How Dungeons & Dragons continues to cast its spell

This week sees the return of Dungeons & Dragons to the scene, the latest in a storied history of trying to bring the beloved pen-and-paper role-playing game to the wider world via cinema or television. It’s safe to say that the franchise has a mixed legacy in this department and fans have been understandably hesitant to get excited about this latest entry. As a franchise that just keeps coming back, though, what is the enduring appeal of Dungeons & Dragons?

The story so far

D&D, as the game is known to fans, has a media history that has run from the average to entries that are intentionally forgotten. The earliest entry was the 1983 cartoon which was an official creation that drew from the source material although was heavily sanitized for the target audience. This one has proven to have enough nostalgia factor to warrant a new comic series based on the characters.

The next major official entry, aside from countless references in other media, was the movie simply titled Dungeons & Dragons in 2000. To say this film did poorly is an understatement, with it frequently cropping up rated amongst the worst films ever made despite the efforts of stars like Jeremy Irons. Lesser known is that the original film formed part of a trilogy, with low-key entries in both 2005 and 2012 that were generally ignored by everyone.

The latest film

That brings us to 2023 and the release of Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Amongst Thieves, which finally puts actual fans of the game at the helm. It incorporates multiple famous elements drawn from the source material, including many of the complex rules and characters that are well-known to players.

Starring Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez and even Hugh Grant, the movie is a welcome departure from those efforts before and looks set to revitalise the brand as a whole. Alongside the hugely popular recent Amazon original series The Legend of Vox Machina which is based entirely on the hugely popular D&D campaign Critical Role, there is something of a renaissance going on.

D&D’s huge appeal

There are two key elements that make D&D appealing: the stories and the random chance. Humans in general love an epic tale of incredible deeds, even more so if they get to take part in it themselves, and the random chance element is universally appealing. It’s the reason that casinos have remained popular for thousands of years, with modern players still grabbing a poker or Crazy Time guide in the same way a D&D player may use a character build guide. In both cases, things may come down to chance in the end but managing those odds with information is an inherently entertaining skill to learn.

Thanks to both elements, it truly creates a world where virtually anything is possible and there is a potential for any type of story to happen. Adventure is the default but horror, romance and even forms of sci-fi can be done in the game. For movie and TV producers, if they can nail down the details to keep fans on board, there’s absolutely no limit to where they can take it. Expect to see a lot more of Dungeons & Dragons in the future.