by Sachi Siquijor (SA21 – J)
As a (frustrated) writer, I’m always on the look out for ways to improve my world and character building. When we were given the opportunity to immerse ourselves in an unfamiliar topic / activity, I immediately knew that I wanted to partake in Dungeons and Dragon session.
Dungeons and Dragons, often shortened to D&D, is a text roleplaying game, created by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson almost 40 years ago. The brand is under the umbrella company, Wizards of the Coast, a subsidiary of the Hasbro Company.
The objective of the players, or player charcters (PCs) is to complete a campaign run by the dungeon master (DM). Over the campaign, PCs meet a host of different characters from helpful non-player characters (NPCs) to the enemy monsters. Usually played in a group with 3-5 members, these campaigns can range from the official, canon-compliant D&D works, to one of the dungeon master’s own making. Part of the appeal of the game is that players are free to create any character that suits their fancy.
The game progresses under a turn based system, with each player having to roll a pair of dice. These dies are anywhere from the regular four sided die, to a twenty sided die. These rolls determine most of the quantifiable aspects, such as character statistics and number of spaces moved, that happens in the campaign session. Usually, the setting and movements of the campaign is narrated by the dungeon master, with the player characters using their imagination to visualize the different happenings that occur during the journey.
The themes of D&D are deeply rooted in the high fantasy genre, with the presence of the titular dragons within the lore. Many of the races and character classes are built on a world totally removed from this plane of reality. Magic users, half- dragon half-men hybrids are among the few fantastical creatures present in the D&D world.
Dungeons and Dragons has a long established history and lore, with the canon of the game spanning over the four decades since it came in to existence. Currently, the game is in its 5th edition. The game has become a staple of ‘geek culture’, prominently featured in shows like the Netflix-produced, Stranger Things. Often played on a tabletop as a group, Dungeons and Dragons has evolved over its more than 40 year history.
On a more personal level, I’ve plunged myself into a life of so called geekery, from collecting comic books (Hawkeye (2012) is still my favorite series) to videogaming (clocking in at over a hundred hours on Overwatch). Prior to the ethnography project, I was uninitiated into the ways of a D&D player. Many of my good friends played it religiously, and I was intrigued by how they weaved stories and worlds, all for the sake of a game. As a dungeon master or a player character, all of the participants take on roles to shape the unseen world that they are journeying through.
Some campaigns run anywhere from a few hours and can be completed in one or two sessions, while others span years and several editons. Large convensions with multiple campaigns running are also a norm within the culture of D&D, with Manila hosting Conclave, a large gathering of players from both near and far.
I was considering joining Conclave, as per my veteran D&D friend suggested, but looking at the price for the entrance fee and my own uncertainty of dealing with large crowds, I decided not to. A post on Facebook and several inquiries later, I came to join the campaign of a fellow student and D&D student. We spent about two weeks planning on how the session was going to go, and worked on building my character during our spare time.
The character creation was done with dungeon master and friend, Maye Gaite, in the middle of my Sci10 class. Maye offered to include me in a campaign she was writing at the time, perfect for beginners like myself. For the campaign, we would be joined by a few other of her friends, most of them also in my Sci10 class. I should have been paying attention in all honesty, but I also was extremely excited to get to work with her and on starting on D&D.
I had skimmed through the Players Manual (a pirated copy I had downloaded online) and reviewed the different races and job classes I could put my character in. In the Dungeons and Dragons multiverse, a player character could be anything from a human or elf, to some of the more fantastical races such as the infernal Tieflings.
The product of two weeks and multiple conversations online and in person led to the creation of my Tiefling Warlock character, Phelia Zhang. Phelia came into existence while our Sci10 professor was talking about DNA patterns, chromasomes, and hereditary traits, which I thought to be a rather apt white noise to the process.
Prior to making my character, I knew that I wanted to make them female, and have Charisma as the highest stat. Mostly because I wanted to romance and/or seduce other PCs and NPCs, since I had heard of many stories of players romancing other objects (including a bridge) to comical extents. The Tiefling race perfectly suited my needs, with their charisma getting a +5 bonus, in addtion to what the player had already rolled for. Within the Player’s Handbook were suggested classes that each race should take on. Naturally, I picked the job most suited to the race and my character became a Warlock.
The process of building a player character was made easier through the use of an Android mobile application which automatically calculated the stats rolled for, and added the corresponding race and class bonuses. It was a huge relief when Maye suggested that we all download it to streamline the character creation process. The app also listed all of the available skills that on character could inherit or adopt as they leveled up. Each detail of the charcters was meticulously written down and constructted by the player, as if one were creating a person of their own making.
Maye made a Facebook messenger group so that all of the players could interact with one another and generally get a feel of each other’s personalities before we had our session. I’d met most of them offline already, seeing that we were mostly classmates and had interacted prior joining the D&D group. They were a friendly bunch, and we took to each other’s company immediately, sending memes and jokes about our characters to each other.
I played my first session online, over the text and voice channel of a messenger service called Discord. The group agreed to do so becuase of the difficulty of finding common time in the day. It was a Friday night and I had left my weekday address to go home for the weekend. In the end, I was hooked up to my phone and typing furiously to keep up with the campaign.
8:30 pm. We did a connection test and everyone was ready to go. I was a bit nervous, seeing that a few of them had some experience in participating in a Dungeons and Dragons campaign.
I had no idea how to act as Phelia, though I had made a character sketch in my head about how she would act and her backstory. It was difficult keeping in character, without my own personality bleeding into her lines.
