Dungeons and Dragons: An escape from the world

In a world where everyone is being forced apart, Opinion Contributor Karen Jesch talks about the game that kept her close to her friends: The tabletop role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons, a game of dice, fantasy, and shared imagination.

In a game where the role of the dice can mean life or death, will you take the chance?

Listen, our world sucks right now. Like, a lot. Being stuck at home with my family for five months, and now going to school during a pandemic… I want out of this timeline. So, every week, I do so, and leave this world in favor of another one that my friends and I have created.

Dungeons and Dragons is a tabletop roleplaying game in which you and your friends create characters like you’d expect in Lord of the Rings or Skyrim, and go on adventures guided by a storyteller called the Dungeon Master. Different races and classes give you various abilities, from elven sorcerers to dwarven fighters. Decisions are finalized by a roll of the dice, adding various modifiers to determine the outcome of your actions.

This game allows you to step into your favorite world of fantasy or science fiction, embarking on an epic quest like the heroes of old mythology on an adventure of world-impacting proportions. And those adventures can be as long or as short as you want – I’ve run games that lasted just a few hours, and the other night I played the epilogue of a campaign that started 16 months ago.

Playing D&D is something I’ve been doing for years. I made my first character, a halfling wizard, when I was nine. It gained special significance these past few months though, when I could use it to escape the pandemic, the loneliness, and the deep-seated fear I’ve been feeling since March – it all went away. For the hours we played, it was the first time it wasn’t dark. 

Dave Walters, author of the Dungeons & Dragons comics, summed up my feelings pretty nicely: “We feel freaking helpless. We’re bombarded by an invisible adversary and the only thing we can do is literally nothing. More than ever, to be able to say, ‘I’ll hit them with a fireball’ is a very needed outlet.”

D&D isn’t just about blasting your enemies with fire. It’s a sociable game, entirely relying on communication and a collective imagination, so the isolating feeling of social distancing melted away. It kept my imagination running and my intuition sharp as I kept up with the in-game obstacles, and it gave me a chance to be creative with my friends and make something I was proud of.

The creators of D&D, Wizards of the Coast, have been working hard to create content that’s available for free. Apps like Discord and Roll20 mean that playing with people you don’t live with is a lot easier. Virtual dice rolling apps and downloadable PDFs make the game free. Premade adventures are available all over the place if you’re unsure of where to start. Canisius’ library even has the starter set, containing everything you need to play your first game.

Fantasy is a refuge. It always has been. Tabletop games like D&D mean that instead of simply sitting and consuming fantasy on Netflix, you can create it yourself with the people you care about. Give it a try – the worst that’ll happen is you get emotionally invested in your fantasy cat-person boyfriend and sacrificed to a cult.

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