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IDoDnD (In Defense of Dungeons and Dragons)

The most recent installment of Netflix’s smash-hit Stranger Things recently hit our laptop screens and with it came a flood of 80s nostalgia.  Hearing The Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” and seeing the gang’s adorable Ghostbusters costumes is enough to take anyone back three decades.  But the most persistent reference the series makes is to a guilty pleasure of mine – Dungeons and Dragons.

Throughout the series, characters’ mystical powers and the horrifying beasts they face are referred to with jargon from Dungeons and Dragons or D&D.  For example, Eleven, a character with psychokinetic powers, is described as a “mage.”  The first season’s antagonist is called the “Demogorgon” because it is the monster the main characters last fought while playing D&D.

After first watching the show, my friends and I discussed how well made and riveting it was.  Eventually, someone said, “it was so good, it made me want to play Dungeons and Dragons!”  We all happened to agree; the game seemed like it could actually be fun.

At this point, another friend interjected that he had been reading up on hosting his own D&D games (or, to use proper lingo, “be a Dungeon Master”) and wanted to practice with us.  Initially, we were skeptical.  The characters that played in Stranger Things were middle schoolers, and we didn’t think the game’s target market expanded far beyond that cohort and sweaty, 40-something basement dwellers.  Besides, did we really want a friend to be our “Dungeon Master?”

Ultimately, we acquiesced.  One Friday night when we all had nothing better to do, we gathered around the pool table in my basement.  Surprisingly, the game was not nearly as involved as I had expected it to be.  There were no detailed maps or intricate pieces like you see in stereotypical portrayals.  Rather, our Dungeon Master showed up with some cheap dice and gave us a simple goal: there’s an evil witch wreaking havoc.  Stop her.

We played the round half-seriously.  I was a half-man, half-toucan wizard.  One friend was an eight-foot tall ant named Gibbles McTingle.  Another was simply Jeffrey Lamar Williams, aka rapper Young Thug.  We set off on our journey, fighting giant snakes, invading castles, and raiding pirate ships.  And, to our collective surprise, we actually had a blast.

There’s something to be said about the game D&D.  For most of its 43-year lifespan, it has been cast as little more than nerd-fodder.  A chance to make-believe personal greatness when perhaps little exists in real-life.  But, truly, it’s not actually that serious.  Really, it’s simply a nice game to play while unwinding with friends.

Interestingly enough, D&D parallels the staple of any teen ice-breaker, Mafia.  In Mafia,  participants are assigned roles as town-folk in a sleepy village plagued by the Sicilian brotherhood.  Every night, a citizen is murdered and players have to, relatively in-character, catch the murderers or escape the law, depending on their affiliation.  Whenever I play, everyone gets very into their persona, and they always have a great time role-playing the murder mystery. It is easy to draw similarities between D&D and Mafia.  Both are games played primarily through oration, with players assuming fictitious roles that function as characters in a story of sorts.  The two even have similar omniscient narrator characters.  Why then, is it more common to act out the shutdown of a heinous crime syndicate than the saving of a kingdom from an evil wizard?

Now, there’s a non-trivial amount of set-up for a D&D campaign, such as developing a plot-outline for the campaign and creating characters.  But, as I said earlier, these steps can be simplified, and, the end result is worth it.  I’ve never had such a unique, enrapturing experience when playing a game.  Sure, it’s pretty exciting to get a big payday in a Monopoly game with friends.  But, have you ever taken down a 300 year-old vampire warlock with your pals?

Even if the whole “fantasy” genre isn’t your bread-and-butter, D&D can still be used as a framework for a good time.  Maybe you want to slash around with light sabers in the Star Wars universe.  Perhaps you want to see if you and your friends could pull off a bank heist.  Ultimately, the game is about creative problem-solving and hanging out with friends; beyond that, the rest is up to you. 

So, the next time your friends are looking for something to do on a night-in, try Dungeons and Dragons.  It’ll certainly be an interesting experience and, who knows, maybe a new favorite pastime. 

After all, there are stranger things you could do on a Friday night.

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Ben Gustafson is a first-year who, at time of print, has custom ordered his own 20-D.