Introducing the Table Top Games Club

 

Last updated 4/2/2024 at 11:49am

Photo by Robert Kruger

Left to right Lainne Darst, Brennan Frutos, and Dylan Rundle of the TTGC; local gamer Caleb Eigner; Weston Dean of the TTCG; and Paulina Springs' owner Lane Jacobson. Taking a break in the background: Jakob Eigner.

A couple weeks ago, I called up Rick Kroytz, counselor and mentorship facilitator at Sisters High School, and asked if he knew of any students I could interview about the local hobby-gaming scene. He met me at the school during the lunch period, and introduced me to senior Dylan Rundle and sophomore Brennan Frutos of the Table Top Games Club. During our chat, we were joined by the club's faculty advisor, T. R. McCrystal.

At any given time, Table Top Games has about a dozen members. Dylan formed the club in 2021 along with four other students (who've since graduated), to organize sessions of Pokémon, Magic: The Gathering, chess, and Dungeons & Dragons, a storytelling game where players assume the roles of characters in a medieval fantasy world. While the group still plays board games occasionally, it's become increasingly focused on D&D, so I opened by asking Dylan about his history with the game.

Dylan said, "I first encountered D&D in sixth grade, when I found Taine [a founder of the club] carrying the Player's Handbook, and after I learned the options, I decided to play a paladin. It took me about two lunches to complete the character."

Though he started in the role of a player, Dylan assumed the mantle of Dungeon Master, or "DM," after about a year. The DM presents the players with a setting and story hooks to get the players working toward a goal, like to plunder treasure from a monster-infested labyrinth, rout invading goblins from a town, rescue a captive, slay a dragon. A DM doesn't just assume the role of one character; they act out the role of every person or creature the other players interact with, and can develop a saga for their group over several connected adventures in what's called a "campaign." I asked Dylan what attracted him to D&D, and he said, "I'm a writer and actor, and D&D is for me primarily an improv-acting exercise, and as DM, I get to tell my own stories in a new way."

Dungeons & Dragons draws heavily on history and various literary and mythic traditions. For example, the paladin character that Dylan chose for his first intersection with the game is a class of holy warrior, and the name derives from the twelve foremost knights of the emperor Charlemagne, who ruled the Franks during the late eighth century. Though a figure from the Dark Ages and an inspiration for Arthurian legend, a paladin might encounter monsters from ancient Greek or Norse mythology. As my friend Rob Heinsoo, author of the 4th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons observed, "Dungeons & Dragons is classical education for the masses."

As D&D characters defeat enemies and solve mysteries, they become more powerful and have greater potential to impact the larger setting of the game, maybe even to right wrongs at the scale of a kingdom, or greater. There's a popular book on the history of wargaming and D&D called "Playing at the World" (by Jon Peterson), and I think the title sums up the activity well. Players explore a version of the world with rules they can reliably navigate and master, exercising their creativity, and building friendship through collaboration.

Just as characters in D&D start small in a local ruin or town adventure and eventually bestride their world, the players themselves adopt a language of interactive fun connecting them to both a local and global gaming community. I asked T. R., the advisor, why he decided to facilitate the gaming group, and he said, "I went around the lunchroom and looked at kids who'd been marginalizing themselves and encouraged them to join. What impressed me with these games is the level of knowledge required. You can see it's multidisciplinary too, and that they get an organic education on many fronts. The club helps them find friends, and once they find their place within the group, they have resources and larger connection within the school."

I asked Brennan how this assessment mapped to his experience. "About two years ago," he said, "a couple of the seniors invited me to play in their campaign, and I was really excited about it. The thing that most interests me about the game is the fact you can do and be whatever you want. There are essentially no limitations to what is possible. We try to introduce as many people as we can to D&D, to spread the community."

The Friday after our chat, four members of the club -- Dylan and Brennan, joined by Weston Dean and Lainne Darst -- showed up to Paulina Springs Books for a Magic: The Gathering card-game tournament. The store has not yet organized any D&D games, but probably will soon. (Brennan crushed me in the final round of Magic, but that's neither here nor there.)

After the tournament, I asked Weston and Lainne about the club. "I wanted to do something that would allow me to try and do things of my own imagination," Weston said. "I got involved with the club a little last year, but D&D is really what made me join."

Lainne said, "I learned it last fall from Katie Jo, who is also in the club. I play a half-elf artificer who can make bombs, but I also like rogues and their powerful sneak attacks. I've made three good friends at least in the last five months, and am getting to know several other people. Our longest session so far has gone five hours. That was just a week ago. The puzzles were really fun. We've been campaigning with big groups, but we hope to split them up in the spring to make the game more manageable."

I asked Lainne what moment stuck out for her and what she liked most about D&D.

"On my first initiative, I rolled a natural 20, and that got me extra combat turns where I did a lot of damage. I like combat, but the roleplaying is really

where it's at!"

 

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