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Dungeons and Dragons built the infrastructure to survive a COVID-19 world, and now, for many, it keeps schedules from falling apart completely.

With many of us holed up inside, time seems to pass so quickly as our daily routines blend together. Each day feels like a repeat of the last and weekends are not so much different from weekdays. Yesterday was Tuesday, I’m sure, though my computer seems to insist as I type that today is Sunday. I know, though, that it hasn’t been a week yet since my last D&D session. That’s the one thing keeping time straight for me.

In the 1970s, game designer Gary Gygax developed what would be known as Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, the first comprehensive ruleset for the world’s favorite tabletop role-playing game. Since then, Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) has evolved from the epitome of geekiness to mainstream entertainment and from deviant behavior to social lubricant. D&D groups are difficult to keep together as people grow up, move away, and live separate lives.

The groups feel like family, and for some, D&D and other role-playing games provide a structure and comfortable, social interaction that many might not have otherwise. For this reason, online resources were developed so the traditional tabletop style of role-playing could be supplemented by internet chatrooms and voice calls. Without predicting the future, Dungeons and Dragons was prepared for a COVID-19 world.

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Opposed to other forms of online entertainment, Dungeons and Dragons usually follows a schedule.

Tabletop role-playing games (RPGs), for preparation purposes, typically follow a schedule. Groups often meet weekly, making D&D the perfect timekeeper when you’re stuck in self-isolation. So many things that bolster social interaction online lack that same structure. For example, while you may play video games online with friends, you’ll likely play when it is most convenient like when you see other friends online or just after you get off work. D&D is more rigid. You schedule around it. If you play on Saturdays at 6 pm, everyone in the group makes an effort to keep that day open week by week. Playing D&D is like having a PTA or scouting meeting. In today’s indoor world, when you look forward to these sessions, you remind yourself what a Thursday really is: two days away from your next session. 

Since we live inside most of the time, we can look forward to whatever escape we can get. The beauty of tabletop RPGs like D&D is that they give you a chance to escape the confines of your home without leaving. You explore underground caves and abandoned, dusty manors. You go outside and walk with a group of pals through uncharted lands and dense forests – and you never worry about getting Lyme disease. You become someone else entirely, and you travel a world without COVID-19. When your name is something ridiculous like Handronan the Rock Smasher, the stresses of Jane Smith the Accountant Working from Home melt away for a few hours. When you’re not playing, you can spend time during the week making Handronan increasingly ridiculous by developing backstory too. Instead of stressing about going to the grocery store because it’ll be crowded and nobody will be wearing a mask correctly, you can think about what it must have been like for Handronan to grow up on a pirate ship captained by the Gnomish Captain Beefclaw who raised Handronan like a daughter after she was found drifting at sea on a small wooden raft. It really puts things into perspective.

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The world of D&D is wide, with materials to get totally lost in.

It can be hard or even intimidating to get started with D&D without a group who knows how to play. You might feel uncomfortable asking your current friends if they would want to play. While you’re waiting to find that weekly adventuring group, it might help to familiarize yourself with the materials. If you’re not quite ready to buy some of the manuals, you can check out the latest edition’s free basic rules to get started with character creation and how to play. The materials for the game all have deep-rooted history and art and allow you to get lost in them during your free time. If you’re not really ready to play with a group yet, you can check out some of the many podcasts, YouTube channels, and TV shows that tell phenomenal, often humorous stories while the hosts play D&D. When you find one you really enjoy, you can start redeveloping that weekly structure, as most D&D media broadcasts either weekly or bi-weekly. 

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If you want to find a group immediately, there are resources that can lead you to one that’s perfect for you. Now is the time, especially if you find it difficult to keep your days straight, and if the monotony of COVID-19 life is irritating you. If you think D&D might not be for you, I will tell you this: My current D&D group has a writer as the Dungeon Master, an engineer playing a lawyer, a musician playing a religious zealot, a school teacher playing a grifter, a policy analyst playing a fighting hippy, a production freelancer playing a secret criminal mastermind, and an investment banker playing a magical astronomer. These are men and women who come from as near as my home town in New York and as far as Brasilia, Brazil. D&D can be for anyone, especially now. 

By Dan Considine

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