What makes D&D so replayable vs. other TTRPGs?

Asked on Twitter:

He didn’t specify vs. other RGPs, but I’m going to frame it that way, because I think it makes the answers more interesting. We all know why TTRPGs in general are so loved and replayable. But why does D&D specifically inspire so much dedication? It’s been 40 years, there’s been plenty of time for someone else to come out with something new and better. Ford made the first mass produced car, but after 40 years, there was a ton of competition.

It’s the magic

I have a few theories, but my main one is one that wasn’t mentioned in that thread is magic. The fact that it’s a fantasy world with magic suffused throughout it means that you never have to justify anything with logic. Why are there dragons, and how do they fly and breathe fire? Magic. How is the paladin immune to disease? Magic. Magic means that any ability is possible.

PCs are Superheroes

PCs in D&D are effectively superheroes. They can fly, shoot lasers, get superhuman strength, turn invisible… superheroes.

The problem with most actual superhero RPGs is that they’re usually set in the modern world with an assumed “normal earth” as the default. Which means your enemies are almost always humans (with the occasional alien invasion, but that can’t be too common). Everything is based on reality… and reality is really boring.

Sure, you can get complicated scenarios where there’s an oil tanker rigged to explode and the Supers need to disarm it etc… and that can be exciting, but it’s a lot of work to set up and requires a lot of logic in how things are configured, because of course it has to be realistic, because the basis is reality.

Monsters are cool

Have you ever played D&D where you only ever fight humans? It would be boring. Unfortunately, that’s the default for a lot of non-D&D RPGs… and it just gets tiring. It’s like yet another fight against Nazis in Indiana Jones.

In D&D, the DM can just throw new interesting monsters in your way and spice up things that way. The DM can give opponents weird magical abilities that maybe don’t make perfectly logical sense in the real world, but are still fun in-game. And no one’s going to argue the realism, because it’s just a fantasy world.

People want fantasy

I think this all comes back to being fantasy. We deal with reality every day, why would we want to play there, too? In a fantasy realm, literally anything is possible. Violence is bad in the real world, but in a fantasy world, when you know you’re fighting someone evil, it makes for a straightforward approach to resolve a problem. It feels good to just be able to straight out fight the bad guys, rather than have to try to out-fundraise them, like we do in real life.

What do you think? Why do you think D&D is so popular vs. other TTRPGs?

I’m not convinced that there is any reason to believe that D&D has any particular distinction in terms of replayablity. There are certainly many really long running Vampire, Pendragon, Call of Cthulhu (albeit chewing through PCs) , Fate, Stars, and Runequest campaigns, and people also replay and start new games in these sysstems (and purchase adventures and expansions).

Certainly D&D has unique network effect that explain it’s popularity. And perhaps gameplay/setting elements that explain part of this as well. But, at best, I suspect it doesn’t screw up these advantages with replayability problems, rather than having any sort of distinction there.

My point was that it’s mostly not the rules that keep people coming back to D&D (although I think the combinatorics of character creation help… as does the levelling-up feedback loop, but lots of RPGs have that). But rather that the setting / genre is the major thing that makes it attractive to replay.

Many other games are a lot more focused in their setting / genre, so that there’s fairly tight confines in what you can do with them. Vampire is a game about vampires. You can’t really play it about something else. Not everyone is into vampires and even those that are, there’s less variation in the characters and the themes than in something like D&D.

I do think you’re right that the network effect helps insulate D&D a lot. Propose a game of D&D and you have millions of people that already know how to play. Propose a game of Dungeon World, and your audience of prepared gamers drops by at least an order of magnitude. But I think D&D got to be #1 because of its setting-neutrality and fantasy genre and lack of much competition in that space.

I think there’s a possibility to split the market, the way Android and iPhone split the market, if there’s a second game that has a lot of money behind it (the way Pathfinder was successful). but I think the money is necessary. You can’t go from an indie RPG with zero marketing budget and actually win substantial market share. But I think if there is a competitor to D&D, it will still need to be in the same genre and with a similar loose relationship to a setting.

Or maybe it’s all just happenstance and luck, and some really good Sci-Fi RPG will come along and prove me completely wrong. I wouldn’t be terribly surprised :slight_smile:

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