What Dungeons and Dragons Taught Me About UX

Video games have come a long way since the days of text-based adventures and pixelated graphics. Today, we have complex and immersive games that offer deep customization, intricate storylines, and stunning graphics.

However, as we indulge ourselves in modern digital gaming, we took many aspects of well refined game mechanics and great UX for granted. We rarely take the time to look back at where it all began and appreciate how far we have come.

Dungeons and Dragons (DnD) is the origin of Role Playing Games (RPG). It was first created in 1974 by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson and was based on tabletop wargaming. DnD introduced many of the elements that have become standard in RPGs and inspired many core mechanics found in other game genres.

As a games industry professional with 15 years of experience including a focus on UI/UX in the last decade, experiencing DnD for the first time was both refreshing and shocking. Let’s dive into what lead to my reactions.

Analog or digital, you know you are not gonna leave a dungeon without an epic Boss Battle…

The First Impression

The first thing I noticed was the difference in pace and involvement in DnD compared to modern video games. In DnD, the pace is way slower, and player involvement is exceptionally tedious, but in a meaningful way.

An ongoing analog equivalent of an onboarding tutorial and nope, there is no “SKIP” button for this one…

Participation-Based Progress

Players must use their imagination and make decisions based on their character’s abilities and the game world. The main progress, which is the storyline itself is only as engaging as how much effort we as the players put in. The key NPCs (Non-Player Characters) are not going to just tell you what to do next or what you could do, you find out by asking the right questions and making the right decision as a team.

Over the years of evolution in gaming, we slowly evolve to a stage where most games were literally spoon feeding narratives. This made player participation rather passive and inadvertently extinguish the spark of our own creative potential.

Rewarding Experience via Meaningful Effort

Modern video games often rely on automated gameplay mechanics based on a random number generator (RNG) for determining the outcome of an action. This mechanic is often automated and hidden in the background. In DnD however, this becomes a manual effort. What surprises me is how the simple act of rolling my own dice made every move feel more deliberate and impactful.

This is actually the only time I rolled a 20 on a “D20” dice. I did it by retrying a thousand times, I’m such a lucky man.

While not all aspects of manual effort are enjoyable, such as repeatedly taking damage or healing and updating these numbers manually, it is important to recognize the value of interactivity which creates a more engaging user experience.

I do appreciate the convenience of automation in some gameplay elements in modern games, otherwise certain game genres would never be possible if updates were to be done manually (imagine a tabletop Idle Clicker, it would be a nightmare!)

Taking 5 damage had never hurt so much before…

UX Driven Retention

While participating in a DnD session can require a significant time commitment, I found myself eagerly anticipating the next session after each one no matter how exhausting it can be at times (a session could be 4hours or more at times).

However, it wasn’t any progression system or desire to unlock more content that motivated me. I came back because of how the battles felt, how a failed dice roll puts a teammate in danger, how the story unfolds instead of the actual storyline itself and last but not least, the actual experience of exploration instead of what treasures (or junk) I may discover.

Ultimately, it was the immersive experience that truly motivated me, it was purely UX driven retention and it is refreshing and inspiring.



While DnD offers a highly immersive and imagination-driven experience, it requires a significant investment of time and effort, making it less desirable for modern gamers who generally have shorter attention spans and are accustomed to instant gratification.

Not every aspect of what makes DnD fun could be replicated in modern video games especially for mobiles games. However, here are some points worth considering:

  • Slow down the pace of progress by reducing the frequency of upgrades / level ups, but when it does happen, it should be extremely meaningful / impactful.
  • Enhance user participation by finding value-adding opportunities in mechanics that are usually hidden or automated.
  • Rethink the way we gate or unlock content. Focus on the ‘How’ and less of the ‘What’.

I hope you find this article inspiring or helpful in some ways. Here are some other UI/UX related articles from Mighty Bear Games that you might be interesting in as well:

What Dungeons and Dragons Taught Me About UX was originally published in Mighty Bear Games on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.