Last March, the world shut down.
I was still in college at Troy, and all classes went online. All work for the Tropolitan (the student newspaper) was being done virtually.
After a few weeks of not leaving my apartment, I was starting to go insane. I beat all my video games and binge-watched all the shows I’d been planning to watch. Cabin fever was setting in.
I was alone. Almost all my friends in Troy had moved back home since classes were online and they had no reason to stay. I needed a safe way to actually have human interaction, and I found it in an unlikely place. (Well, unlikely for me).
I’ve never really considered myself that much of a geek. I was never into fantasy and sci-fi beyond Star Wars, Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter, which were all pretty mainstream anyway.
But over the last few years, things like fantasy and sci-fi that have always been considered “geeky” have suddenly become the mainstream. Heck, the biggest movies each year are based on comic books.
But there is one thing that was always considered the paragon of geekdom that has also become mainstream: Dungeons and Dragons.
I had seen the game portrayed in shows like “Stranger Things,” “The Big Bang Theory” and “Community,” where the joke was that it was super geeky. But when I looked into it, it actually sounded pretty fun. I’ve always been a fan of coming up with stories, and that’s one of the main focuses of the game.
Dungeons and Dragons, or DnD for short, is sort of like a free-range board game. (The game is officially classified as a fantasy tabletop roleplaying game). There’s no way to win or lose the game. Instead, it’s more like acting out and narrating a movie or TV show in real time.
Each player makes a character, and each character has certain abilities based on their class. Some classes are good at fighting, while others are good at magic, and some can do a little of both. Players describe what their characters do and say, while the “Dungeon Master,” or DM for short, acts like the narrator and the referee. Sometimes when the players want to try something difficult, they have to roll dice and beat a certain number to see if it works or if they fail.
DnD is interesting, because it removes the limits that other forms of stories place on you. In books, movies, TV shows and video games, you are limited to the story or the path the creator already made. Luke Skywalker is going to blow up the death star every time, the same exact way as before. But in games like DnD and other tabletop roleplaying games, players are only limited by their imagination. Players can choose to talk their way out of a situation instead of fight, or vice versa.
So I called up three of my high school friends to see if they would be interested, and we quickly got a game going.
I was the one who bought the rule books, so I was the DM for this game.
There were three characters. One was an elven ranger forced to flee his homeland after a tyrant seized power. Another was a lizardfolk barbarian who just wanted to eat everything (and everyone). The other character was a reformed war criminal who decided to change his ways and fight for good.
Our campaign lasted for over a year, and we wrapped it up a few weeks ago.
Over the course of their journey, the heroes fought against an evil dragon cult that was set on releasing a dragon that had been imprisoned for starting a devastating war in an attempt to seize power and rule over the continent.
The party fought hard to stop them, but the cult was successful in releasing the dragon, known as Tezuar the Manipulator.
They took off in pursuit as he flew away, stopping along the way to ease the tension the dragon had created between two kingdoms and preventing another all-out war.
Finally, they tracked him down to the ranger’s homeland, a desert kingdom now under the control of a tyrannical serpent named Hixth.
The three heroes traveled to different cities, establishing an alliance and raising an army to oppose him. The party led the charge, taking the city and taking down Hixth in an epic battle.
But as the flames settled, Tezuar appeared and challenged the party to a final showdown. It was a tough fight, and one member of the party nearly died in the battle, but in the end the heroes were victorious, and the fires of war were quenched.
That wasn’t a book, or a movie. This is a story that me and some friends came up with week by week.
In a little over a year, we created what feels like our own epic, in the same vein of the Odyssey or Beowulf.
Playing DnD helped me stay sane during the pandemic, especially when everything was completely shut down. We might not have been in the same place, but we were able to play over the internet. Now that I’m back in Winfield, we’ve been able to play in-person.
Each week, I had something to look forward too when there was nothing else going on. Playing each week also helped me keep track of time when the days all seemed to blur together.
Now I can see why the game was so popular. It’s just cool. People who grew up playing this game have gone on to become the people telling the stories we all go to the theater to see. They became the movie directors, the authors and the actors we enjoy today. To address the elephant in the room, there was a big moral panic back in the 80s about how DnD was apparently “satanic.”
I’ve been a Christian for most of my life at this point, and I wouldn’t be playing DnD if it truly was evil. I didn’t even know about the whole satanic panic thing until after I started playing, and nothing I knew about the game before that gave me any indications that it was evil.
The whole point of DnD is that it’s fantasy. It isn’t real, and that’s a good thing. We know we’re not actually doing “magic” or any of that stuff in real life, and we don’t want to.
The point of the game is to tell a story about a group of unlikely heroes while having fun with friends. It’s nice to have a time to just hang out and come up with a fun, goofy and epic story about a group of heroes fighting for good and triumphing over evil in a world where that feels like it’s hard to do sometimes.
DnD isn’t real life, but that’s what makes it great.
And it’s not the only tabletop roleplaying game out there. Now that we finished our first campaign, we’re going to play another game called Cyberpunk Red. Instead of fantasy, it’s set in a near, dystopian high-tech future.
I’m glad I gave DnD, and tabletop roleyplaying games in general, a shot. I would have really missed out on a lot of fun if I hadn’t. And with COVID still lingering around, it’s a good hobby to have if things end up shutting down again.
See complete story in the Journal Record.