“You contemptuous, ill-fated, pact-making imbeciles. What do you take us for? My sister says there was nothing at the bottom of that lake,” guardian of the feywild and leader of the Fey snarled.
The Siren — played by Eric Smith, the dungeon master of this campaign — says the group will live out the rest of their days here, and one of the player’s pet lynx will be put to death. The group of seven middle and high schoolers started frantically throwing out ideas.
“They can take me instead.”
“Why does nothing ever work out for us?”
“We have a deed — that should be enough!”
“Can we use one of the magic apples?”
JT — a 15-year-old freshman at Elmira High School who plays Ander Trygg, a human mercenary — argued the lynx should not be put to death as it is harmless and part of the group.
Maya — a 14-year-old freshman at EHS, who plays Theadora Virdis, a warlock demon who worships cats — pleaded with the Siren to spare the lynx.
Once it seemed as if all hope was lost and they would be stuck in the feywild — a magical hidden forest on a different plane of reality — for the rest of their lives, Maya’s character started praying to her god in the hopes it will help get them out of this situation. Smith tells the group of seven adventurers to each roll for initiative, the order in which players and monsters take turns in combat, a sign every Dungeons & Dragons veteran knows all too well.
This adventure is just one example of the endless possibilities that can play out in Dungeons & Dragons, a tabletop roleplaying game. Initially, this group started as just a one-on-one session with Maya playing and Smith running a campaign about her character, Theadora Virdis, traveling to a school for magic. But now, D&D serves as a way for this group of seven kids to hang out, bond and escape from the real world.
Back in the game, one of their non-playable party players drowned a monstrous cyclops in the cave. Maya’s character told the Siren to send her Fey to retrieve the body. Xexes, a Minotaur played by Smith, brought the Cyclops down into the murky depths of a dank lagoon but never reappeared.
The Siren deliberated for a while before sending her second-in-command to investigate. The plan totally backfired when the Fey returned, stating they found no evidence of the Cyclops or the Minotaur; the Siren leader wanted to hold the player party in the Feywild as penance for their crimes against the Fey. The Siren didn’t like that the party of seven adventurers failed their quest and especially hated that they had discovered the location of the Feywild.
Previously, the seven young adventurers were finishing their business with a group of Fey, led by a Siren, to stop them from harassing some farmers. The players discussed how to best seal the deal with the Fey creatures, who initially agreed to stop harassing the farmers if the party killed a Cyclops who was giving them trouble. This group has been on several adventures together now, and the DM ensures that each one is unique.
Smith, the only adult of this group, has been playing D&D since the early 1980s. Being a dungeon master comes with challenges like knowing obscure information and managing multiple players with their own motives. But Smith says it’s all part of the fun. Today he runs campaigns out of two brick and mortar stores. This group runs the campaign at Lock & Key Adventurers Guild, which shares the space with A Link to the Past, a local coffee shop.
Smith says he enjoys “being the world” because, as the DM, he is the creator of every story taking place, all the way down to the minutia, like the name of a beggar in a large city. He says D&D can cater to the type of game any player wants.
“It's inclusive for everybody. Some people do it as a tactical board game because it's important to them,” Smith says. “Some people do it purely on the acting. Some people don't know what to do with their character, but they want to watch, and they want to be involved.”
Smith lets this group have as much reign on the story as they want, but not without consequence. For example, at the beginning of their campaign, Maya’s character was searching for the previous owner of her lynx companion, an evil warlock hiding at a magical school.
The party captured him, but not without the warlock unexpectedly switching bodies with a 12-year-old student at the magical school. When Maya presented the deceitful warlock to her elder cat god without interrogating him, she was shocked to find just a kid subsequently killed by a horde of cats. The player group took a big hit in morale that day.
“I had finally gotten the bad guy, and I was gonna bring him to my elder god and be like, ‘Here. I did it. I won. I did it. I completed it. I'm so great.’” Maya says. “And then it was a 12-year-old boy.” She says she felt stupid and stressed, but she recognized her mistake and was ready for the future consequences of the campaign.
While D&D seems like just a few slips of paper and small character miniatures, it is much more to this group of players. It's not just about the game itself — to them, the game is also about the connections formed while creating those stories.
Maya started out in the theater group at school. When she found out about D&D from her parents, she immediately fell in love with it. She loves getting involved with her characters and says she uses her character, Theadora, as a reflection of herself.
Eventually, more players heard about Eric and Maya’s small campaign and wanted in — Ben brought JT to come and play, and the rest heard about it by coming to the store. The group grew to seven players, and they have been adventuring together for the past two months. The chaos has stayed around, but JT and Ben agree that it adds to the experience.
The group says they came together by chance, and now they all have something in common to share. Mason and Maya knew each other beforehand, but JT hangs out with them every day at school now.
JT wants to get more involved in the game, but he has to work around his basketball schedule. He says he loves getting to roleplay in a high-fantasy setting like D&D and crafting a story surrounding his character.
“I’m a big fantasy fan, and so being able to control your own fantasy story is very fun,” JT says. He met Mason and Maya in the campaign and says he’s grateful that he's made new friendships because of it. He likes to be the group negotiator and makes sure everyone gets a word in when six other players are trying to get their opinions on what to do next.
Ben wants to bring the game back to his family to play it with them. He loves the randomness ofof the game and how the dice control the outcome of any action, even with his character’s identity. Initially, Ben was playing a stoic Dragon Born warrior, but because of some dice rolls and roleplaying choices, it evolved into a narcoleptic,, gay Dragon wrestler.
One of his favorite moments in the campaign was when he had “swordplay” with Xexes, the Minotaur. “We were forced to wrestle, and I came out with a black eye,” Ben says. He wants to start DMing his own campaign because it seems like fun, and he plans to keep the chaos going with his family.
Mason enjoys getting to create art for their characters and the group; they enjoy the creative aspects of the game and letting their imagination run wild with their characters and actions. Mason says it allows them to practice drawing, a favorite hobby of theirs.
All these motives behind playing D&D resulted in awesome moments of camaraderie, and it shows in and outside of the game.
Back in the game, when the Sirens attacked their pet lynx, the group of players wasted no time in taking up arms together against the magical creatures. As the characters fought together, each was slowly whittled down by the volley of attacks from Satyrs, Sirens and Fey.
Right when all hope seemed lost, Xexes came charging in from a pool of water with the Cyclops they believed they had slain. Cheers and whoops echoed throughout the store as their Minotaur friend saved them from beyond the grave.
“I love you so much, Xexes!”
“Did your god reanimate you?”
“Love you, Xexes.”
After the dust settled, Smith closed the campaign session. All the players said their goodbyes, eagerly awaiting the next session to see what happens next. “Each session is always something different,” JT says.