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Dungeons and Dragons: Beyond Baldur’s Gate

by Rudrakkho Pandey
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Table of Contents

If you’ve ever heard of or watched Baldur’s Gate 3, chances are you have stumbled into a world of mythical beings, heroes and villains, and some of the best storytelling. However, if terms like Dungeons and Dragons (DnD, also widely referred to as D&D) and tabletop role-playing games (TTRPG) sound like Greek or Latin, you’ve come to the right place. Not only do we aim to explain DnD and TTRPGs, we have in fact interviewed someone about the genre for you to gain more insight.

DnD- what it's like
DnD- what it’s like (Source)

Understanding D&D and TTRPGs

DnD is more than a game. It is an adventure a player takes on where imagination is everything. All you need are a few friends and a character sheet for each, detailing their persona’s strengths, weaknesses, backstories and much more. One of you must take the role of Dungeon Master (DM). This person will be responsible for setting the stage, and guiding the narrative for quests in the game.

Character sheet example
Character sheet example

TTRPGs highlight collaborative storytelling as an activity. Players with the help of their characters immerse themselves in fictional worlds of science, fantasy and sometimes even history. These players then interact with each other keeping the Dungeon master (DM) in the loop to overcome challenges and uncover clues or secrets further pertaining to the story. It is a perfect blend of strategy, creativity and improvisation where each choice can lead you deeper in the lore.

Following are the excerpts from our interview with Nikhil Gupta, who goes by the discord ID: @enkayjee. He is an experienced player who has been part of the DnD community for several years now and is an avid supporter, player and organizer. This interview sheds light on the various aspects of this beloved game and the rise in popularity the genre has seen in India.

Introductions and personal experience

How did you hear about D&D and what was your experience with it as a novice?

I, like most people, through some culture references in movies or shows, such as Stranger Things, knew that there is such a game as Dungeons and Dragons. I really started playing in early 2020, soon after the lockdowns started. At the time, I had a online friend group who were just ready to try out any activity because of the extra time on our hands. 

They definitely had a very laid back attitude towards it. They just dropped us in game and, yeah, it felt pretty unstructured and sporadic, since this is a game that requires a bit of homework.

I understood that it is largely a storytelling exercise and I like that part of it. I. It took me a few more sessions to really fully understand the mechanics of the game. So, that was my experience where it was slightly confusing but intriguing enough that I kept on playing. 

How did you learn the rules and mechanics of D&D?

It was primarily just learning from playing with friends. I did not come with any media consumption related to DnD and it was purely something that my friends told me about. So I just learned by talking to my friends and playing with them. 

How did you expand your involvement to include the Bengaluru Discord server? What motivated you to take on that role?

What motivated me to take on the role of a Game Master (GM) was the fact that I wanted to play DnD, and nobody else was willing to. So, okay, then I’ll do it. And my first attempt was extremely poor. Looking back at it, the first game that I tried to run, I basically jumped into a very sophisticated, pre-written adventure, which I didn’t fully understand before starting. And I kind of found myself cornered into many difficult story spots as a result.

So what happened is that my interest petered out. And then at the end of 2022, when slowly things had started opening back up, I realized that I did not have any IRL friends in Bengaluru this entire time I was doing this online. I basically went to online forums and just said, “Hey, I am going to run a DnD game. It’s okay if you don’t know anything about DnD, I’ll teach you.” So I just went with the same approach and that’s how I discovered a broader community of DnD players in India, and I was able to put together an in-person game.

The DnD community

Is there an existing community in India? Why do people assume that there isn’t?

I discovered that at least pan India, there was already a community. It’s like another Discord server called the Infinite Tavern. I realized that there is a dedicated community for this already. It was a surprise for me as well, because up until that point, I also thought that there is no pre-existing interest in this activity, at least in India. So if at all I am to find people to play with, I will have to teach them.

I guess that’s everyone’s story, right? That initially everyone had assumed that nobody else is playing DnD already. And then they, through friends, discovered that, oh, yes, there actually is an entire community for the genre.

What are some of the challenges that you faced in managing this community on Discord?

Right. To pull back a little, we did not start on Discord. How we started is just a WhatsApp group chat. I was quite active. And I think the first challenge was the rest of the server not meeting my level of activity. And I think from day one till now, something that we are consistently working towards is activity. What really matters to us as enthusiasts is that if someone joins a community of 200-plus members and they really want to play DnD, they should be able to, within a reasonable time, find a game.

The B'lore & Beyond DnD server
The B’lore & Beyond DnD server

How do you perceive the differences between an Indian and global community?

