D&D: A quick look at the path from dark rooms to online events

Everybody knows that when Wizards of the Coast launched Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition (also known as 5e) in 2014, it created a resurgence in popularity for the game. In a world where a tabletop game that had been around since the 70’s, had become bloated with rule minutiae, can’t be learned in a hurry, and was generally associated with not getting outside enough, it wasn’t surprising that the game was not as popular as it used to be. However, the explosion in popularity was down to more than just being more accessible for new players. It may surprise you to realise that the game’s helper in the re-rise to fame was a platform better known for promoting video games.

Wizards of the Coast officially launched online resources back with 4th edition in 2008, but unfortunately used a platform that didn’t support mobile at a time when tablets and smartphones were gaining popularity. When 5e launched, video game streaming was already popular in places like YouTube, and Twitch followed soon after. Some D&D players quickly picked up the sites to stream their campaigns, helping introduce the game to even more people; one of the most popular around, Critical Role (produced by Geek & Sundry) has been airing regularly since 2015 and is into their second campaign. Many others have written about D&D’s rise to popularity online, so I’ve only given a brief overview here (follow the links for more information and even some interviews); of more interest is the full-blown online events.

Dragon Friends episode at Stream of Annihilation, 2017

When it saw how well the game was doing with an online presence, Wizards of the Coast leaned into it and launched an official DnD Twitch channel, which now hosts several different groups and campaigns as well as news videos, turning TRPG game streaming into a new kind of regularly scheduled show. In 2017 they launched the Stream of Annihilation, a two-day event of various popular DnD streaming groups from their channel doing live games, to launch that year’s release of Tomb of Annihilation, and seem set on turning it into an annual event. A few weeks ago saw this year’s event, the Stream of Many Eyes, a three day event showcasing 2018’s adventure story Waterdeep: Dragon Heist which will be available in September (to be followed later in the year by Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage). Not only did the event host live play of popular streaming groups, but had cosplay and behind-the-scenes tours to boot. Tickets were $200 each – which included a quality loot bag for each ticket holder – proving just how much of a draw the internet celebrities of TRPG gaming are. Of course, some are entertainers for their day job too; part of the group Critical Role’s attraction is that it’s players are professional voice actors, and Dragon Friends is made up of several well-known Aussie faces.

In fact, Australian group Dragon Friends has been part of both Stream events so far, and hopefully fellow Aussies will be a part of it for future events too – catch up on ATGN’s own special guest from Dragon Friends on episode 1 of The GM’s Toolkit series. While the nature of the internet allows for people from all over the world to participate in D&D streaming, seeing as Wizards of the Coast is a USA company the event was obviously majority USA groups outside of Dragon Friends and UK outfit High Rollers. With the continued spread of streaming tabletop games of all kinds – not just RPGs – we’ll hopefully be seeing even more international contributions though.

Wizards of the Coast. Yes, this is an official promo image for the Stream of Many Eyes. I love it.

Want to find out more? The streaming videos of all the events from both Stream of Many Eyes and last year’s Stream of Annihilation are available on the abundant Dungeons & Dragons YouTube and Twitch channels. Turning the event into a full-on production ensures that they’re all entertaining to watch and builds the hype for the anticipated launch of new D&D material. Of course, all you have to do is a search to find all sorts of streamers, experienced and newbies alike to watch: the point of the game is that it’s different for everyone according to how the players and DM play. There’s also a wealth of articles and tutorials on streaming your own games, either as a physical or virtual group – there are whole programs to help people get a group together and play over the internet. Who knows how many celebrity-status streaming campaigns there will be in future years; if it continues the way it is, the yearly D&D Stream event may become a full convention.

Do you have a favourite D&D – or any other tabletop game – stream to watch? Can you point us to more Australian groups doing it? Are you considering streaming your own game? Let us know in the comments.

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