D&D and Community Ties: You Just Gotta Roll for It, by Ilsa Miller
Updated: Feb 26
In college, meeting new people and finding friends can be challenging. Oftentimes, new friends are found through classes or clubs. But for those who are looking for something a bit different, and for those who may like role play / board games, Dungeons & Dragons can be a point of connection to peers. Longstanding groups often result in lasting friendships, even if the original group disbands.
Dungeons & Dragons, a classic role play game (RPG) managed by Wizards of the Coast, has been around since 1974 and is still evolving and thriving to this day. With big hit shows like Stranger Things heavily featuring content from the franchise, the release of The Legend of Vox Machina series, and the upcoming Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves movie, a lot of screen time has been given to a historically niche game.
Still, it can be daunting to want to play D&D but not know how to get started — or even know fully how the game itself works. Due to the franchise’s longevity, though, many of the core rule books can be found online for free, even the newest edition from 2014. From wiki sites to questionably legal pdf downloads, the content is accessible for anyone who has spare time and access to a search engine. Local libraries often also hold a few copies of the core books (The Player’s Handbook, The Dungeon Master’s Guide and The Monster Manual) if a physical copy is preferred. Even as far as dice are concerned, there are numerous online dice-rolling websites to be found.
The most challenging aspect of getting started as an enjoyer of the famous RPG is finding people to play it with. It isn’t something that can be played solo, and the interactions between people are the most important part of the game. If not for the community that has developed out of this franchise, this particular RPG likely would not hold such a grasp on the market.
From Reddit to Twitter, from colleges to community centers, chances are you can find a group that plays D&D. But it can be nerve wracking to ask how to become involved, or if you can join an established group.
Another huge concern is the game’s time commitment, which can be as long or short as the group decides, but can be a hassle for busier players. For many groups, longer stories, called campaigns, are the guiding narrative. Once a campaign begins, it’s typically unusual to add or remove players, but it does happen. Due to the length of these stories, it is especially difficult to accommodate players who cannot consistently make it to the group meetings.
To resolve this for busier players, a certain module of D&D can be played, called Adventurers League, that is meant for groups that do not consistently have the same people in attendance. To become involved in this type of campaign, game stores or board game spots frequently run this style to accommodate new and inconsistent players, and they are a good place to ask around at.
Like many hesitant players, senior biochemistry and pre-medical Studies co-major Brianna Lewis long heard people talk about the game but did not have the chance to play until recently.
“I had a bunch of friends in high school who were really into it, but I was so busy with extracurriculars that I could never join their campaigns,” she said.
For years, she listened to her friends talk about their adventures and wondered what it would be like to actually experience the gameplay. It wasn’t until her sophomore year in college that a coworker invited her into their already established group.
“I knew I’d always be looking for an excuse to play,” Lewis said, “... and I’ve been playing pretty much non-stop since then.”
Mentioning D&D during a conversation with acquaintances is often all it takes to find a group on the lookout for new players. Because all groups are different, even if you have a bad first experience, it is well worth giving it a second try with a different group. Once you find a group you like, or even a few people from a group, it is super easy to stay involved with the game. Even people who have also never played before are great to group up with as everyone will have to learn the rules together.
Trevor Kaufman, a senior chemistry major, started playing his freshman year of college.
“[It was] with a totally new group of people that I didn’t know,” he said. “It was a lot to be thrown into, but with preparation, it was good.”
For Kaufman, preparation included taking a look through The Player’s Handbook, the most valuable tool for individuals who are participating but not running the game.
It can seem like a lot of complicated things with not a lot of clarity, but for Kaufman, it was a huge help.
“I was so excited, I read the entire Player’s Handbook — the entire Player’s Handbook,” he said.
For context, many longtime players have never read the entire thing, especially all of the appendices at the end. But it gave Kaufman a lot of confidence going into his first experience with the game, especially since he never previously interacted with the members of the group, other than the person who invited him to join it.
Like Lewis, Kaufman has played almost every semester since he joined his first D&D group. Having been on campus for four years, they’ve both played with a variety of groups and experienced the different styles of gameplay through those groups.
“Some players like a more war game style, and some like a large focus on the roleplay side of the game,” Kaufman said. “I’ve never hated a particular group’s style that I’ve played with.”
A large part of the allure to Dungeons & Dragons is the game’s customizability. Both the story, which is led by the Dungeon Master (DM) or Game Master (GM) in some circles, and each player’s character can be tweaked to fit those involved.
The core books contain a section on how to homebrew (modify or create from scratch) your own character race, class or background. This benefits players looking for something outside of the official options or wanting to adjust an already published option. After a few campaigns or one-shots (games that are completed within one/two meetings), players typically know what style of character they prefer.
Newer players can find enjoyment in experimenting with the changeable things during a campaign, which often heavily relies on the personality and weaponry used by their character.
Jacob Igel, a fifth-year information systems and analytics major, is only on his second campaign, but has thoroughly enjoyed playing so far.
“Out of the two [characters], I’m enjoying my warlock right now,” he said. “I think being able to cast spells but also be very nimble is a super cool thing to do.”
In his current campaign, Igel commented that it has been awesome to do things with this character that he wasn’t able to do with his previous build, which was a paladin: a warrior whose powers are granted via an oath they make.
He also expressed that playing D&D is something that connects him to a lot more people that he otherwise would not hang around.
“And never — never — would me from a few years ago have thought that I would be saying ‘Oh my paladin! My warlock!’” he said. “I think if you have a good time with your friends and you do some fantasy stuff, who cares?”
Igel touched on how D&D has historically been looked down upon for being a “geeky” game. With its rise within popular media, such connotation is dwindling. To younger players, however, the association of the RPG with nerd culture can cause a hesitation to get involved.
“It doesn’t deserve all of the negative connotation that D&D gets,” Igel said. “At the end of the day, if it makes you happy, you should do it.”
On Miami’s campus, there are numerous groups that play D&D, each with their own connections, styles and house rules for the game. Some groups have formed through board game/RPG groups here on campus (search the HUB), and others formed by classmates, coworkers or by friends of friends meeting up.
Almost everyone on a college campus knows at least someone who has played or currently plays D&D. It's a way to meet new friends, and even though not all groups stick together, the friendships garnered from the hobby often remain.
Although finding a group to play with may take some time and effort, the persistence of looking will eventually pay off. Oftentimes, taking the leap into playing the game will connect you to people from all walks of life and leave you with lifelong friends.
Lewis, Kaufman and Igel all heavily encouraged people with any desire to give the game a try, to give it a shot. If you can’t find a group, you can always try to form your own. With so many avenues to try within game play and so many customizable opportunities, it is well worth the investment of time.