You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Advanced Dungeons & Distancing: role playing goes digital under COVID-19

Edmonton Journal logo Edmonton Journal 2020-03-19 Fish Griwkowsky
A group of Edmonton Dungeons & Dragons players has taken their in-person game digital under the COVID-19 threat. © Fish Griwkowsky A group of Edmonton Dungeons & Dragons players has taken their in-person game digital under the COVID-19 threat.

Things will get much worse before they get better during the COVID-19 pandemic, one reason it’s important to maintain meaningful social contact whenever possible to ease our psychological stress.

But when local artist Adam Waldron-Blain started to exhibit flu symptoms, he knew he couldn’t take any chances with human contact.

The gallery he works at, Latitude 53, shut down earlier than most in town. And he knew for damn sure he wouldn’t be able to host his Monday night game of Dungeons & Dragons at Empress Ale House — even before it closed its doors days earlier than most bars were ordered to do so.

But part of being a good Dungeon Master is thinking on your feet to create the most enjoyable experience for your players. And so, Waldron-Blain — already spinning dice-assisted narratives in a virtual world — went digital. “I’ve been running this D&D game since 2012 almost every week, and I didn’t really want to stop,” he says over the phone — now feeling a little better, incidentally.

“At the gallery we did an artist talk on Saturday, and we set it up to do a live stream. And honestly, that’s the way to live my life now.”

He notes, “There’s plenty of people who already play online. But I’ve never gotten into it because the tools are clunky — and how much time did I have? But suddenly, not only am I not busy at all, but all the other reasons to prefer in-person play don’t really apply any more, right? I’m not going to go to a bar; I’m not going to touch people; I’m not going to share a pool of dice on the table.”

With his recurring party of friends around the table over flagons — ok, just pints — Waldron-Blain has run campaigns using old school Dungeons & Dragons, personalizing it in a way the core game has been suggesting since the beginning. “I have a bunch of rule books from the original 1974 version and Advanced Dungeons & Dragons from the late ’70s, early ’80s, and a bunch of other, open-source games.

“My game has always been a drop-in game, designed to be really easy to get in and out of.”

In this spirit, shifting it to the new normal of social distancing and self-isolation, he advises interested gamers out there: “There’s a few different ways you can set it up tech-wise, depending on the style of game you play. Roll20 is great if you’re using miniatures, moving them around a map. That felt too complicated for our style, so we ended up using a program called Discord, which is basically a chat app for gamers, similar to Slack, with a video chat up to ten people.”

He set up a channel and sent invites to join through Facebook. The gamers use a separate Google spreadsheet to keep track of stats. And where notes would have been discreetly passed under the table, there’s still private messaging for duplicitous players hoping to pull a fast one as everyone else sleeps.

In short, dungeon master Waldron-Blain built it, and indeed they came — swords and scrolls in hand.

a cat sitting on a table looking at a screen:  Basil the cat gets in on the action in a now-online Dungeons & Dragons game in Edmonton. © Chelsea Mandrusiak Basil the cat gets in on the action in a now-online Dungeons & Dragons game in Edmonton.

“It worked like a charm,” says player Chelsea Mandrusiak, whose character is a high-level fighter named Benedict. “He has a sidekick named Avocado,” she adds proudly. “He’s a cleric who cries a lot, but tries his best.

“We had seven people, including one who moved away. Sometimes one of my cats would poke into the screens.”

The group is already adjusting to the new reality. Notes Waldron-Blain, “The other piece that’s cool is you can add bots to your Discord server. So I use one called Sidekick that does dice-rolling for us.”

But Mandrusiak wouldn’t have the cyber-dice. “I don’t trust virtual dice. There’s something about seeing it happen instead of clicking a button. So I had a little dice cam set up.

“I regret nothing!” she laughs.

In the game narrative, steered by referee Waldron-Blain who reacts to the players’ decisions and dice rolls, the adventure party has been trapped on-and-off in hell for the last year. While it might seem ironic they’d be anxious to jump back into the worst place in the universe, Mandrusiak says, “It was good to be back.

“The adventure is still the adventure, everyone’s personality is still there. But of course it’s different. In a way the narrative becomes more important and your imagination becomes more important, so you can all buy into the same idea.”

Monday night the adventurers ran around in a fantasy version of our own history, helping a mummy escape a basilica in the city of Aton, an analog to ancient Rome.

Waldron-Blain explains, “They found a mummy because, you know, the church likes to steal things from other parts of the world. And they talked to her and now they’re smuggling her out and taking her back to where she comes from.”

Mandrusiak notes, “In the game we’re also dealing with a magic item called the Deck of Many Items, and so we got a deck of cards from the Italian Centre. When you draw one of the cards you rip it up. You might get anything from ‘you find 50 gold pieces on the ground’ to ‘haha, the world is over.’”

As far as the collectively told story goes, Waldron-Bain notes, “The current events haven’t slipped in there yet, but who knows.

“It’s kind of a different mood. We were having a laugh and having a good time, but even in terms of who’s more vocal and more quiet. It was a little different than around the table. Everyone’s taking it in their own way. Overall, this week is really strange.”

a group of people watching television:  Seven players — including one living in Montreal — play Dungeons & Dragons online Monday night. © Chelsea Mandrusiak Seven players — including one living in Montreal — play Dungeons & Dragons online Monday night.

But if the now-at-a-distance game does what it was meant to: bring friends together — even a couple former players, including one who is now living in Montreal. “They saw we were playing online and said, ‘Damn — I’ve got to get in on this!’” says the 34-year-old dungeon master, who plans to host another game Monday.

“Being able to socialize responsibly is I guess what we’re trying to do,” Mandrusiak says. “I just hope when all this is over we all take our in-person relationships with friends and family more seriously.

“This is great, but I also can’t wait to get back to the real thing.”

fgriwkowsky@postmedia.com

@fisheyefoto

AdChoices
AdChoices

More from Edmonton Journal

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon