The power of imagination

How Dungeons & Dragons creates a fun escape from reality

Dungeons & Dragons is a popular storytelling game that allows players to create their own characters to use throughout the game. Photo by: Cassidy Jessup | Multimedia Editor

The popular roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons has been a source of entertainment for decades and has especially helped some people forget about their troubles right now.

The year was 1972 in the town of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin when D&D was created in a basement by Gary Gygax and Dave Anderson. In order to get this newly created game published, Gygax developed his own company called Tactical Rules Studies Inc. D&D quickly rose to popularity and became the adventurous ever-evolving game people know it as today.

According to the official D&D website, “the core of D&D is storytelling. You and your friends tell a story together, guiding your heroes through quests for treasure, battles with deadly foes, daring rescues, courtly intrigue, and much more.”

Players create their own characters to use throughout the game, each with varying strength, intelligence, dexterity, wisdom and constitution. Game Masters or Dungeon Masters build and lead the story lines for the players’ quests. People can play D&D in small or large groups and the game can last as long as the group wants.

Associate professor Dr. Zoe Ann Wendler was introduced to D&D in 1997 when she was 12 years old at Tomahawk Boy Scout Camp in Wisconsin. Wendler has been enjoying playing D&D for the past 24 years and says she grows more in love with it every time she plays.

“What I love about the game is that, fundamentally, it’s about social cooperative storytelling,” Wendler said.You can have a roleplaying game for everything, but it’s all about sitting down with people and telling a story together that’s fun and gives everybody a chance for self-expression, to contribute equally to the creation of something that is much greater than the sum of any of the parts. That’s the thing I love most, by far, about D&D.”

An important quality of D&D that sets it apart from other games is the amount of creative freedom people have when planning and while playing the game. In a sense, players can be or do anything they’d like to, given the Game or Dungeon Master allows it.

“I love the fact that you can do whatever you want,” manufactory engineering technology senior Jacob ‘Webby’ Webster said. “Like if you want to have a dwarf who plays a whistle that makes a cat dance, you can do that. The world is open to what ever you can think of and I really like that. I additionally like to play with my buddies because seeing them deal with the problems that we face is really fun.”

Webster pointed out that players can choose to have themed adventures based in existing worlds like Star Wars. Conversely, players can even go on average, non-magic adventures like searching for a missing person or treasure.

For many players, D&D is a chance to step away from reality and all its hardships for a few hours.

Biochemistry junior Keegan Zender started playing D&D in 2015. Zender began to appreciate it more recently because of the personal stresses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It gives me an outlet to do something that I actually enjoy, especially after being cooped up inside all the time now,” Zender said. “It lets you forget all the stuff going on right now like politics, the pandemic and everything. It just lets you jump into a different mind set and you can have fun.”

After playing D&D for a few years now, Zender realized something about himself that he never noticed before.

I truly aspire to be chaotic,” Zender said. “There are a lot of really chaotic things that I wish I could do but don’t because I know they’ll have repercussions.”

Zender, Webster, and Wendler get together with their respective D&D groups on a weekly or bi-weekly basis to continue their characters’ journeys or begin new ones. It’s a tradition they’ve found a lot of joy in doing with their friends.

They also said that the D&D fanbase is a dedicated and passionate group. Wendler and her father hand built a custom-made gaming table, which folds up into a dinner table or opens into little desks where people can set up their areas for a D&D session. Wendler said this is her “pride and joy piece of furniture right now.”

Some devoted D&D fans have even traveled to creator Gary Gygax’s memorial in Geneva, Wisconsin. Fans place their game dice onto the memorial’s stone to be “blessed” by Gary Gygax.