HC UPR Recommends: Dungeons & Dragons

One night, I was video-chatting with my boyfriend. “My buddies and I are going to start a Dungeons & Dragons campaign. Do you wanna join?” he asked nonchalantly. I wracked through my mind for what little knowledge I had of Dungeons & Dragons: very vague memories of Christian groups in the 80’s claiming it involved witchcraft and satanism; endless pop culture references in TV and film, either as something nerdy and un-cool or as a ‘boys club’; and, most recently, a Netflix series about a particular group of kids who face off against a real-life Demogorgon in the Upside Down. I thought for a second or two, then shrugged, “Sure.” That’s when he told me to print out the character sheet and start creating my character. He gave me links to different handbooks with a few hundred pages worth of information, told me I can work out the details of my backstory with the Dungeon Master later, threw me into a group chat with the other players where they started discussing what the best day was to meet weekly, and then left me to my own devices.

Creating a character? Backstory? Dungeon Master? Weekly meetings? I thought this was a one-time board game where I had to choose whether I was a boot, a boat, or a hat and then I move around a board and complete pre-written quests of some kind. I already had reading material and a writing assignment, and I wasn’t even getting university credits for this! Needless to say, this girl was confused.

For many, this game might be a foreign entity. Unlike the U.S., Dungeons & Dragons never really broke into the mainstream here in Puerto Rico (though it’s making a comeback in pop culture!). The idea of acting as made-up characters with your friends, going on adventures and fighting in battles that aren’t dictated by a limited amount of choices or a specific set of buttons can seem completely weird from an outside perspective. But this is why I am here to show you why this game is so important and unique, and why you need to play it!

When confused me expressed said confusion to my boyfriend, he introduced me to Critical Role. Critical Role is a group of accomplished and nerdy voice actors (who have lent their voices to projects ranging from games like The Last of Us and Spider-Man to series like Naruto and Dragon-Ball Z) that sit around a table and stream their D&D game sessions to a few hundred thousand viewers every week. They are a perfect example of what Dungeons & Dragons embodies. A campaign (a single story that the players play through) is divided into game sessions, which can last from three to five hours long. One player is the Dungeon Master, which means they’re basically in charge of organizing the game and guiding the players throughout their journey. The other players' roleplay (quite literally, like a weekly three-hour improv class) their characters with one another while they go on adventures, fight battles, and maybe slay a dragon or two. As Matthew Mercer, the Dungeon Master of Critical Role, says, “role-playing games are just an organic improvised space for storytelling.”



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Now, what sets this game apart from others? First of all, it gives the players a bunch of creative freedom. With the ability to make your characters and story from scratch (I wrote five pages of backstory for my first character, thank you very much), the possibilities are endless, and the outcome of each campaign will never be the same. For anyone who likes writing or creating stories, this is an absolute paradise. Additionally, the roleplaying aspect of the game is an aspiring actor’s dream come true (and the one improv class you don’t have to pay for— you’re welcome). All in all, it is a space where you can express yourself creatively in whatever way you wish.

It is also a great space to find new friends and socialize. Despite its reputation as a game for antisocial nerds, it is anything but! This is a game without screens, without headsets or a console or remotes. In D&D, interacting with others is a vital part of the game. For three hours or more, you spend your time talking to, bonding with, and fighting alongside others. My first session was daunting because (1) I’m generally awkward, especially when meeting others for the first time, and (2) I’ve rarely ever been in group settings where I’m one of the only girls. The idea of this truly being a boys club and me not fitting in as one of the boys (a tired stereotype, at this point) was terrifying. And having to act in front of all of them? Even scarier. However, it was one of the best experiences I’ve had.

One of the best things you can get out of this game, and maybe what you might least expect, is the opportunity to explore and learn more about yourself, others, and the world around you. During a roundtable with Matthew Mercer, Mark Hulmes and Adam Koebel (three well-known Dungeon Masters), the three spoke about how they’ve witnessed their games help their players express themselves in a more genuine way and explore new parts of themselves that they might not have otherwise. For example, one mentioned how a game session helped one of his players come to terms with their sexuality and coming out to their family and friends. They even talk about how being Dungeon Masters helps them diversify their scope and understanding of the world, as they usually research different cultures, religions, etc., to use as inspiration for the worlds they create in-game. Though it might not seem like it, stepping into someone else’s (imaginary) shoes can have an impact on how we perceive ourselves. It lets us explore parts of ourselves we might not have explored otherwise and, ultimately, it leads us to have a better understanding of ourselves and the people around us.

And most of all? It’s fun! I was a nervous wreck during my first session, but I quickly realized why people love this game. It felt like going back to my childhood, when I’d run around the park with my friends, pretending we were pirates, or spies, or warriors. Dungeons & Dragons tap into that childishly imaginative side of your brain that seems to disappear once you grow up.

Whether you only play it once and tap out, or you commit to a year-long campaign, I strongly suggest getting a group of friends together, gathering your dice and character sheets, and giving Dungeons & Dragons a try! You might get more than you bargained for.