“Nat 20 Baby!” A Redbird’s Flight, Through Dungeons & Dragons
If you have ever dreamt of escaping reality through the eyes of your own imagination, and experiencing something larger than life, grab some dice and let’s get rolling! A firsthand experience of the Dungeons & Dragons club at Illinois State University.
It was 6:20p.m., March 4, 2020. Stepping into room 210 in Schroeder Hall. I apologized for my tardiness to my five fellow party members and one dungeon master. “Bout time you showed up” said Saverio, my good friend, and invitation into the campaign. As I brushed droplets of water off my jacket, I took the last open seat in the small room and introductions were made. “Everyone, this is Connor, the guest member I told you about.”
I was welcomed with friendly greetings by everyone sitting at the large square table, which almost met the walls of the room. Snacks and drinks surrounded the game dice, along with a map sheet which rested flat, front and center. For the sake of (IRL) identity protection, I will be using my companion’s character names when referencing them. Although, none of this really means anything to someone who has never played Dungeons & Dragons before.
Dungeons & Dragons (commonly abbreviated as D&D or DnD) is a fantasy tabletop role-playing game (RPG), originally designed by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson. A game initially introduced back in 1974 began its resurgence in 2016 by players all around the world. ISU has more than 300 organizations and clubs for students to join, and one of those just so happens to be the D&D club.
With over 100 members, the D&D club holds campaign events for new and experienced players alike. The gameplay includes the players, and one Dungeon Master (DM), who is charged with creating and narrating the campaign, waving the story and acting out all creatures and nonplaying characters (NPC’s). On the first day of meeting, players create their characters, and began to embark upon imaginary adventures within a fantasy landscape.
I was lucky enough to be able to sit-in and experience one of these sessions first-hand. “First, you need to create your character. Then the magic happens!” Saverio had already been three weeks into the campaign at hand with his party members, but they were willing to sneak me in as a guest player for the sake of my project. His Character was Morgan Cadogan, a level four polearm swinging warlock, whose personality was as dark as his magic.
“We are already running late, so everyone level up and we can hop in”, the DM commanded. Blank Paged Character sheets were slid across the table and spread into view. “Basically, you want to choose your gender, race, class, background, weapons, and of course you gotta roll for your abilities,” Morgan explained, faster than I could comprehend.
Five minutes later, with some help from my party members, a hero was born. Luther Lightbringer, the human paladin: an oath-keeping defender against the undead, who strives to do only what is right, while vanquishing all evil forces in sight. Or, at least that is what I scribbled into the description box of my character sheet. The whole group chuckled at how “basic” the birth of my character was.
“I figured you didn’t have any game dice, and I got these for free at a convention last week. They will motivate you to keep playing.” Morgan threw me a bag of seven different sided dice.
The sound of my new dice scattering on the table. Jaws dropped at the end result. “Well, you are going to be our tank considering how high you just rolled in strength, and max health points!” explained Lillith, the backstabbing artificer. Butterflies churned in my stomach, as I was informed that I would be on the front lines taking all the damage.
“Alright, alright. Let’s get to business.” Our DM began to narrate the scene. A glimmering sword shone inside of an old church, where the six party members gathered. It rested atop a stone pallet with an unusually bright glow. “The stone read, Lightsaber, a sword to save souls. Only the strongest can swing the blade straight.”
“Sounds like a good sword for Luther” chimed Morgan. My eyes grew wide with determination to obtain this powerful artifact. I felt as if I was destined for the blade. “I pick up the sword!” Heads turned to Lillith, after her bold action. “Give me a strength check! To rip the sword from her hands!” Eldwynn, an Elvish ranger challenged the artificer. Morgan had leaned over and whispered to me, “Strength check both of them. Odds are you win.”
“All three of you roll a d20, and the highest number gets Lightbringer.” One die chattered across the table. “Three,” announced DM, as Lillith stewed with anger knowing she had lost. “Sixteen!” Eldwynn had gained the advantage, and it was all up to fate. I had rolled a wimpy seven, and the Elvish ranger walked away with the glistening blade resting on her shoulder and a smirk on her face. “Word of advice paladin. Nobody plays fair here. This is the best chance you’ll get to be greedy or backstabbing, or whatever you want to be. That’s the beauty of this game.”
After a hard lesson learned, it became clear to me. People play this game to escape, and be someone they could never be in real life. It is a chance to live a life where your actions have no physical consequence. But of course, if you die… Your character sheet is ripped in half in front of the whole party and you have to start from scratch.
Fast forward through three hours of battling the worst kinds of evil, in the darkest corners of the realm. After a few heated arguments of investigation and interrogation, five heroes came to the final stage. “A dragon so large, it ate horses for breakfast, with scales so thick, only the finest steel could pierce it. He rests in an old dwarvish dungeon called Dul’kurr, with piles of gold to keep him cozy.”
We made our final move. Feeling comfortable in my new skin, I gave a motivational speech, and led the party into battle. Then, I was almost instantly incinerated, due to a couple bad rolls of dice. This was it, the end of Luther Lightbringer. I closed my eyes, awaiting the sound of my life being ripped apart, but heard only giggles. “When you die, you’re only unconscious; you get two death save rolls.” Ultimately failed, but Brine, the water dranasi druid had spent a turn to resurrected me.
On the brink of destruction, “Nat 20 baby!” Sighs of relief filled the room. The elvish ranger had rolled a natural d20, when the dragon was ready to end us all. After a thirty-minute battle, Eldwynn had taken a leaping strike, and stabbed his lightsaber through the dragon’s brain. We received our reward and the session came to a close.
As I stepped back into reality, I felt a pull to return, inquiring if there were sessions available for entry. The group had told me that they meet every Wednesday from 6:00 to 10:00p.m., and I was more than welcome to join. Not only did I find a way to escape the stress of college life, but I had also joined my first club and unexpectedly became invested in a new hobby. Dungeons & Dragons at ISU is a campus organization dedicated to bringing experienced and novice members together in ways that are out of this world.