In a world where geek culture is becoming ever more pervasive, where videogames sell millions of copies and comic books get adapted into blockbuster movies, there still remains one hobby that rides along the edges. There is still one hobby that is shunned by the mainstream. Join me now as we explore the world of tabletop role-playing games. Join me, the TABLETOP WIZARD!
Let’s keep with the D&D theme for just a bit longer. Trust me, there are hundreds of genres of role-playing games out there – and we’ll get to as many as we’re able – but since D&D is SO pervasive in RPG culture, it’s going to come up a lot.
One thing Dungeons & Dragons has done well through the years is reinvent itself for each generation. It began as an add-on to a miniatures war gaming system; it then spun off into at least four further tabletop editions, each one taking a different crack at defining a rule set for fantasy-adventure role-playing. I’m not going to go in-depth about each edition right now – I’m going to skip ahead and talk about a fairly recent iteration called Dungeons & Dragons Encounters.
The basic premise behind Encounters is to offer quick but concentrated bursts of D&D role-playing on a regular basis. The game is organized by a Wizards of the Coast (D&D’s current publisher) -approved Game Master (GM) and is generally set at a local gaming store. Check Wizard’s Encounters website to see if there’s a game near you.
These sessions are every Wednesday, with each session lasting about one to two hours. While each session is based on a chapter in a linear campaign, players can jump in at any time. Pre-generated characters are provided by the GM for those who don’t have the time to roll one up, but player-created characters are just as welcome; in fact, if you take the time to create your own character, you get an XP bonus at the end of the game.
Honestly, I was dubious when I first learned about Encounters. There is a lot of physicality tied in with D&D adventures, and my tabletop roots were immediately offended. The very idea of playing an RPG where you didn’t have to imagine everything bordered on blasphemy to me – a silly blasphemy, but one nonetheless. There are beautifully illustrated battle maps, miniatures and high-quality pre-generated characters printed on card stock. There are also “fortune” cards that enhance gameplay by adding certain effects like attack bonuses or the ability to reroll a bad roll. There’s even a Twitter account that you can check while playing the game that will provide bonuses or negatives to the gameplay in real-time! In short, there’s a lot of stuff.
The good side: players aren’t expected to purchase anything or even bring anything except for their own good looks. The bad side: you need more than your own good looks to play.
My usual role-playing group all decided to give Encounters a try. We’d been playing the 4th edition of the tabletop game and were mostly enjoying it. We banded together and on a sunny summer Wednesday headed out to our (not-so) local gaming store: the Twenty Sided Store in Williamsburg. Twenty Sided is a nice place, a bit Spartan, but packed with people sitting at tables playing Magic: The Gathering. In addition to hosting Encounters, Twenty Sided also hosts a number of Magic tourneys.