A large white table is scattered with papers and dice. Five players surround it. In the corner of the room, one person sits behind a short custom-made screen with a sign designating them Dungeon Master. They don’t wear capes or cloaks, but the players immerse themselves in the fantasy world of the game. During the next several hours, the group will forge a narrative, their dice determining their characters’ fates through random chance. The game is Dungeons & Dragons (D&D).
D&D is a tabletop role-playing game created in 1974. Often seen as just a stereotype of nerd culture, there is more to D&D than one might assume.
While the rules are not set in stone, most games begin the same way. Each player creates a character with specific characteristics and ability scores — strength, constitution, dexterity, intelligence, wisdom and charisma. The methods that determine these scores differ with each game.
These, along with the characters’ backstories and descriptive characteristics, are recorded on character sheets used during gameplay.
The Dungeon Master serves as the storyteller and referee, moving the characters through stories they either make up or find online. Campaigns can last for a few hours to a few weeks or even months.
The story details are made up as each player describes what their character would do in a given situation. The success of the character’s actions is determined by the roll of a polyhedral die. The dice can have four, six, eight, 10, 12 or 20 sides and what the roll signifies is determined by the Dungeon Master before the player tosses the dice. The campaign ends when the story reaches a resolution.
There are different aspects that enhance game play, like figurines and maps as props. However, all the game technically requires is dice
“Remember when you were five and all of your friends sat in a circle and would play pretend?” graphic communications sophomore Casey Everitt said. “It’s the same thing, but when you’re five you don’t have as many dice.”
More than a game
The group of students, who named themselves Mostly Associated, play on a weekly basis. Members include Everitt, architecture sophomore Erika Kessler, chemistry senior Max Beck, electrical engineering sophomores Kevin Bender and Gabe Sartori and computer science sophomore Joseph DeLuca.
Many members’ favorite part of playing is the social aspect of the game. Mostly Associated came together at the beginning of Fall 2016, and the time they spend together is not restricted to their D&D sessions.
“When people say, ‘If you play D&D, you’re antisocial,’ it’s actually the opposite, because you literally have to be social to play,” DeLuca said.
“I like playing it for the friendships, and it lets you assume different identities,” Bender said.
In assuming character identities, the players create fun and interesting stories, from robbing trains to burning down police stations. Each campaign is unique and creative.
“I really like it because it allows me to be more creative in storytelling, which is something I want to get better at,” Everitt said.
Nerd culture and beyond
D&D is a large part of pop culture, its popularity shown by references in the media, such as in CBS’s “The Big Bang Theory” and Netflix’s “Stranger Things.”
DeLuca said though the Dungeon Master tells the story during campaigns, the players create the most interesting quips often mentioned in movies and television.
“I am basically convinced elements of storytelling that come up during D&D through random chance and between a bunch of people goofing around shows up so often in movies,” DeLuca said. “It makes me think these types of games are behind a lot of different stories.”
Though a niche community, D&D players are present at Cal Poly and on the Central Coast. For 35 years, Cal Poly has hosted PolyCon, a mini convention for gaming enthusiasts. This year’s convention is June 23 to 25 in Julian A. McPhee University Union and includes a three-round
Comic book store Captain Nemo Comics and Games on Higuera Street hosts weekly campaigns Wednesday nights.
Store clerk Benjamin Williams said sales of D&D paraphernalia increased since “Stranger Things” premiered. In the show, the main characters frequently play the game. Williams said regardless of age, people can appreciate the whimsy of D&D.
“We all played imaginary games when we were kids,” Williams said. “It becomes kind of a release when you are older.”
Cal Poly’s Game Theory club occasionally holds D&D campaigns during their weekly meetings, Fridays 5 to 10 p.m. in Bioresource & Agricultural Engineering (building eight), room 122.
“I think the enjoyment comes from the escape from the day to day, the ability to be anything and have a sense of adventure while also socializing with friends.” Game Theory member Mellisa Ter’Avest said.