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I'm 38, and I remember playing D&D when I was a kid, almost 20 years ago, but to my knowledge have not heard of or know how it is played today.

Being that there is a stackexchange for concept it must have a good following, but where?

Is it still played on paper, is it online chats now, how is the game played today?

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migrated from rpg.meta.stackexchange.com Jun 27 '17 at 21:45

This question came from our discussion, support, and feature requests site for gamemasters and players of tabletop, paper-and-pencil role-playing games.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Youtube. \$\endgroup\$ – T.E.D. Jun 28 '17 at 22:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ Note that this question (and the accepted answer) apply to many systems beyond D&D. Is there any sort of appropriate tag that says "this question is about one system, but can be applied to others?" \$\endgroup\$ – Doktor J Jun 29 '17 at 18:46

10 Answers 10

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D&D gets played in a variety of ways nowadays, but playing around a table with other folks hasn't gone anywhere either.

In person groups form a number of ways you'd probably be familiar with:

  • A group of friends gather at one person's house, sit around the dining table (or whichever's the biggest one available) and bust out paper and pencil and dice.
  • A local meetup is organised at the local library and so strangers who can get along well enough come together for a game.
  • University or school students secure a room together on campus and play after lessons.
  • The Friendly Local Gaming Store hosts tables and regular events, and customers organise and find games and groups via the store.

Those ordinary processes have been augmented nowadays. We have Meetup.com for organising meetups; I've attended a few sessions at a local library with a group I found on that site. We also have a lot of forums based around various tabletop RPGs nowadays (we've collected some here for other site moderation purposes), and those can facilitate people finding other players and groups. My own local gaming store here in London uses their site to host a gaming events calendar, and has a few groups on Facebook dedicated to different sections of their gaming regulars, like those who play D&D, or board games, or Magic: the Gathering.

For more information on how we find players nowadays you'd want to check out:

The online stuff

People use online services to game as well. It's pretty ordinary for games to get played on a chat service, on a forum, or on a specialised site made for this stuff. I wouldn't be surprised if there were mailing lists. Does it let people communicate at a reasonable pace? Someone's probably using it to play a game of D&D.

Skype and other video call services let us talk with other people face-to-face and that's perfect for running games. People Skyping in a group and talking and playing together is pretty normal, and they'll either use an online dice roller or just trust each other on dice rolls. I'm personally in a (non-D&D) roleplaying group that is based in two different houses in different countries, and we use a webcam to see each other in our respective living spaces.

The popularity of D&D has also propelled various popular internet services being made to help with this stuff. For some examples:

  • Roll20 is a virtual tabletop that offers a fairly comprehensive tool suite for playing D&D online with friends. Roll20 has its own video calls (like Skype) and chat built in, and users may be using those and/or other tools to communicate, like external chats, forums, or video call services. There are other tabletop services available, such as Fantasy Grounds.
  • Myth Weavers is a popular resource for generating character sheets.
  • The Homebrewery is a fairly new service for writing up D&D 5e material in a way that looks just like the books.
  • Online document services like Google Docs and Sheets produces a lot of mileage for groups just wanting to write down and share stuff in simple formats, or people who want to make custom character sheets.

Wizards maintains a list of other tools on its own site.

Virtual and augmented reality are now becoming a thing, and there's going to be new ground explored there. D&D-like video game RPGs every now and then implement a Game Mastering mode, like Divinity Original Sin 2 most recently.

Conventions

Thanks to that good old human population boom there's a lot of people in any given place, and with that comes conventions for people to meet up and play. Gencon has got to be the biggest one for the hobby, and it's been running since 1968 so you might've already heard of it. Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) is a relatively newly started 'con and also enormous, and covers all corners of geek gaming, so video games & tabletop equally. Both of them devote vast swathes of space to game table areas where people might play organised events or just sit down with whoever to play whatever they like.

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I know of four common forms that are used

  1. Play at the table just as before
  2. Play using an on-line tool like Roll20. (Virtual table where people connect from all over the place)
  3. Play by post. (Games that use an internet forum or similar tool. How much is text based and how much with visual aids varies by group)
  4. Play by chat. (You play the game in a chat room, mostly text based).

    While I'd recommend the "at table" version, my current games are mostly on Roll20 due to where our gaming group lives.