If it’s a global server, then naturally there are more people. And the same problem that I’m talking about takes care of itself, where if a player is looking for roughly four other players to put together a game, they are very highly likely to find that in a server that has 1000-plus members, then it’s just purely the law of averages.

What I found there is that there is too much of a tight-knittedness already for new members to accommodate to it. There already exists a rapport which new members may not be familiar with. Having a local server gives you the advantage of organising meetups and in-person events. That is something that energizes the community a lot more. Because online, by nature, requires a different level of investment.

DnD gameplay: What does it entail?

What is your approach to hosting games as a GM, your preparations and facilitating gameplay?

I approach DnD as a storytelling tool. It’s collaborative storytelling. Dungeons and Dragons is my main game because of pure inertia. But there are many more tabletop role-playing games that are more conducive to storytelling. However, I don’t know what it is, but it makes it impossible for me to sit and read, pre-written DnD adventures over 50 pages long. So what I have done is that I just play a lot. I play in other people’s games a lot. I watch a lot of stuff that I’m really into most, like fantasy-adjacent content, and I take ideas, I take themes from that, and I apply my existing knowledge of DnD to it, and I come up with something on my own. 

I prefer not having a pre-written ending so that I can accommodate any choice that the players are making. Which sort of incentivizes players to make more and more creative choices. And that’s what I want. I want people to really fantasise during the game. They should not worry about the numbers on their sheet, their abilities, whatever it is. Of course, keep that in mind. 
But during the game, during the session, they should be just imagining themselves in a fantasy world and doing a fantasy adventure and having that excitement or thrill of doing that, rather than treating it as a math problem where there are steps to arrive at and formulas to use. 

What strategies and tools do you use to keep the game engaging, especially with diverse personalities like those who prefer collaborative storytelling, focus solely on combat or tend to be disruptive?

I am an extrovert and I do not hesitate in communicating. I am able to identify players, at every table, you have someone who has a high level of investment versus somebody who has a medium to low level of investment. When you are playing with more than four players, somebody is bound to get a little sidelined. Like, that is the nature of running a party, that there is only enough spotlight to be shared. So what I think is being extremely perceptive helps. I keep a finger on the pulse of the game.

Communication is key. For someone who comes with a very specific pre-thought arc for their character, I very clearly communicate that, “Hey, everyone at the table is participating in collaborative storytelling. What you are going to do is something that is going to have very negative consequences. Do you still want to do that?”

And 100% of the people rethink their decision when I say that.  

Lines and Veils- Role playing safety tool
Lines and Veils- Role playing safety tool (Source)

There are tools which are known as safety tools. One example of which is Lines and Veils, where people already fill out what they are comfortable with. And most of the time, people think that what this means is what story elements they are comfortable with. So there are formal, structured ways of avoiding somebody getting sidelined and somebody taking the spotlight because of being too chaotic. 

The apparent gender disparity

Have you noticed any particular demographics of people joining your server and participating in TTRPGs and DnD?

Yeah. I think the most obvious thing is a gender issue. It is heavily skewed towards male and it’s undeniable. It is very obvious. There are way too many guys as relative to the number of girls or women who are into this hobby.

A lot of the people that I know are women who are members of the server, are friends with people who are already on the server and not people who have discovered it through events or online posts. Their existing male friends who are already part of our server would say, hey, you might like this. And they do like it.

“I don’t think there is any variance in tendency towards fantasy role play between men and women.”

Apart from that, there have been many experiences where I have been 100% wrong in my preconceived notions of people coming from certain backgrounds. So I have just sort of unlearned that habit and I actively do not care.

Why do you believe there is a gender disparity in the server, with fewer females participating in TTRPGs and DnD?

I think it is something that went wrong much further back, where it was just guys talking to other guys about it more than women talking to other women about it. I think something can be done about that in the sense of more events. I think the best way to sort of inculcate or stimulate a particular activity is by organising in-person events.

We will have to do some course correction as a generation. Let’s have women only tables at our events. TTRPG, but for exclusively women. I don’t think it’s an intrinsic problem. But I think it is just a circumstantial thing that can be fixed by changing the circumstances.

How has Baldur’s Gate influenced the accessibility and community engagement of DnD?

“Baldur’s Gate is the best thing that has happened to DnD in the last one year.”

Turn based combat in Baldur's Gate 3
Turn based combat in Baldur’s Gate 3 (Source)

I think that has allowed people to break out of their shell of where to find people. Because now there is a video game and this is a game that allows co-op. So naturally a community around at least the video game forms. And now you have people to talk to. “Hey, we played this awesome video game based on a thing that you can just do with friends. Like, this is something that you can do just offline, turns out. Do you want to do that?”

What factors have shaped the evolution and promotion of DnD from its earlier editions?

