Guest writer London Bishop describes the evolution of popular fantasy tabletop game, Dungeons and Dragons.

Mount St. Joseph University quad

My father was first introduced to Dungeons and Dragons when he was in medical school. For a few hours on a weekend, he and his friends threw off the stress of classes and anatomy labs to spend a few hours as the Ogreslayers, rolling dice and writing down statistics in a decidedly analogue way to kill monsters and be heroes. Perhaps uncoincidentally, this was also around the time my father was introduced to Scotch whisky.

This was all unbeknownst to me at the time I picked up Dungeons and Dragons while at Mount St. Joseph. During my senior year, for an average of five hours a night every Saturday, a mishmash group of nerds and I took over the sixth-floor lobby for our weekly game of Pathfinder, a tabletop roleplaying game similar to D&D, published by Paizo.

In most tabletop games, one player assumes the role of the dungeon master, controlling the enemies, friendly NPCs, and guiding the other players through the traps, puzzles, and details that make up this shared mental landscape. Many players, after being on one side of the table for so long, eventually try their hand at being dungeon masters, which I did for a group of friends from high school.

I graduated from the Mount in 2019, and to this day, my friends and I have played the same pathfinder campaign for over four years. As an English major, I never thought I’d have a hobby that involved so much math.

Being a tabletop hobbyist in the 2020s is much different from being one in the 1980s. For example, my players are more likely to befriend every dragon they find than slay it, and there are fewer goblins and ogres and more questions about the nature of sentience and existential dread. I did, however, introduce my friends to Scotch whisky.

In recent years, an explosion of digital tools has been made available to play games online. Tabletop Simulator, Roll20, Multiverse and others have made it possible for gamers across the world to sit down at a virtual table together. And for many people, this is a fantastic way to connect with friends they may not have otherwise played with, for lack of proximity or time.

These tools saw an explosion in 2020 and 2021, as people sheltered in their homes from disease, and allowed people to still connect when the world and common sense made other means unviable.

If COVID had happened in a medical school in the 1980s, I’m not sure if the hobby would be the same as it is today.

The world in 2019 was gearing up for investment in personal connection. Esports companies were investing heavily in in-person events, comic and board game conventions were expanding their rosters, gaming events drawing people from all over the world.

In 2020, the world shut down, and it was declared that digital interaction was the future. In 2021, we invented the metaverse. And while those are great things that can bring tabletop gaming to people who are far away or suffering from sickness, I don’t think paper, pencil, and owning far too many sets of real, tangible dice will ever go away. To quote many an internet meme, “both is good.”

Being a dungeon master is a lot of work. Memorizing your rotating monster of the week, coming up with exciting puzzles and interesting characters sometimes feels like building a sandcastle for them to lovingly tear down.

However, it’s all worth it to see the look on their faces when they crush a particularly difficult puzzle, work through a complicated story beat, land an amazing hit, or make weighty decisions that completely alter the course of the story we’re making together--whether our shared table is here in the real world, or spread over miles of fiber optic cables and WiFi signals.

London Bishop was a contributing writer for Dateline. She is a 2019 Mount graduate with a double major in Liberal Arts and Communication & New Media Studies. She is a staff reporter for the Dayton Daily News.