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Title: Playing In The Imagination: Dungeons and Dragons

Source: The Lakeland (Florida) Ledger, 9/5/99

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Playing in the Imagination: Dungeons and Dragons 

Sunday, September 5, 1999

The Ledger 

Sitting at a table cluttered with papers, snack foods and empty soda containers, Will Harrison gave a gruff but gleeful grunt as he rolled the die in front of him. Immediately, in the imaginary alternate world of Thonbria, Barack the Dwarf felt his fingernails slide down the side of a wrecked sailing ship he was trying to climb out of. 

Harrison, with an "arggh" of disappointment, had to roll the die a few more times before Barack was finally able to climb free and rejoin his traveling companions on their journey from the Imperial City to the Dwarven Kingdoms. 

It was just one obstacle in an afternoon that saw Barack and his companions travel nearly 50 miles on foot while they fought off wolves, explored a mysterious land-locked ship and encountered a military patrol. 

And it's the sort of imaginative interaction that has drawn players like Harrison to the Dungeons and Dragons role-playing game for 25 years. 

"You get to use your imagination, and there are a lot of things you have to think out," said Frank Adams, 32, of Lakeland a structural engineer who plays in the group with Harrison. "It allows you to think. It allows you to imagine and allows you to have fun." 

"There's a lot of stuff that appeals," said Scott Presley, 28, of Lakeland who serves as the group's game master. "The use of imagination, problem solving skills, people skills, the creativity." 

Dungeons and Dragons was created in 1974 by Gary Gygax, a game afficianado from the Midwest. Now celebrating its silver anniversary, it is considered the granddaddy of all role-playing games, having influenced similar ones in the realms of fantasy, science fiction and horror. 

In fact, Dungeons and Dragons remains one of the most popular role-playing games available, said Richard Parker, 37, owner of the Fantasy Factory in Lakeland. 

"It's probably still one of our biggest sellers right now," Parker said. "Fantasy literature has been in the subconcious of society for a very long time. This just brings this out. It's like cowboys and Indians, except this has rules." 

Often known simply as "D&D," the fantasy adventure allows players to create and portray characters that seem they could come straight from the realm of J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth: halflings, dwarves, wizards, elves, gnomes, goblins and orcs among them. 

"The stuff that Tolkien did with his world has really become the basis for fantasy worlds," said Presley, who works for the Fantasy Factory in Lakeland. "He's very much a cornerstone, very much a linchpin in the fantasy setting. It's all variations on a theme." 

To play, participants create characters who may be proficient in certain skills, such as fighting, thievery, magic or healing. 

The assembled characters are then sent on an adventure by the game master, who is generally a non-player who leads, oversees and referees the game. 

Based on the obstacles presented by the game master, each player chooses his own course of action for his character. The character's success is usually determined by the roll of one or more dice. 

Although maps and figures may be used for visual reference, all of the action takes place in the collective minds of the players. 

"It's typical fantasy," Parker said. "You're not bogged down by the rules of physics." 

On a recent Sunday, Parker, Presley, Adams and Harrison were joined by friends Will Long of Lakeland and Charlie Smith of Winter Haven for their bi-weekly, six-hour round of Dungeons and Dragons at Downtown Comics in Winter Haven. The group spent nearly as much time picking on each other as they did playing, stopping occasionally to restock their snack and soda supplies. 

"A lot of fun in the game is just the camaraderie," Presley said. 

Although all the players in the group were men, they said the game has gained appeal among many women. 

"I've actually played in some groups that are pretty well mixed over the years," said Harrison, 36, a lawyer. "Half the time they're more blood thirsty than half the people at this table." 

The game also has gained a broader audience than one might perceive from the player stereotypes that have developed over the years: geeks with no lives, Presley said. 

He pointed out the diversity in his own group: a lawyer, a business owner, a structural engineer, a public safety aide, a store clerk and a high school student. 

"We've all been to college," Presley said. "Charlie (a high school student) will be going to college." 

The game has suffered from some negative stereotyping over the years. It has been criticized many times for promoting violence as a way to solve problems. 

The players, however, contend the game is not all guts and gore. Although some imaginary sparring takes place, the game relies more on critical thinking skills than anything else. 

"There's a lot of things you have to think out," Adams said. "There's a lot of things strength (or) force can't bring you through alive." 

Of the violence that does take place, Adams said it's better to act out in your mind than it would be to do it in the real world. He said he sees it as a form of stress relief. 

"It's a very good avenue of mental aggression," he said. "You get to do all the fun stuff that you want to do, but if you did it, you'd be arrested and spend the rest of your life in jail. You can be as mean and aggressive as you want to be." 

The game has also been blasted on many occasions for perceived satanic influences, the players said. 

"Can you twist the game to make it dark and evil? Sure you can," said Long, 26, who works as a public safety aide. "As with everything, it comes down to the person." 

Despite the various criticisms, the game and its players have persevered. 

Wizards of the Coast, the Washington-based company that owns the game, has recently announced plans to revise the rules and produce a third edition next August. It is also releasing a special box set for the 25th anniversary, as well as re-releasing classic pre-written campaigns. 

Meanwhile players have expanded onto the Internet, creating chat rooms where players from across the country can act out their parts in a grand campaign. 

Therefore the local players predict the game will continue to grow in popularity in the years to come. 

"By the time we get to our 80s, hopefully they'll have the computer version," Presley said.

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