It must be tough to be 34 and already see your children overshadow you. That’s what’s happened to Dungeons & Dragons, the role-playing game that for decades has drawn geeks to roll dice and pretend to be elves, sorcerers and other fantasy heroes. It has never quite become mainstream entertainment, but it has inspired role-playing computer games like World of Warcraft to borrow its principles and turn them into a multibillion-dollar industry.
Role-players have always faced the difficulty of getting together regularly, especially since the games are lengthy (and who has that kind of time these days), but they talk warmly about the camaraderie fostered by the games, since the players cooperate rather than compete. Though guided by thick rulebooks, the games have an element of theater, with players using the voices of their characters. Not surprisingly, they’re considered uncool by those who lack an appreciation of fantasy.
Now, D&D is borrowing from its imitators. The next edition of the game, due out in June, will for the first time be paired with online features the publisher hopes will lure lapsed players back to the dungeon. The new edition, the fourth since D&D was created in 1974, might do nothing for the game’s social stigma, but at least players will have the option to commune online. Each screen will show the same virtual 3-D “tabletop” with monsters and heroes, and the players will be able to talk via Internet voice chat. The online features of fourth-edition D&D will carry a monthly fee of 14.95 USD (ironically, the exact cost for a month of World of Warcraft), though a one-year contract brings the cost down to 9.95 USD per month.