Dungeons & Dragons

On weekends, Darby Kassab is a wood elf. Max Krohe, meanwhile, goes by the name of “Nortle the Turtle.”

They, along with three friends, were on a dangerous mission last Saturday to figure out how to stop the spreading of a mysterious mark that turns people into demons.

When gathered in a small circle holding colorful dice of their choosing in the HUB-Robeson Center, they are transported from reality to an entirely new world.

Dungeons & Dragons, commonly referred to as D&D, is a role-playing game complete with character customization.

Though Will Byers and his friends in the Netflix original show “Stranger Things” highlighted how creative the tabletop game can be, D&D has been popular since its creation in 1974.

And now, it has place on college campuses across the nation.

Dungeons and Dragons, Campaign

A group of friends get together to play a Dungeons and Dragons campaign at the HUB-Robeson Center on Saturday, Feb. 24, 2018.

Although D&D is a game that relies heavily on visual storytelling, the typical game is based solely on the imagination of its players. Character sheets and scattered dice are among the only tangible objects found at a typical D&D match.

A single session is centered on what the dungeon master establishes the world to be. By determining major plot points, the players take this information and decide what happens next.

Emily Catalano , the dungeon master for her group’s campaign, just ran her second game. Catalano (junior-film) said she’s is in charge of creating her own unique world, including a story and conflict players need to solve.

After establishing a basic story, players have “free rein,” she said, to do whatever they think is best in completing their mission.

“They can make characters from different races, classes, backgrounds and they put themselves in the world and play how they think that character would play,” Catalano said.

Max Kosabutski , also known as Son of Uhtred, is a half orc ranger, a humanoid with greyish skin and stooped posture. He began playing D&D as a freshman in high school, when he glanced through guide books thinking the “pictures were cool.”

Dungeons and Dragons, Characters

Clothespins are clipped to the dungeon master's screen that represent what characters are playing the the game at the HUB-Robeson Center on Saturday, Feb. 24, 2018.

In his character’s backstory, Uhtred was nearly killed by a monster before receiving a second chance. His current quest is to join his companions in stopping the mark from appearing on people and turning them into demons.

Kosabutski (senior-information science and technology) said the campaigns he would play in high school were much “sillier” than the games he plays now.

“We were basically goofing around for fun,” he said. “My first character’s name, for reference, was Scrotumus the Ghoul. I was 13, give me some slack,” he said, as his friends near him erupted into laughter.

Meeting every Saturday morning, Catalano and five of her friends gather in room 306 of the HUB to start another leg of their campaign. Most recently, they navigated their way out of ruins that gave them clues as to how to stop the mark from spreading further.

“Who knows what will happen after that,” Catalano said.

Playing some dark Elvin music to set the tone for the remainder of play, the friends journeyed through a forest and came across an abandoned campsite.

Not too long after, however, they were attacked by two ghostly figures, or banshees.

Dungeons and Dragons, Character Sheet

Max Knoke (senior-recreation, parks, and tourism management) writes on his character sheet for Nortle the Turtle during a Dungeons and Dragons campaign at the HUB-Robeson Center on Saturday, Feb. 24, 2018.

On a yellowed piece of graph paper, Catalano drew rough sketches of trees, tents and a campfire so players knew where they could move their game pieces during battle.

When in battle, the player with the highest roll on the 20-sided die can decide which monsters to attack first.

Rolling a 1 is considered the worst, while rolling a 20 — known as a natural 20 — is considered the best.

Autumn Heltman , playing as a human wizard named Xandra, mainly cast a variety of spells during battle, such as “Scorching Ray,” in which the character creates three rays of fire and hurls them at targets within range, according to a D&D fan page.

Heltman (junior-physics) said her character has bit of a “mysterious past,” waking up one day and learning magic.

“Her whole schtick is to try to use the astronomy that she learned in college to divine the future,” Heltman said. “Now, she wants to go out and try to discover the secrets behind this mark that’s been popping up.”

When she first began playing D&D, Heltman began as the dungeon master, something she said many people “don’t want to do.”

“I really enjoyed being a DM because it lets you tell a story,” Heltman said. “It lets you help everyone have a good time.”

Dungeons and Dragons, Emily Catalano

Emily Catalano (junior-film) is the Dungeon Master for her Dungeons and Dragons campaign at the HUB-Robeson Center on Saturday, Feb. 24, 2018.

Though it was Catalano’s second time running a campaign, she likes both managing a game, as well as playing.

Even while managing, the dungeon master is tasked with playing the actual game, acting as monsters, non-player characters and the environment the characters exist in.

“It’s a lot of fun just to be able to control everything,” Catalano said.

While there might be a misnomer that D&D is only for children, Catalano said it can be for anybody. Anyone interested in designing a campaign has the choice of making it silly, serious or somewhere in between.

In addition to creating the actual story, players can select whatever character they want to become.

“You can play as a generic character, like a human fighter,” she said. “Or, you can play something super extravagant like a swashbuckler rogue that’s also a turtle.”

For players looking to get started with the basics of D&D, Catalano said there are a few local shops, such as Comic Swap, that sell guidebooks and other related materials.

There is no D&D club at Penn State — most campaign groups are simply friends getting together, such as Catalano and her team of players.

“I think anybody can really get into it just because you can do anything that you set your mind to,” Catalano said. “You make it what you want it to be.”

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