    Apparently, some groups who play in person, at the table, use tools like Roll20 or MapTool to manage their maps / character /dice at the table. (Thanks to @StarWeaver)

  5. Some players have leveraged another form of tech: projection tables as an alternative to standard dungeons & maps printed on paper. Thanks to @RobertF for that reminder.


Based on my experiences with computer games, a group that plays using Theater of the Mind could use voice chat tools like Ventrilo, Teamspeak, Discord to all hook up and play. How the dice rolls would be handled would be up to the group, but it could simply be the DM's responsibility to roll and the players to trust the DM. Or use a tool like RPG.SE chat dice bot. Since I have not seen or experienced this, I am not sure if someone has tried it. Given how inventive and imaginative RPG players often are, someone probably has.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ For voice/chat games, it's common to have a dicebot like the one in Role-playing Games Chat; no need to trust another's rolls, but it does take up screen-estate. \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Jun 28 '17 at 0:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ There's a fifth format for RPGs as well - some players have rigged up projection tables as an alternative to standard dungeons & maps printed on paper (rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/2095/…). \$\endgroup\$ – RobertF Jun 28 '17 at 17:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @RobertF Nice find/reminder. Folded that in, credit to you. Well played! :) \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jun 28 '17 at 17:37
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There are 3 ways that I know DnD is played.

  1. Regular gaming groups: A number of people meet at some regular interval, sit down at a table, and play.
  2. Online groups: People play either through dedicated programs or simple text.
  3. Game store and convention tables: Someone organizes a game, people show up and sit down, and play.

Most of my experience is with a monthly or bimonthly regular group.

People use a mix of pen-and-paper and electronic tools. Recently I have started to DM and almost everything I use is stored on my laptop, while all my players have printed character sheets that they write on, while using electronic media to organize play times and remind people to level up.

Basically, people play however they can.

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I can testify that the game is still played with paper and pencils (or sometimes ink, if you keep track of your HP on a separate piec of scrap paper, and the rest of the character sheet is often reprinted every level or fully digitalized and used from tablets or laptops).

That's what happens at my house every friday night, at least.

The possibility to play real-time games over the internet, be it just on a Skype call or on specialized sites like roll20, is surely popular, mainly due to the fact that you don't need to have people who like your style handy: you can have them from all parts of the world and, with a bit of scheduling, play the game with people who want to play it.

I have seen D&D played on play by chat environments (MUSH and the like) - it is not quite D&D, at least in the incarnation I use, more like freeform with D&D characters - and in forums, where games are played very slowly, post after post.

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Dungeons and Dragons is currently in it's 5th edition and is played online or in person through a variety of tools.

Online table services (Such as Roll20) provide a means of gathering DMs and players together with chat tools, references, and sometimes even game materials.

In person, some hobby game stores offer play space or 'looking for group' message boards. Some stores have a charge for table space. There's also conventions such as Gencon where you can find organized play, casual play, and variety of interesting game opportunities.

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Pencil and Paper Lives On!

D&D is played like it always has been, with some changes in group sizes and social dynamics. People use online meetups to find other players, then meet at homes or, quite commonly, at comic shops and game retailers. People also continue to attend conventions. Right now, Pathfinder, 3.5e D&D, and 5e D&D are the most popular, with some older people still playing AD&D in more reclusive groups. A few years ago one of my groups used to meet at a retirement home to play 1st edition AD&D games until our eldest player passed on.

Opposite that, there were weekly comic shops at a mall where a younger crowd played 5th edition D&D, and connected through Adventure League. For the most part, people still use pen and paper and dice, but dice are sometimes rolled using a computer app, sometimes character sheets are generated using online programs, and a great deal many books are in .pdf format used on smartphones, tablets, and laptops. Most people give in and buy a book when they realize scrolling through 200-500 feet of documents to find one rule isn't as fast as flipping paper pages. This happened to one of my groups 2 days ago :)

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all editions of D&D are in some sense playable via any conceivable medium. While mediums like 'in-person vocal and orthographic interaction' may be by far the most common, I have personally played various editions of Dungeons and Dragons via many different mediums at different times, with varying consequences in the resulting RPG.