DnD has gone through editions. Right now. It’s at the fifth edition. It has branched off into spin off tabletop role playing systems as well, one of which is the popular Pathfinder.

The budget that used to be put into promoting Dungeons & Dragons was much higher around the ’80s and ’90s. Like, there were radio ads promoting the game. And what happened around the late 2000s is that it kind of started drying up and they started relying too much on the online aspect. The fact that now people could have a chat room and can be connected to people from all over the world at the same time. And that unlocks so many possibilities.

DnD advertisement from the late 70's/ early 80's
DnD advertisement from the late 70’s/ early 80’s (Source)

I think in 2013 or 2014, there was a real dip in popularity, but then YouTube creators picked it back up. So one, when I say YouTube, I’m clubbing all online video content creators. So for example, critical role started around that time itself, 2014. And these are all professional voice actors and they are playing DnD. So of course they are able to put more effort into making their characters more fun to watch, right? Otherwise who would watch people playing DnD for four hours?

So that kept the flame alive. But it stopped being a phenomena as much as it used to be in the ’80s.

Online vs. Offline

What are some key contrasts you’ve noticed in terms of both GMing and playing?

If it is the exact same adventure and the exact same things happen, then in person is much more exciting. If you ask me to explain that. I do not know how to explain that. It just happens.

Seeing everything in person and the ability to see people react physically to what you are saying instantly has a huge difference. Because again, on video, people don’t care about being on camera. So having that human factor, your senses are not looking at a square. Your senses are looking at faces and hands, right? When you physically see someone rolling a dice, the excitement that builds up. There is no such stimuli while playing online.

How does emotional investment differ between in-person and online gaming?

It’s like 1% as much emotional investment online as it is in person. I really genuinely believe that. People would call themselves a painter, right? Because they paint a lot and it’s their whole hobby. People would call themselves DnD players, but they were playing it so much and they were having so much fun. They were able to identify with the hobby so much. But when you move it online, that connection flattens out.

Future goals and outlook for the community and genre

How do you think most people join such a community and how would you encourage more to do so?

I think it’s mostly because of people who are already on the server. I want to change that. There are certain social media platforms. The barrier of having to already be interested in an adjacent hobby to discover DnD is what should be removed.

The goal, the star that I’m shooting for is in Bengaluru having a tabletop RPG fest, much like Gen Con. Like an event, even if it’s a one-day event, right? A tabletop role playing game convention, nothing pulls people towards like this more than conventions. 

Gen Con- one of the oldest tabletop gaming conventions
Gen Con – one of the oldest tabletop gaming conventions (Source)

What my strategy is slowly taking over Comic Con, promoting more local creators.  Maybe if they have a stall in the next year’s Comic Con, more people, while walking around would find out about it in a more casual way. Rather than having restrictive entry points.

The way that every kid in India just knows about cricket, right? Nobody introduces cricket to you. Cricket just happens to you. 

Growth of TTRPGs and DnD in Bengaluru?

People in Bengaluru are constantly looking for events to attend and places to go. People are looking for connections. So the in-built, collaborative nature of tabletop RPGs, I think, sets it apart from something like bonding over a shared interest in movies. A limit is there on how much you can discuss movies. On the contrary, DnD I think would be a hit if introduced in a casual manner.

TTRPGs and DnD: Lets get into it

How would you introduce newcomers to TTRPGs, especially those who may have ever heard of the concept? 

When you play DnD an awesome story will happen, but you don’t know what it is before you start and everyone at the table discovers it together.

I don’t think you can convince anyone to play TTRPGs, but what you can do is like, pique their interest. I think if you are looking to make friends, it is a great game to incorporate. I genuinely believe once you have played a DnD session with someone, like a full adventure, even if it’s a one shot, you have a very good idea of what kind of a person they are. There is so much about their worldview, so much about the media they consume that you can understand.

What advice would you give to someone who’s interested in starting tabletop RPGs, whether as a player or as a GM?

The advice to start GMing is to play a little and be confident. A moderate amount, five to ten sessions. Within five to ten sessions, you will figure out the patterns of stories too. Once you figure out those patterns, you need not follow them, but at least you will know what to subvert. There is a right way to GM, but I know that you should first experiment.

As for playing, put yourself out there, okay? Whether it is in a existing friend group, like whether you’re sitting with friends or just sitting alone at home and you’re like looking to play with someone, you can put out a post along the lines of: “Can someone please teach me DnD or do you know someone who knows DnD?” Put it on Reddit. DM me. Get into it.

“Take a leap of not just faith, just take a leap. And see what happens. Don’t be afraid. And the worst is that you’ll not like the hobby.”

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