MONTAGUE – Montague resident Wes Tanner said he isn’t going to let the coronavirus (COVID-19) ruin the fun he has playing Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) with his friends.
Prior to the call for social distancing, and the stay-at-home order, made by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer; Tanner already belonged to a group of friends that regularly meet to play the fantasy role playing game (RPG). He said all of them are located either in Holland, Whitehall, Muskegon or Twin Lake.
Tanner is the dungeon master (DM) for his group which acts as a rules moderator and narrator for a D&D game. However, despite preferring to meet in person, the group will be temporarily using technology to facilitate the monthly game they play with one another.
“We’ve done it before, but we haven’t really put the time and energy into actually making it work the way it can work with the technology available now. We’ve played in the past online over Discord chat, which is a voice chat server for gamers,” said Tanner.
“But recently we’ve been using video chat like Zoom and Skype to at least see each other while we play.”
With the release of D&D’s Fifth Edition in 2012, the game has once again re-entered the cultural zeitgeist. However, unlike in the 1980s where it was viewed as evil by concerned parents and church organizations, it now appears to have taken on a more positive image thanks to celebrity endorsements and from T.V. shows like Stranger Things.
Now a popular pastime, it is not uncommon to see the game embraced by church youth groups, and people looking for a weekend alternative to the bar.
Prior to the Internet, the biggest challenge in playing D&D was finding friends to play with. However, now there are several Internet services that were specifically created to help facilitate game play with both friends and total strangers.
Among the more well known services are: DnD Beyond, Roll20, and Fantasy Grounds. Tanner said he and his friends will be using a new service called Astral which is free to use.
With Astral, DMs can create and share visual representation of the digital fantasy world that they’ve created for their players. These types of digital tools have helped to increase the popularity of the game by taking some of the rules management and game preparation out of the hands of the DM.
“Nowadays there are a lot of programs out there that will allow you to create a virtual tabletop, it is not the same as playing in person, but it is as close as you can get,” said Tanner. “So [I’m] very happy with the stuff that has come around, especially with the current events as they are.”
However, playing D&D in person and online can be very different experiences, which can also come with it’s own set of challenges.
“The biggest challenges I would say comes down to making sure you are still having a fun game, even though you are not right next to the people you are playing with,” said Tanner. “When you are playing a video game that is not that hard to do, because you are all looking at a shared screen.”
Tanner said as a group he and his friends have been playing D&D together for several years, and with some people it has been decades. For Tanner, his obsession with the game began 22-years-ago.
“The initial interest in the hobby kind of came about from wanting to play D&D before I knew what D&D was. So just roleplaying in general, wanting that experience of stepping out of your own identity, and becoming someone else for the duration of the game,” said Tanner.
The group is currently playing a campaign using a published adventure called “Waterdeep: Dragon Heist.” A campaign is best described as an adventure or story that requires multiple meetups to complete.
“Even though we have pretty veteran players, it (Waterdeep: Dragon Heist) is designed for people wanting to get into D&D. It is probably the next step up from the starter kits that have come out over the years,” said Tanner.
Tanner’s group began their current campaign in January. He said they meet once a month. Their next game will be sometime in April.
“I believe that was the weekend of the 14th, so that was right before things started to get super serious, and official,” said Tanner.
In recent years it has become popular for D&D players to broadcast their game play over the Internet through services like Twitch and Youtube. Some of these groups have amassed a certain amount of Internet fame and stardom from this endeavor.
Perhaps the most popular and well-known group of players is the cast of the online show Critical Role. Through the show’s popularity the players have managed to create a small media company, and even have an animated show coming out for Amazon Prime.
Tanner, who in his spare time is also a podcaster, said he and his friends have considered putting their sessions up on the web in the past. However, currently there are no plans to do so.
In addition to playing D&D, Tanner and the people he plays with also hope to play other types of games online. They have discussed playing the popular party game Cards Against Humanity with another, and to do a trivia night.