Games can be and are played via:

  • email
  • forum posts
  • sign language
  • vocal language
  • LARP (live-action roleplaying adaptations of tabletop systems, where the motion of the body is largely the medium of ludonarrative signaling)
  • Neverwinter Nights servers
  • tabletop gaming mats and minis
  • letters sent via USPS.
  • handwaving about what we would do if we were playing D&D right now that gets a bit too involved
  • IRC (Internet Relay Chat)
  • IM (Instant Messaging)
  • texts (as in, with a cell phone)
  • etc

If you can think of it, people have probably used it to play something they or someone else called D&D.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for the NWN1/NWN2 servers \$\endgroup\$ – Lior Bilia Jun 28 '17 at 2:22
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I once saw an article about a short-lived messaging platform, Google Wave, that commented that the first thing we nerds do with a new platform is use it to play Dungeons & Dragons.

Here are a few practical answers:

D&D Adventurers League

These are organized games, officially sponsored and coordinated by Wizards of the Coast, most often played in the traditional tabletop format at friendly local game shops. Reference materials for players are available online. Usually you make reservations to participate, but often drop-ins are welcome.

(Incidentally, I frequently hear newcomers to Adventurers League introduce themselves very much as the questioner did: they'd played D&D years ago as kids, and are glad to come back to it.)

Roll20

This is a software product for facilitating online play of D&D and other roleplaying games.

SorceryNet IRC Chat Network

One of many IRC networks, SorceryNet particularly supports chat channels for online role-playing.

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I don’t know whether one person’s perspective is useful here or not, but my own life is the thing I can speak most authoritatively about. Here’s what my RPG life is currently like...

I have a regular group of family and friends. We plan to meet every Saturday, though we don’t get a quorum every week. (We’re lucky if we can all get together even one Saturday in December.) The group currently ranges in age from 14 to to near 50 with representatives from every decade in between. Four women and five men. (And about four members who are currently inactive due to work schedules and other issues.)

We’re currently playing 1981-vintage D&D, but we just came off a 2003-vintage D&D campaign, and there is a current (5e) D&D game in planning. We play a lot of other RPGs besides D&D as well.

We mostly meet face-to-face, but these days it isn’t uncommon to have one or two people attend digitally via Google Hangouts. We plug a laptop into a TV and have a decent video-conferencing camera.

Once a year I go to an “old school” gaming convention called North Texas RPG Con. The whole family goes with me now. We each play in up to eight face-to-face games. Mostly older RPGs or newer ones more in the “old school” vein. I’ve been surprised by how well playing with strangers has gone. Although, at this point, it is getting harder to call other regular attendees strangers.

I’ve been invited to join at least three other local groups. I’ve lost count of how many online games I’ve been invited to. But I’m lucky that I don’t have enough time for all the RPGaming opportunities I have available.

I’d say there are two big differences from my old high school RPG days:

  1. More maturity in the group means—generally—a different dynamic. (Although there are times when the adults are being less mature and the teens are being more mature.)
  2. Over the years I’ve learned a lot more about the games, what I enjoy, and what others in the group enjoy. All of which helps inform how I approach things. (And there is still more for me to learn.)

Update: Another difference...

These days I get all my RPG books in digital format and use them on my iPad.

When I’m playing, my character sheet may be paper (usually the simpler systems) or a spreadsheet or app on the iPad (usually the more complex systems).

When running games, most of my campaign notes are digital accessed on the iPad during play. Ephemeral notes during play will be made on notecards. Maps are sometimes digital and sometimes paper. And I’ll usually have some hard-copy quick-reference sheets too.

I always use physical dice.

I’ve never been much of a fan of miniatures, battlemats, terrain, etc. But I have been using them more as some players really want visual aids. My current go-to is some generic pawns/meeples and a product called Blue Dungeon Tiles. But I’m still experimenting.

It varies for other people in the group. Some use laptops extensively, some use tablets or phones, some use paper, some use a mix.

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Lots of good answers here, but there is one way that is quite novel and growing in popularity, which is D&D as performance art. Many groups live stream or record and upload their sessions, which are played in any number of ways, from around the table, to using a virtual table top, to using videoconference tools and the theater of the mind.

Critical Role is played around the table by professional voice actors, and live streamed to Twitch.

Dice, Camera, Action is played over Skype, and live streamed on Twitch.

Acquisitions, Inc. is played either around the table or in an actual theater with a huge audience at the PAX conventions. These are usually either Twitch streamed, or like the others, eventually transitioned to YouTube.

I would link to them, but how you consume them depends largely on what your tastes are in video services. Do a web search on any of these, and you should find the way you would best like to view them.

There are many others, and the practice is growing. They are valuable not only for their entertainment aspect, but the groups all demonstrate different play styles. They are very educational and could help you decide if the game is still something you'd like to play.

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