TGIF for Dungeons and Dragons


Dungeons and Dragons dice

It is 6 p.m. on Friday and for some on campus, that means one thing—game time. The players shuffle in one by one, carrying bags of dice and snacks to bribe the dungeon master, the game’s organizer. They settle in, heckle the latecomers, and begin checking what equipment their characters still have and what has evaporated into dust.

It has been months since they last played, but they reconvene as if no time has passed After a short recap of what happened last time they played, the dungeon master launches the players back into a world of dragons, shadow queens, and rebellion.

This is “Dungeons and Dragons,” a tabletop roleplaying game that has seen a recent resurgence in popularity. Created in the 80’s, the fantasy game saw its biggest sales year in 2017 since 1997 according to the game’s publisher, Wizards of the Coast. The game involves one person, called the dungeon master or game master, who organizes the group and guides the players along a story. Dice are a major factor of the game. They decide the player’s character’s stats, if an action the player’s make has the result they want, and dole out the damage if they’re attacked.

This isn’t the first time that roleplaying games have risen to popularity on campus. Raymond Brior, technical services librarian at NVU-Johnson, remembers the game’s prominence on campus during his undergraduate days at JSC.

“There were a variety of games going on on-campus in whatever dorms we were living in, but then there were also games going on off-campus,” Brior said. “There were various houses in town where one or several people in our group lived. It was a big club.”

But just because it was well-attended on-campus, didn’t mean it escaped the stigmatization of it that had occurred off-campus.

“There was some real fear of the role-players on campus. I remember hearing people talk about them like, these people think they’re vampires; that was the perception. That was the general vibe and climate when I was here. I came in the fall of ‘96 and graduated in the spring of ‘01, but there were still at times around 35 people playing. It was a real sign of how strong it was. I think it was sort of changing there in the 90’s. It definitely seems to pick up at least here. There were always people who were skeptical of the role-players.”

With stigma on role players and other “nerdy” activities disappearing, the popularization of media based on the game, such as podcast turned graphic novel “The Adventure Zone” and the show “Critical Role” has allowed more and more people to play openly.

For players on campus, it’s more than just a game; it is an opportunity to hang out with friends, tell a story, share a laugh and do things one can’t usually do.

“For me, it’s roleplaying, I’m very much a person who enjoys acting,” Alan Clough, an on-campus D&D player and Dungeon Master, said when asked about his favorite things in the game. “It’s not anything I would do professionally, it’s not my major, but I’m a person who has done drama in the past. I really like making the character and acting out a developmental arc across a number of sessions.”

Shane DeShone, another on-campus D&D player, finds immersion in the game to be satisfying on multiple levels. “It’s like living a story. Like reading a book and deciding where the plot goes,” he said.
The story isn’t confined to the plot lines found in the official books. Many game groups homebrew – or use unofficial material in their games to tell a better story. Anything can be homebrewed, from the setting to the characters’ races. If you can make a stat sheet for it, you can play it, whether it be a fey mouse or an internet meme.

“It’s an emotional trip, like grief and frustration but also like, yeah, we did this thing! There’s a lot of good emotions that go into this game,” DeShone said. “I played a character and I had become attached to an NPC in the game. And when that character died—my character and that character had a relationship going—I was so distraught by this character dying, that I pushed my real life girlfriend out of my lap and had to grieve for a second. I was like no, we have to save her.”

On campus, there are quite a few scattered groups. The accessibility of “Dungeons and Dragons” means people can play anywhere, including online. Two players on campus, Dollie Marston and Josje Bonnet, play through a messenger application called Discord. Of course, there are major differences between the two forms of playing the game. Occasionally, internet-based games will get the chance to play together around a table, which can highlight some of the disadvantages.

“The speed was much faster. I could talk faster than I could type,” Marston said.

Bonnet echoed that sentiment, feeling more involved when playing in person.

It isn’t all a bad experience for online sessions, however; it has one major advantage over in- person sessions: scheduling. Scheduling is one of the biggest issues of a game, finding the time that everyone can sit down together and just play. It is much easier to find a few people you can play with online who have a similar schedule as you do.

“It’s nice to be able to play online, because it’s like that person has a schedule that’s kind of like mine,” Bonnet said.

Whether you want to play online or start your own group on campus, “Dungeons and Dragons” is an experience for all who play it. Those interested in learning how to play “Dungeons and Dragons” should be reassured; it’s not as hard as it looks and many game veterans are willing to help.

“Don’t be afraid of roleplaying, because that’s the fun part. It seems really terrifying at first, but everyone does it, because that’s the fun part,” said Bonnet. “It’s designing your whole other person that you get to be for a couple of hours.”