More Toppings Please! Why Dungeons and Dragons is like Cheese Pizza
And why it may be time to try something new
In 2024, beloved tabletop roleplaying game Dungeons and Dragons will be turning 50 years old. From its humble beginnings as little more than an expansion for a war game, through the dark years of the Satanic Panic, into the modern renaissance of roleplaying games, D&D has been there every step of the way. Today, it is the most popular roleplaying game in the United States, and much of the rest of the world as well. Publishers Wizards of the Coast estimate that over 50 million people play it today. As players, we've laughed, we've cheered, and we've killed a heck of a lot of goblins.
But as we approach this golden anniversary, it might be time to ask – why do we play THIS game?
If a large group of people are trying to pick a restaurant, everybody is going to be craving different things. Some people might want wings, others might want Asian food, one person might have a real hankering for Mexican. Not everyone can get what they want. The easiest solution? Order pizza. And what kind of pizza does almost everyone at least tolerate? Cheese pizza.
If a group of nerds (we wear the title with pride) sits down to play an RPG, it is very likely that D&D will be the game. Most everyone at the table will be fine with its default fantasy setting and with killing yet more goblins, even if what they would really rather be doing is exploring the bounds of space or defeating super villains.
Dungeons and Dragons has become the cheese pizza of roleplaying games.
After almost 50 years, it's reasonable to be a little tired of cheese pizza.
The wonderful news – the best possible news! – is that we are living in a golden age of independent RPGs. There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of different games we could absolutely be playing in place of D&D, and each one can give us new worlds to explore and new ways of exploring it. Some of them don’t stray too far from the basis of D&D, but others venture bravely into uncharted territories of storytelling and mechanics, returning with tales that must be seen to believe.
This marks the beginning of a new series, More Toppings Please!, that will highlight and review a different roleplaying game with every issue, including stories from my own table.
Since this has been an introduction to the series, and I’ve put poor old D&D down a bit with this beginning, I’d like to take a moment to celebrate it with a tale from one of my campaigns.
The party is running down a hallway in an elegant mansion, and devastation rides close behind them. The massive demon roars its hunger and malice, dragging the possessed noble’s body with it in a roiling cloud of black and red smoke. As they run, a young tiefling man named Creed wrenches an ancient book out of his bag. He cuts the palm of one hand and scrawls something into the book with his blood for ink, then slams the wound into the page and speaks a name. The sound that leaves his lips is not words, but the rattling of chains and the screech of glass grinding against itself. The book glows. A portal to hell rips into reality just behind him. A crystal fragmentation with a face of jagged edges steps out and in a voice like a shattering cup, “You called?”
Immediately the devil jumps backwards to avoid the rampaging demon. Creed, now well down the hall, shouts “Help us!”
A crack appears on the face of the newcomer, twisted up in a caricature of a smile, “Time to go back to the abyss, little imp.” From the portal, a massive purple arm reaches for the smoke demon. Its forearm is as wide as the hallway itself, and its fingers as long as a man is tall.
“What the hell did you do?!” shouts the halfling to her companion, her bow clutched in her white fists.
“Called in a favor, keep running!”
The hand snatches the smoke monster in a tight fist, and it screams in sudden fear. It fights every step of the way, but it is dragged back through the portal and out of this world. The portal closes with a snap, and once again the hallway is quiet.
Just in time for the Prince’s guards to arrive. Prince Saerus himself is with them, and demands to know what happened. The tiefling steps forward and explains that a demon had been possessing the lord of this manor, but now that demon had been sent back from whence it came. He keeps his injured hand behind his back, clenched tight on the blood still trickling from it.
Prince Saerus nods, “Well then, that explains the rumors. Excellent work, my friends. Now let us –”
The halfling steps forward, pointing one gloved finger at Creed, “And he was summoning demons too!”
The prince looks up sharply at the party, “Is this true?”
Immediately the tall human with an eyepatch pipes up, “Yes, he did! I saw the whole thing!”
The other party members look at each other nervously. The dragonborn begins, “I mean, yeah, but he was only trying to –”
The prince holds up a hand in a command for silence.
Creed inches towards the open window.
Prince Saerus looks at Creed, his expression one of hurt and guilt, before it smooths over into a blank mask, “Guards, arrest this man under suspicion of consorting with demonic forces.”
With a blur of hand movements and a flurry of chanted words, the tiefling steps back to the window, preparing to fling himself out into the night. But the human sees the motion, “No you don’t!” and casts a spell of his own, just a fraction of a second faster. All of Creed’s muscles tense up, and the flying enchantment fizzles before he can complete it.
Unable to resist, he is arrested by the guards.
At which point I called the session and sent everyone but Creed’s player home so that the two of us could resolve what was about to happen.
That, however, is a tale for another time. If you want to hear more of Creed’s story, or have a request for an RPG system you would like me to highlight, let me know in the comments below! Make sure to subscribe so you don’t miss the next edition of More Toppings Please!
About the author
I've wanted to write since I was in the fifth grade and been too scared of failing. This is me, still afraid, jumping in anyway.
If you like things that are slightly spooky or slightly sad, come on in.
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