Circulation: 50,000
Date of Birth: 1976
Frequency: Monthly
Price: $8.99
Natural Habitat: On the floor of your teenage neighbor’s basement bedroom, half buried under empty pizza boxes, old X-Men comics, and a ratty Metallica t-shirt

By Jenni Wu

Among my friends—mostly well-educated white males now in their mid-twenties— I’ve always worn my lack of Dungeons & Dragons savvy like a blistering badge of shame. While I’m no stranger to other strongholds of teenage dorkdom— fantasy novels, comic books and, yes, Star Trek conventions— to my Bible-fearing Midwestern parents, D&D reeked of the devil and, much to my chagrin, I was shut out of that fantastical fellowship of kids who gathered in basements to battle ferocious beasts, plunder exotic lands, and engage in the eternal struggle between vice and virtue.

They could create stronger, smarter, and more courageous versions of their classroom selves. But as an elf! Or a hobgoblin! Eliminate their foes with fireballs or magic missiles! Flex their brains to navigate labyrinthine dungeons and solve cryptic riddles! D&D’s long appeal to those on the fringes of adolescent society is understandable. While other lonely nerds may channel their energies into video role-playing games like Final Fantasy, or other anti-social outlets, the D&D kids play a game with a built-in support network. Moreover, in its basic incarnation, D&D is easy to play on a weekly allowance. Aided by pencils, paper, dice, and a smattering of quasi-essential game manuals, the engine behind the action is the human mind.

Of course, for the indulgent, a panoply of accessories abound. Far from lapsing into obsolescence after the video game boom of the 1990s, since its creation in 1974 D&D (now technically called Advanced Dungeons & Dragons) has grown into a billion dollar industry of books, figurines, and other associated paraphernalia. On the magazine circuit, there are two official D&D publications: Dungeon and Dragon. The first provides Dungeon Masters (the game’s supervisors, who set the scenes for players and ensure that everyone follows the rules) with scenarios, including storylines, maps, villains, and treasures. The more widely circulated Dragon functions as sort of a soft-cover encyclopedia of game play: explaining new game rules, guiding character creation, and highlighting interesting tidbits from the vast D&D archives.

Content varies from issue to issue but always includes real-world product reviews (collectible toys, anime DVDs, comic books, etc.), lengthy features on unreal realms and creatures, and shorter workshop articles designed to help players fine-tune their characters. The magazine is illustrated throughout by paintings and drawings that range from the seductively evocative to the merely titillating (bare-chested men in loincloths and buxom sword-wielding lasses are a motif). Despite the prevalence of D&D product placement, Dragon manages to escape reading like a hundred-page promotional rag. The editorial intent seems genuinely geared towards helping players make the most of the their gaming, and features tend to adopt an enthusiastic “you’re in the club” tone.

Unfortunately, for those of us on the outside looking in, reading Dragon doesn’t prove to be a worthwhile pastime. The sheer comic novelty of articles titled “Samurai vs. Knight” and “The Demonomicon of Iggwilv: Zuggtmoy” hardly justifies the $7.99 cover price. 

And yet I derived a strange sense of personal satisfaction from reading Dragon, despite my not fitting into its demographic. (Reportedly, 94 percent of subscribers are male; presumably all are players.) The magazine made me nostalgic for the camaraderie I never had a chance to experience as a child. Even now, when I think of modern gamers—enjoying sophisticated graphics and online networking, but ultimately alone in front of a TV or computer screen—I find myself rooting for the D&D community.

Erik Mona, editor-in-chief of Dungeon and Dragon, doubts that the game will ever be defeated. “D&D will remain popular as long as people value human interaction and contact,” he said. “It’s a fun game, involving an ounce of wish fulfillment and lots of mad, beautiful ideas.” In today’s media-saturated world of hand-held game consoles and online avatars, there’s something comforting in the knowledge that somewhere people are gathering face to face, engaging in long sessions of elaborate communal storytelling, and working cooperatively to vanquish evil.

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