It is a Sunday evening, and several Knox students are gathered around a dining room table. They have been there for hours now, pushing their school work to the back of their minds as they roll their dice, build characters and fall deeper into the world they’ve created together.
They are playing Dungeons and Dragons (D&D), a tabletop roleplaying game that was popularized in the late 70s, and has captivated players since. It is a game that can be time consuming, with sessions lasting up to five hours, and planning can take up at least half that time.
Despite this, several groups of players have cropped up on Knox’s campus. From the outside, you cannot help but wonder how they have the time, and what motivates them to stay so dedicated to the game, but in the end, it is pretty simple; the community, the story and the craft is what pulls people in and keeps them coming back week after week.
Alexis Brown, sophomore, was taught to play D&D by her father at a young age. She recalls being around ten years old when he began teaching her to play and was hoping to get back into playing at Knox. Eventually, one of her friends approached her about replacing a character who had left his campaign and has been playing with them ever since.
She plays a wood elf, Zola, very much a self-insert character. It is one of the many things she loves about the game; Brown is granted the ability to build a character around herself whose choices and decisions matter in the world she and her friends are building.
That being said, Brown knows that D&D is a big time commitment. She and her campaign meet every Sunday for about four hours, and balancing this with all her other commitments makes her Sundays extremely busy. Still, her campaign make an effort to meet every week.
“It was just about finding a time where all of us could forget about all that and be together,” she said.
For Brown and her fellow players, it is about taking the time to be present with one another, and forget about all their stress in the world they have built together.
Erin Jin, junior, did not know about D&D before coming to Knox, but as soon as they learned about the game they knew they wanted to play. Luckily, they got the opportunity when their Dungeon Master (DM) pulled together a couple people who had never played before to form a campaign where they could all learn how.
Jin loved the game. As a Creative Writing major, they loved crafting the backstory and the journey of their character in the vast world their DM had created, especially because of how important character building is to the game. They played a half-elf warlock named Eloran, who had an intricate backstory complete with his origins, motives and fears.
“After you start playing, your character really becomes a part of you,” Jin said. “You care when they get hurt, when they discover something new, when they realize something about themselves.”
As much as Jin loves D&D, they are currently taking a hiatus from the game. It is a huge time commitment, and while Jin finds that it is usually a source of happiness for them, eventually keeping up with everything began to take a toll on their mental health.
For Liam Wholihan, senior, D&D began as a way to spend time with people he shared common interests with, but he grew to have a much deeper appreciation for it.
“It’s storytelling, but it’s improvised,” he said.
Players have a lot of power to influence the story.
“As the Dungeon Master, you show up with your story and your plans, and you watch your players destroy it,” he said.
He recalled spending the entire summer writing his campaign, and then watching the players destroy all the little details of his story, but it wasn’t a bad thing. In fact, this improvisational aspect of it all makes it interesting for him. He said that his players ended up making the story better than he could have ever written it himself.
Matt Cagle, junior, started playing D&D in high school with a group of close friends, and he has loved it ever since. He typically plays as the DM, and started a campaign on campus so to introduce the game to new players.
Being a DM is time consuming; they have to create the world, read about and understand the other player’s characters, create and play as the world’s non-playable characters and make the story memorable and fun for players. It is hard work, but Cagle loves and makes the time for D&D because it is group storytelling.
He likes that it brings people together, and that it allows him to build memories of a fantastical world with his friends.
“I schedule a weekly time that works for everyone, maybe for about three to five hours. For me, if a session goes longer than that I get really tired, and I can tell the players do to. Too little time and the players feel robbed, too much and you are exhausted,” he said.