I’m about to get very real: the first time someone told me about Dungeons & Dragons in high school, the only thing I could picture was a group of gangly, acne-faced teenage boys hunched over a table in someone’s basement. My friend Alex had the same picture come to her mind. Little did either of us know that our final summer together before our senior year of college would be spent huddled over a table of our own.
It all started with a text message from Alex. She asked if I was interested in joining a campaign with our other friend from high school, Clara. I was hesitant at first to agree, but I decided to give it a try. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a nerd. I love the idea of fantasy roleplaying. But Dungeons & Dragons always seemed like a boy game. Something that three college-aged women couldn’t possibly get into, let alone commit to because we all go to different schools. But I was wrong—very wrong. After our first campaign, I realized that not only is Dungeons & Dragons a game that women could thrive at, but it’s also one that’s making our friendship stronger with each session. And, at a time when our lives are about to change, it’s a way for us to always stay close no matter what’s in our future.
The ironic thing is that our stereotypes of the game were not terribly far off: Dungeons & Dragons was extremely male-centric until only a few years ago. Its first edition in the 1970s included a “Harlot Table” that attributed points to characters who wanted to have sex with non-player controlled prostitutes. Female-identified characters were forced to have a strength score 4 points lower than their male counterparts, but were given a higher “beauty” attribute to compensate. And there’s no room in this paragraph to fit the dozens of stories scattered around the Internet from players whose female-identified characters were only used for seduction purposes. Dungeons & Dragons had a masculinity problem for 40+ years, and only now is the game more inclusive.
The most recent Player’s Handbook (2014) includes female characters of all different races, shapes, and sizes. There are no more advantages or drawbacks to playing as a certain gender. And, even more notably, the guide encourages players to “think about how your character does or does not conform to the broader culture’s expectations of sex, gender, and sexual behavior.” Suddenly, players can construct characters in whatever way they wish. This version of the game emphasizes complete freedom in story, and that’s exactly what drew Clara, Alex, and me to it in the first place.
We’re all writers. We love building new worlds complete with characters we see ourselves in. Dungeons & Dragons offered us a unique landscape: not only could we create different fantasy adventures together, but we could also become our characters and connect with them on a whole new level. The offer seemed too good to resist, and we all agree it was the best decision we made all summer.
Our first session was in June. It was nerve-wracking and unfamiliar for all of us (“Wait…do we have to stay in our character voices the entire time?”), but we made do. We breathed life into our characters for the first time, fumbling over their mannerisms and struggling to keep pace. We were amateurs, but we left the session feeling…different. Like we all had bonded over something completely unique to us. Suddenly, we built a world that only we could partake in. With a roll of the dice, we unlocked a space where we could test our creativity, goof off, and craft our own story. At that moment, Dungeons & Dragons changed in all of our heads from just a “nerd-boy game” to our game. A game where girls can not only feel comfortable playing but want to play. It became a staple of our friendship.
And so, our team was born. Clara is our Dungeon Master, the god to our campaign who toils endlessly on top of her workload to breathe life into our fictional world, surviving each session on both wine (“DM juice”) and our bad jokes. Alex is the mind behind Atreus, a kilt-wearing tiefling who, in addition to being a goofball, has a propensity towards helping others just as much as she does. Out of character, she also floods our chat with plenty of memes. As for me, I play Aenwyn, a timid wood elf who is just trying to find her place in the world. She’s our wild card, but she would be way better if I could only nail her British accent.
We’ve met every week since. No matter where we are, whether away at college or at home, we make the time to sit and play. Sometimes we meet in person, other times we video chat. And when we’re not playing, we’re constantly texting about our quests and characters. But, regardless of how hectic our lives are, we always set aside one evening a week for each other. And those nights are crazy.
Once, we adopted a cursed frog and named him Froppy (apparently, he was supposed to be a villain). Another time, Atreus accidentally drank a potion that turned him into a living glow-stick. The best moments are the spontaneous ones, where we diverge from plot and make Clara throw her head in her hands in defeat. That’s when we really have fun. Sessions that last hours feel like minutes. We’re totally addicted.
But the strangest (and definitely coolest) thing we’ve realized thus far is that Dungeons & Dragons seemed to come along at the point in our lives when we needed it the most. We’re all in our senior year at different colleges and don’t know where life will lead us after graduation. But in this haze, we do know one thing: we’ll always have this game as a way to stay together, to keep in touch and have fun even when we have “adult” things to worry about like jobs and taxes. The roll of a dice may take us to different worlds, but it also provides us with something much more special: a break from reality where we can all hearken back to easier times and relish in each other’s company.
So, it seems Dungeons & Dragons is much more than a nerd game, let alone one just for boys. It’s a game where anyone from any background can come together and bond over storytelling. Just for a few hours, you and your teammates can step into the world of your own creation and leave the real one behind. And the best part? Once you embark on these quests together, the game forms friendships that are unbreakable. It may sound far-fetched, but it’s true.
I don’t know for sure where I’ll be in five years. Alex and Clara don’t know where they’ll be either. But we do know one thing: none of us will ever forget that June summer day, when three friends chose to willingly swelter outside on a backyard patio for several hours rolling dice and laughing hysterically. We knew we were having fun, but what we didn’t realize was that we were strengthening our friendship to last through whatever comes our way. We don’t even need to roll for insight — we know our relationship is a natural 20.