When D&D Goes To Hell, We are REALLY in Trouble
Dungeons and Dragons, the world’s most popular live-action role play game, got a change of scenery this weekend at D&D Live 2019. There, a panel of designers spilled all the details on the new storyline, release date, and some swag that you can pre-order now! The thing is, D&D is a well-known retreat for players — the game made for forgetting the cares of reality in order to immerse yourself in a world of fantasy. So, what does it mean when the fantasy people desire is FREAKING HELL?
Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus
That’s right! Go to Hell, D&D players. I’m not kidding. The new storyline is a descent into a place called Baldur’s Gate. At the panel, designers described the place as having streets of blood. It’s the first layer of the Nine Hells that players already have a glimpse of. The whole thing is contained in a 256-page adventure book developed by designer Chris Perkins. The book takes you from levels 1 to 13, and things get pretty wild as you go. Perkins and fellow creator Adam Lee talk about the new storyscape in this video.
These creators talk about how the story brings the players to the cusp of the Blood War. (That’s an ongoing war between these massive powers that be.) They wanted to show how these polarizing battles damage the innocents standing by the wayside and how the fighting damages the whole world.
Does anyone see where the real connection is?
People Need to Escape AND Process Their Feels
There are corrupt leaders and other badness in the new D&D storyline that obviously hail back to reality. I have to admit that I was astounded to hear that the most magical adventure game is going to Hell of all places. I do get it though. This is not the first time in history that audiences have delved into the darkest stories in pop culture for a retreat. It’s almost human nature at this point to go looking into our nightmares when reality sucks.
Let’s go back to the most pivotal monster movie of modern times, George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. It came out during a time fraught with strife in the US. There were so many vicious battles taking place in 1968, one against racism in the form of the Civil Rights Movement, and the other in the futile the Vietnam War. Both were deadly and exhausting. Americans, especially young people, were scared and frustrated. So, the perfect escape became Romero’s story about zombies and surviving one night, in one house, with a bunch of strangers.
The film was the perfect therapy by pop culture.
Americans again flocked to pop culture to escape en masse after 9–11. The entire country felt vulnerable after seeing the event, which was accidentally televised. The true nature of the threat trickled through the media and soon sent many people flocking to video games for relief. They found it in Halo. The game sent players after a race of people who were eerily close to the Taliban, in a foreign land, to avenge a massive wrong. It was too close to reality.
In the Games Studies article, “Play and Possibility in the Rhetoric of the War on Terror,” Gerald Voorhees wrote about the war rhetoric written into Halo 2. (Subsequent iterations of the game and others like appeared to sway players toward war in reality.) Halo grew so popular that it spawned several copies that also saw wild popularity in the decade after the attack. People needed to fight an enemy. They needed to get their frustrations out, to process them. The games helped do that, probably better than Romero’s zombies ever did.
In light of our pop culture history, I can see why Hell is so attractive. We are in the age of billionaire bureaucrats upending the rule of law and seeding the courts with their cronies. The Nazis have returned to popularity, and our leadership is so full of scandal, disorder, and chaos that we can’t be sure what truly is criminal anymore, right? It’s confusing. How do we cope when so many of these things are out of our control? For example, Fortune Magazine reported that 71% of Americans do not want to overturn the Roe vs. Wade decision. This includes 59% of rural voters who are largely a part of states that have already passed laws banning abortion!
Decisions are being made and the chaos that is just the daily news is more than enough to send players looking for an escape.
So, D&D players you can descend to Hell and escape the mad reality September 17. Slay some evil politicians and demons. Do your part to try and make the world good once more. You may want to preorder the new dice kit and map now through Amazon.com. They were selling fast after the announcement this weekend. Also, keep an eye out for the Dungeons & Dragons vs. Rick and Morty: Tabletop Roleplaying Game Adventure.
Here is a link to the entire D&D Live 2019 panel. If you got a spare hour, it’s worth the time. You will begin to see why hell is such an escape these days, from the life we are living “IRL”.