by Gabriel Roland
It’s two-thirty in the morning. There are unfinished pizzas in the kitchen and bags of candy strewn around the room. My sister is grading papers from her elementary students. Her husband is pouring some soda to stay awake. Our mutual friend is cuddling the dog. All of them have one eye on the table. I roll the dice to make an attack. The number it lands on grants me a powerful attack, helping me defeat the tough enemy plaguing our group. As I look around the room, I see a group of friends I’ve bonded with thanks to an engaging game. That game is a role-playing tabletop game, Dungeons and Dragons. Just like with any football night or video game hangout, playing tabletop games is a way for people to come together and communicate in their own way.
What fascinates me about tabletop gaming is how the game is played. While tabletop gaming mostly refers to any game that can be played on a flat surface, the term is often associated with roleplaying games. In these games, a person creates their own character based on the rules in the guidebook to send on an adventure created by a Dungeon Master, who decides what enemies they fight and what treasure they find. Games are played by four or five people, with one Dungeon Master organizing everything. The creative writing involved in the game connected with me, as I love character concepts and worldbuilding. I often bond with new people by talking about stories from tv shows and games from I like, or stories that are my own original creations. Talking about fiction helps me to loosen up and become comfortable in new groups. So, when I am given the chance to create my own characters and stories in tabletop games to share with other people, I get very excited.
I’ve noticed in tabletop games like Dungeons and Dragons, a person’s created character can be one of the best ways for them to open up to others. It gives players a chance to see what interests they have, the tropes they like, and the stories they want to tell. This gives other players a chance to bond with them in return, interacting with their character and adding even more to the story. Over time, people begin to share more than their character ideas and writing styles. Their unique attributes manifest. I myself was worried about some quirks I had. When I was younger, I had an active imagination, and I vented it by drawing comics or acting out stories to myself. It was an odd quirk that earned me more than a few bullies. With the Dungeons and Dragons group however, I could be myself without worry. I and many others realize that the people in these groups could be trusted with these quirks. During the game, a person’s quirks aren’t oddities, but instead another facet of who they are.
The history behind Dungeons and Dragons is also fascinating. As far back as 1974, it has been a good alternative for people that don’t really do well in other social situations, like sporting events or big parties, something I can relate to. Those who aren’t interested in louder events can instead sit down with a small group to experience an interactive fantasy world. The popularity of the game has grown as years have gone on, escaping stigmas and enduring controversies. It has reached a point where even a person one wouldn’t expect has shown an immense love for the game. Voice actors like Matthew Mercer, wrestlers like Brandon Bogle, NBA players like Tim Duncan, and even movie directors like Jon Favreau have all been attracted to the creative potential this game has to offer. With people like that enthusiastic to play, it has become even less discouraging to play a tabletop game.
Introverted individuals like myself often have a harder time opening themselves up to others in extroverted settings, especially when it is dominated by loud noises and intense hyperactive fans. Dungeons and Dragons sessions are quieter, only getting crazy every now and then, maybe during a tough fight. In this quiet setting, I don’t feel overshadowed. My voice isn’t drowned out and my thoughts are taken into consideration. There aren’t many players that make me feel overcrowded or lost, just a handful of folks talking with one another. This casual atmosphere helps relieve any tension I’m feeling and relaxes me so that I can feel comfortable getting to know the group. By the time we have reached the few crazier or louder moments, I’ve become familiar enough with the people around me to not be overwhelmed.
Another connection the people of these groups make are the defined terms that Dungeons and Dragons players must learn and remember. While different sports have names for fouls, positions, and movements, tabletops have also developed a dictionary of phrases that almost seems like another language. When I started playing, I studied the uses of my dice and each situation they might come up in, from the four-sided all the way to the twenty-sided. Getting used to different types of characters, like barbarians or mages, was also entertaining. I had to talk with my newfound friends to see how I should fight, and how well I would work with certain characters. Damage types, resistances, proficiencies, abilities – all of these words sounded like Greek to me. When I took the time to learn the terms, those terms became a source of conversation. Whether it is a serious discussion about the next meeting, or a series of silly jokes based on the terms themselves, learning the language of tabletops gave me another way to bond with the people I had met.
I’ve found that going to tabletop sessions are a like going to sports parties. Through these tabletop sessions, players have developed their own way for people to open up to others and communicate. Tabletops aren’t for everyone, as everyone has their preferred methods of socializing. But tabletop games have the potential to connect with anyone. Even people that could be found cheering for football teams or those who enjoy playing sports might find a new potential path to friendship in these games. It certainly couldn’t hurt just to give the dice one roll.