Dungeons and Dragons—it’s not just for Freaks and Geeks fans or hardcore lovers of Stranger Things. But these hit shows have helped introduce the game to the general public. Again.
The game has been around since the ’70s, but it’s recently seen a resurgence in popularity. Groups of players rolling dice and pretending to be morally upright half-Orcs can be found at the LSU Wargaming and Roleplaying Society, where war gamers and role players gather every Friday to set off on their quests, and the Little Wars shop off Jefferson Highway, where groups play for hours.
At Little Wars, the games start at 6 p.m. and last nearly four hours. But visit a little earlier on a weekday, and you’ll see some of the regulars already setting up shop at tables, ready to settle in for the evening.
Looking around the store, with its colorful racks of figurines and a variety of cards and games, you can sense a common theme. The background music is low-fi hip-hop, but the station changes according to mood, with the occasional theme song from a popular video game blasting for the crowd.
The recent rise of D&D is thanks to social media and live streams of gaming sessions, according to Little Wars owner Van Vo. It’s also seen quite an uptick from its role in the 1980s-set Netflix series Stranger Things.
In D&D, each player creates a unique fantasy character for themselves. The moderator, known as a Dungeon Master, arbitrates the world, with the characters going on adventures and rolling dice to see which actions their character takes.
These adventures, known as campaigns, can last for years, with layers of complex storytelling, twists and the DM controlling the plot.
Little Wars regularly sees 15-20 people for each session and around 20 for the kids league. But Vo believes there is some stigma still attached to the game.
“I think that overall, gaming is being more and more accepted by society,” Vo says. “But it is still considered to be something that is childish, maybe not something that adults would do. There’s more proper things to do.”
Vo, who plays the game himself, says the draw of D&D is the limitlessness of its cooperative storytelling. Players develop their own characters and have them react to different situations and settings.
“You get to be fantastical creatures or talk and interact with fantastical creatures or be put in interesting political situations that would maybe mirror what is happening in the real world—or doesn’t really exist here,” Vo says. “There’s a lot of agency and creativity that goes into building your character.”
One of the local players, David Carlyle, has been playing for three years and started out with his college friends. He’s been the dungeon master for his group for about three months.
“Being here with complete strangers, it’s educational because you see how other people approach problems,” Carlyle says. “This person might think bashing in the doors is a good idea; that person may think we should pick it and be quiet. It’s fun to see how complete strangers can come together and do conflict resolution in an imaginary place.”
It’s also a great way to hang out with friends in a time when online gaming is so popular, Vo says.
“This is a great excuse to see each other face to face,” Vo says. “To actually have a conversation and interact with people in person rather than over a phone or over a computer screen.” littlewars.com
This article was originally published in the March 2020 issue of 225 Magazine.