Dungeons and Dragons has a bad reputation.
Getting in touch with gaming’s tabletop roots doesn’t mean crowding into a basement with a bunch of poorly groomed men arguing over damage points and rule editions. Many players are delightfully normal folks.
D&D is a tabletop fantasy role-playing game. First published by Tactical Studies Rules in 1974, D&D is regarded as the origin of modern role-playing games, including role playing video games.
Lauri Bray, a junior and English literature major, is upfront that D&D is geeky. She started playing four years ago, and as a writer she enjoys the storytelling aspect of the tabletop role-playing game.
“My friends call me the permanent noob [newbie] because I never bother to learn the finer points, the subtle rules that go with [D&D] because I’m just in it for the make-believe part,” she said.
Bray said she usually sees two types of players: people like herself who enjoy the storytelling opportunities of D&D, and more analytical players who prefer the dice-rolling aspects. She said
there is always one player who can fit one of the D&D gamer stereotypes, but there are just as many people who don’t fit the stereotypes at all.
Riley Sweeney, junior and communications major, admits that his D&D roots are what he considers stereotypical.
“We played in my friend’s basement,” Sweeney said. “We were all guys... We drank Mountain Dew and ate Cheez-its and played by candlelight…which was as close to a romantic encounter as any of us had gotten because there was candlelight.”
Sweeney said he enjoyed playing D&D as a teenager because it was a creative way to hang out with friends.
One of Sweeney’s biggest pet peeves are people who try to win at D&D.
“The main thing that distinguishes Dungeons and Dragons from normal games is that there aren’t winners and losers,” he said. “You’re not playing to win, you’re playing to enjoy playing.”
The player set on winning is called a power-gamer or a munchkin.
“[A munchkin is] someone who really exploits the rules, someone who searches for a way to make the highest damage character, the richest character,” said Bray.
Bray currently plays in two campaigns with her characters Miel, a pixie sword sage, and Mikaela, a goliath ranger. Miel is fun to play, she said, because her character’s personality allows for random behavior.
“[Miel] is really chaotic, really all over the place... she’s really high damage in the first three or four rounds, and after that she’s very mediocre,” said Bray. “She’s a one shot kind of person, in and out.”
In D&D, characters’ adventures and battles with adversaries earn experience points. Experience points numerically measure the characters power, levels and progression in the game. They also gain experience from interacting with one another.
“You can have... rivalry with a fellow party member, fraternity with a fellow party member, unrequited love and requited love, things like that,” said Bray. “If you incorporate things like... game bonuses, people are always willing to create relationships with each other’s characters.”
Sweeney said it’s normal to be rowdy during his D&D campaigns. When he lived in the dorms, he and his friends frequently received noise violations. One time Sweeney, in his excitement, jumped on the couch, pumped his fists, and accidentally punched a hole in the ceiling.
D&D games are coordinated by a Dungeon Master. DMs are the backbone of the game and keep the story progressing. Sweeney said he enjoys the role of DM because he can create the world and everything in it.
Bray said the math in D&D is too simple to really help develop math skills, but she said playing helped her socialize and come out of her shell. Playing has also influenced her creative life.
“I write a lot of genre stuff, a lot of fantasy and sci-fi, and I recognize, ‘hey if that’s in a D&D campaign,’ it’s probably a little bit cliché.”
Sweeney describes D&D as a board game with group storytelling. The only limits in the game are the imaginations of the players.
“There’re not a lot of opportunities in our culture for people to feel comfortable telling a story to each other,” he said.
Bray can tell when she’s around other gamers, whether they are table-top or into video games. When she’s with other friends who play D&D, she’ll joke with them.
“You’ll be watching a movie and commentating on the battle scenes as though it was a D&D game,” she said. “‘Oh, he made his save roll, oh he rolled a critical.’ Stuff that people around you have no idea what you’re saying, but it’s hilarious when you’re doing it with people who play.”
If interested in playing D&D, Bray recommends looking for announcements at game shops or checking online at places like the Bellingham Gamers group on LiveJournal (http://bham_gamers.livejournal.com).
“Find a game and start playing,” she said. “You’re never going to be able to remember the rules unless you start playing, and a good DM will be patient with you.”
A Western employee, who wishes to remain anonymous, recently began playing D&D—and doesn’t want to draw attention from coworkers. She plays with her roommates, and another friend. Most of them have played since they were about 11.
“At that time, there was a lot more stigma about it,” she said. They’re really quiet about that, and it rubbed off on me.”
She always asked her roommates questions about D&D until they invited her to play. When she started, she saw how easy it was for them to lose track of time.
“That’s another thing I never understood,” she said. “Why’d they never stop playing? Why’s it take so long? The day goes by so fast when you’re playing that you don’t even realize what time it is. Suddenly it’s night.”
She said she was a science major before she graduated and that she’s never previously done any role-playing or creative writing.
“My first character that I wrote up is a gnome, a female gnome,” she said. “She’s a druid in a really human-oriented city. The whole adventure is around humans, so she’s pretty quiet and tends to follow what other people are doing a lot.”
She lives with her boyfriend and two other couples. She doesn’t have children herself, but her roommates do. The youngest boy rolls big toy dice while they play.
“We’re not big nerds sitting around, we have relationships and families,” she said. “We take breaks to spend time with the kids.”