourcebooks available for D&D.
  • Low barrier to entry.  D&D is easy to start playing.  Here is your character sheet and a d20, which goblin do you hit?  Having played 5e D&D, I can say that it is not, in fact, much simpler than Hero once you get into it.  Reactions, actions, saves, spell slots, specials, armor class, paths, XP, it's dizzying.  And 5e is simplified!  But it's easy to start in a way that Hero's highly customizable character creation process is not.  (Don't even get me started on Pathfinder.  That s--t is unplayable.)
  • Player base.  Related to all of the above, D&D has the critical mass of users that makes it easier to find a good group to play with.  RPGs are not a solo game, after all.

Hero loses on every single point.

 

I've argued this before, but my approach to popularizing Hero would go like this.  (It's going to be expensive.)

 

  1. License Marvel comics characters.  It's mind boggling to me that there is no Marvel superhero RPG that's giving D&D a run for its money.  Take a property that is enjoying unbelievable popularity right now and pair it with the one game system that can handle it.
  2. Quality.  We have to invest in copywriting, art, layout, and design.  Publication standards in 2019 are just way ahead of any Hero publication in the past two decades.
  3. Hide the system.  Hero is an RPG system and an RPG-system-creation-system, and the latter is what scares people.  List powers as "Optic Blast Level 12", not "12d6 Energy Blast No Spread 0 END Not vs. Ruby (-1/4)".  95% of the time all you need to know is you roll 12d6 for damage.
  4. Simplify.  I love the SPD chart, but save it for the "Advanced" game.  Likewise with the other figured stats (but keep Stunning).  Ditch most Advantages and Limitations.  Don't publish Entangle with half a dozen specific advantages, publish three Spider-Man web powers: Entangle, TK, and ranged Blast.
  5. Make it into a board or card game.  I wasn't kidding about simplification.  Distill Hero into a board game or card game that any kid can pick up.  Save the full power of the Hero system for "Advanced" expansions that are advertised at the end of the rulebook ("Pick up the Advanced game and make your own superhero!!")
  6. Support.  Publish some modules FFS.  Codevelop an online version of the simple and advanced games to make it easier to pick up players.  I can play Catan online.  Hero?  Nope.

 

Anyway that's my approach.  I'm aware that it would require a level of resources that the Hero System has basically never enjoyed and that it's a pipe dream for this reason.  Does anyone have any embellishments?

 

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I think the real key, and Old Man nails it above, is that  making Hero popular requires not marketing Hero, but marketing games which use the Hero system.  We've moved towards that in some ways.  The Super-Power Database, the FH Grimoire. But we're putting the system first, and the game second.

 

I can remember reading Mutants and Masterminds, and thinking "this is just Hero dumbed down".  The damage save mechanic was elegant and creative, but the powers were just a stripped-down Hero model, much like building characters from a USPD style list.  "Basic Champions" with just the plain vanilla powers, "Advanced Champions" with more powers, advantages and limitations (maybe we call them "customizers" - you can add this to an attack power for an added cost per level, or reduce the cost by accepting that restriction") and no "powers system" to build a anything you want makes Hero fans cringe - but it is the model that sells real games in the real world.

 

Full-blown system?  Make it available, but it's not the entry-level product.  The entry level needs to be a game, not the rules engine used to develop that game or any other game you can imagine.

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10 hours ago, Old Man said:

 It's mind boggling to me that there is no Marvel superhero RPG that's giving D&D a run for its money.  Take a property that is enjoying unbelievable popularity right now and pair it with the one game system that can handle it.

 

Old Man brought up a lot of valid points and recommendations about the Hero System and Champions in general. Like him, I'm equally puzzled that an RPG system has not emerged to the forefront yet in the superhero genre in the same way D&D has for the fantasy genre in the past 20 years or so since the first X-Men film revitalized mainstream interest.

 

Marvel Comics did attempt to capitalize in the RPG market in recent years, though. First, there was the release of Marvel Universe Roleplaying Game in 2003 by Q.E.D. Games that used a diceless game mechanic. The game production run quickly expired, most likely due to disappointing sales. Heck, I didn't even know of its existence until I came across a copy in the RPG section of the a used book store within past year or two even though I visited game stores regularly. Later, there was the release of Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Basic Game in 2012 by Margaret Weis Productions that also met a similarly abrupt fate.

 

Given that Marvel FASERIP originally published by TSR from the 1980s remains in a highly positive light by superhero RPG fans, am surprised that Marvel hasn't worked a new licensing agreement with Wizards of the Coast (WoTC) to relaunch it with an updated version of this old school classic. Since WoTC bought up TSR and its properties, am thinking that they retain the rights to the FASERIP game system.

 

Green Ronin Publishing had licensing agreement with DC Comics to release DC Adventures, which was the DC Universe using the Mutants & Masterminds game system. To this day I'm still puzzled why its production run ended so quickly (barely a couple of years) because the products were first-rate quality. Even now, the remaining books are highly sought after by collectors. My best guess would be that the money involved with the licensing was too high to what Green Ronin Publishing was willing to keep paying when the agreement was coming up for renewal.

 

Right now, the superhero genre is enjoying a huge spike in popularity across mainstream audiences through film and television. The question remains: which, if any, of the superhero games out there can capitalize the way D&D has in the fantasy genre?

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13 hours ago, Old Man said:

It's mind boggling to me that there is no Marvel superhero RPG that's giving D&D a run for its money.

 

As has been mentioned, there have been several attempts to run with the Marvel license. I own all of them. It would be instructive, I think, to ask the authors of those games why they didn't pan out in the long run. I have a feeling it is because the license was hideously expensive and lackluster sales made renewing the license untenable. I don't expect that to be any different today. In fact, the insane popularity of the MCU would probably only make matters worse, putting a license out of the financial reach of just about anyone in the RPG industry who isn't WotC or Paizo.

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