Maye became the Dungeon Master, and the group was immersed into the session with her narrating it over the voice server.
As our player characters, we were told that we had suddenly woken up in an unfamiliar room inside an inn. I was a bit late to the campaign becuase my mobile data had decided to cut out on me as soon as I entered the car and was on my way home.
The first thing I typed out as Phelia was ” *kicks the closest player character next to me* Who the f- are you?” with the askterisks indicating an action by the character. It was an automatic knee jerk reaction for her. We were no longer Sci10 classmates in an online group, I was a 20 year old Tiefling Warlock named Phelia. Another guy, an Information Design major who sat to the far right in my row in class, was Nyess, a rude bard frog / dog thing that sometimes used his farts to play his flute. Another ID major was now, Hrogarious, who was apparently after some clarification, a six foot tall, muscular librarian. Unfortunately, he was also the player character I had decided to kick.
With our DM telling us how to proceed, all of the characters were made to step out of the communal inn room and down the stairs. We were met by the innkeeper, a middle aged elven man, and four drunk and rowdy human patrons. the Dungeon Master gave us a choice on how to proceed. We could speak with them calmly, approaching them first before doing anything hasty, attack them, or ignore the rude customers all together.
We each rolled for our turns. I was caught somewhere in the middle, and went third out of the six players. The two ahead of me did nothing to hurt the drunkards. I, on the other hand, typed out multiple times and entusastically ‘murder’ in the chat box. I wanted my character to flex her power in front of the party.
The DM unperterbed by my choice of action, asked me which skill I would like to use. I immediately replied to that Phelia would be using Eldritch Blast, a cantrip or skill that allowed the attacker to use infernal energy as a projectile. It was known to be the best offensive spell, as I read up. The DM then proceeded to ask me to roll a twenty sided die to see if I would land a hit on the unfortunate man.
I had rolled an 18, guaranteeing that my attack would hit.
The entire chat was flooded with laughs and emoticons that looked like they were laughing. Our DM, surprised but amused, asked Phelia to describe how the drunkard gets affected by the shot.
Quickly typing out what I thought, the chat burst into laughter again. ‘The man was hit point blank with the magic shot in the chest,’ I typed out. ‘The table beside him was splattered with blood and guts. The innkeeper looked on horrified, while our gentle fae healer almost passes out from the sight. Phelia cackles, before Hrogarius hits her with a book.’
With my turn over, I excuse myself to rest my eyes from the moving text. I was still on the way home and my vision had started to go fuzzy from staring at the screen for too long. I took out my head phones and rested my ears as well.
After around 15 minutes of rest, I connected again to the Discord server to find that the party had totally eradicated the ruffian and were going outside the bar to explore the world outside. Here, our DM presented the party with a choice. Be employed by the truffle farmer, for a chance to get gold (the currency of the game) or steal the truffles and sell it on the black market. Most of the characters agreed to simply work for the truffle farmer.
I asked if I could seduce the truffle farmer into giving us the truffles. Our DM at this point was used to having my player character go to extremes, whether it be anhiliating a slight nuance or taking the unorthodox route of seducing the elf we were supposed to work for. She asked me to roll persuasion.
I had gotten a 1, meaning I had failed spectacularly. Again, everyone laughed and hooted at my misfortune. No truffles for us, but the DM allowed the NPC elf to give us a small compensation for our troubles.
With the equivalent of a day past, the DM made the party return to the inn. Now that the ruffians were gone, the establishment was in full swing and packed with customers. There were drinks and other races present, the DM described. In a corner there was a male elven entertainer. At the bar was a high ranking looking halfling official. There was a dwarf playing the piano as well.What would the party like to do, the DM asked over the voice chat.
I made Phelia approach the elven entertainer. “I want to seduce him,” I typed out.
Our DM made the vocal equivalent of rolling her eyes. Taking a slightly different voice to suit the character of the male elf, she says “Well, that will have to cost you.” Phelia asks if she can get it for free. Our DM asks me to roll for persuasion again.
I roll a perfect 20. He has to give into me for free.
The other players send clapping emojis to the chat, and our DM announces, “You aren’t a half bad looking Tiefling. I like your tail. Wanna take this upstairs?”
I used that opportunity to bow out of the session, seeing that my player character was indisposed for the rest of the night.
When I finally disemabarked at my house, I felt giddy that I had completed my first session with the group.
Looking back at the experience, I understand why many have taken a shine to the game. There’s real human intereaction, coupled with the face that players can literally choose to be whomever and whatever they want. Each character created is so multifaceted and the world that they immerce themselves in is only limited by how far they can stretch their imagination. It’s an exercise in universe building, with each action dictated by the player but left to chance with the roll of the dice. It’s impossible to play D&D with out friends or companions and it’s utterly amazing that the players and the DM can evoke such feeling and diversity by simply saying a few words or describing how a scene is going. Anyone can play the game, and the end goal is not to complete a campaign or a session, but to learn how to enjoy the company and cameraderie between characters and participants alike. I have new found friends and new found appreiciation for the game, and continue to play with Maye and our group until today.
One is not required to have a table top now, as technology has connected every individual no matter how far apart. Wizards of the Coast is planning to release an app for the Dungeons and Dragons game, though other third party developers like those behind the Squire app, have made things easier for people to keep track of their characters aside from the usual pencil and paper character sheet. Now anyone, anywhere can a character and build a campaign as complex or as simple as they fancy. I suppose that is part of the appeal of the game itself.
The project has immersed me and introduced me into the world of Dungeons and Dragons and I don’t think I’ll be leaving any time soon.