A lifelong bookworm and a fantasy geek, Sarah Chaffee had for years admired Dungeons & Dragons from afar. “In the culture I grew up in,” she says, “it was very much like, ‘D&D is devil worship.’” In college, after getting some distance from her religious community, Chaffee says she couldn’t wait any longer: She bought the books, sat her friends down, and told them, “I’m going to run a game.”
Two years later, Chaffee is a D&D microcelebrity on TikTok. With short-cropped hair and a wry smile, from her SarahIsCoffee account Chaffee role-plays the exasperated dungeon master waiting for her late players, the stick-in-the-mud cleric, the devil-may-care warlock, the inconvenienced villager. Chaffee gets it all across with a huge repertoire of facial expressions, memes, and a little cosplay. Take “D&D Classes in Quarantine”: In quick succession, Chaffee embodies the charismatic bard on seven dating apps, the tired paladin who’d gotten everyone’s groceries, the rogue relishing in solitude, the druid squeezing her cat, and the wizard reading themselves into an existential crisis.
“It really shows people that anyone can play D&D,” says Chaffee. “It's not a game that is just meant for people who have been around since the first edition and have grandfathered their own people in. It's absolutely for everyone. And I think D&D TikTok is really helping people to see that.”
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Over the last few years, the old-school fantasy role-playing game has seen renewed relevance. In 2014, publisher Wizards of the Coast released a streamlined D&D ruleset that emphasized storytelling over number-crunching. New online tools have erased the need for deep dives into thick tomes. Along with this fresh focus on character and plot, charismatic actors debuted web series, podcasts, and Twitch shows of their D&D games, some racking up hundreds of thousands of subscribers. Mainstream media headlines described how D&D was no longer the domain of old, ponytailed dudes who’d cut their teeth on historically accurate wargames. Everybody plays D&D.
That includes Gen Z. As the 46-year-old game has filtered down, TikTokers are translating its gatekept culture and inside jokes into short-form video memes. The barrier to entry is low; a lot of the most popular D&D TikTokers have only played for a year or two themselves. It doesn’t matter. You don’t need to have memorized the rulebook to laugh at the edgy rogue killing the toll guard they’d just paid off—just to get the money back—as Madonna’s “Material Girl” plays in the background.
D&D is associated with hours-long dice-rolling marathons, but it lends itself to TikTok’s short-form bursts in a couple of ways. It’s structured around archetypes; D&D’s famous alignment chart has already become a meme in its own right, spinning out into mosaics of pop culture icons ordered by ethical alignment. On TikTok, Gen Z has made D&D’s class system into a meme, too. A D&D TikToker who goes by Offbeat Outlaw compares it to the Italian theatrical form commedia dell'arte. “This is basically the same thing—classes and archetypes for all the classes—but on an app,” he says. “There’s a set script you can follow to build your skits off, and earn some renown, because people would resonate with those characters.”
Offbeat Outlaw points to D&D TikTok’s favorite archetype: the horny bard. In D&D, bards have a high “charisma” stat. If the party needs a negotiator, a diplomat, a persuader, or a liaison of any form, they’ll probably turn to the bard. “Charisma” also traditionally applies to how hot a character is so a lot of the time bard-players will use seduction to get what they want.
Take this recent Offbeat Outlaw post in which a rogue yells at his bard for seducing a dragon. (Offbeat Outlaw plays both classes, lip-syncing to a popular audio meme from SpongeBob SquarePants.)
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“Everyone knows the horny bard. People kind of revile him, but everybody knows him. So when you see that, you know what’s going to happen, but you appreciate how the joke unfolds,” says Offbeat Outlaw.
It’s not just memes. D&D is open-ended yet still reliant on rules; TikTokers like to come up with the most absurd possible characters or scenarios and show how far they can bend them. Some of the most popular videos from OneShotQuesters, the biggest creator on D&D TikTok, involve a recurring paladin character who swore an oath to “throw it back.” Paladins all have to take oaths, which make them a paladin forever. His took a commitment to party.
TikTokers share “D&D storytime” videos, in which they dress up in costumes to dramatize things that happened in their games. Then there’s Matt Denkles, whose riotously funny D&D videos include catchy raps about how powerful monks are or getting shiny new dice, or Griffin Dixon, who role-plays fighter himbos in the woods.
“I really love hearing stories from people campaigns, funny unique situations that the PCs found themselves in, and resolved… or dramatically failed to resolve,” says Dixon. “I see D&D as an interactive narrative. Like a book you write with your friends.”
D&D TikTok is relatively small, but growing. Creators say their enthusiasm has been contagious. Their TikTok viewers are collecting in Discord groups to play their first D&D games over the internet. And it helps that one popular D&D TikTok video trope makes fun of overserious or pretentious rules sticklers. “Usually, they set up a joke where a gatekeeper will try to enforce the rules in a way that kind of ruins the fun for everyone else. And then they will be knocked down or put into place,” says Chaffee. Earlier this year in February, she says, somebody who found out she was into D&D tested her on a couple of rules, and once she passed, she received an invitation to their party. She said hell no. D&D TikTok, she says, is “oh my gosh, one of the most inclusive, wonderful communities that I have had the pleasure to be a part of.”
A D&D player named Lydia, who goes by GothicFaerie on TikTok, was at first self-conscious about making D&D videos since she’s only been playing for a year. She’d bounce ideas off her friends, like, “Would it make sense for a warlock to do this after its pact with a supernatural being?” Her friends told her, whatever, pacts can work however you want. But, of course, after she released the clip there was one guy in the comments who told her she was wrong.
“At first I was like, oh, they know more than me because I haven’t been playing for that long,” she says. “But then I was like, Dude, I’m trying to make a joke. Let’s just have fun.”