Dungeons & Dragons — it has, over the 46 years since it was first published, developed a reputation as the epitome of geekdom. Thanks to four decades of pop culture, the name of the popular role-playing game evokes images of basement-dwelling teens gathering amid spent cans of Mountain Dew and half-empty bags of Doritos.
But that picture isn’t quite accurate, at least not anymore. It’s 2020, and the majority of D&D players are adults who no longer have to play it like one of the kids from Stranger Things. In fact, many find the game therapeutic and the game has grown a large following around the world — including Durango.
Jarrad Maiers is an emergency room doctor at the San Juan Regional Medical Center in Farmington. He has lived in Durango for eight years, but it wasn’t until the last few that he finally found his tribe.
“I’m not a skier. I’m not a mountain biker. ... I try to keep in shape, but outdoor sports are just not what brought me into Durango. And there’s a subculture of people here who are just not into it,” he says. “Finding a group of people who will have similar interests in terms of nerdy, geeky fantasy stuff, and are willing to just sit down and play these games with me has been really good for me finding my place here.”
The chaos and drama of Maiers’ job forces him to deal with a significant amount of stress and burnout. Playing and running a longterm D&D campaign keeps him sane, he says, and having that creative and social outlet makes him a better physician and husband.
At its most basic, Dungeons & Dragons is a tabletop game that can be played with little more than pencils, paper, dice and a handful of handbooks. It is played as a group and all but one of the players controls the actions of a specific character, often across a long string of gaming sessions. The other player, the Dungeon Master, controls and describes the rest of the world the characters inhabit — a high fantasy setting full of elves, orcs, swords, and sorcery.
The game is infinitely customizable, with many players choosing to ditch pre-made adventures and create “homebrew” campaigns featuring not just their own characters but entire worlds spawned from their imagination.
This leaves a lot of room both inside and outside of the game to add one’s own spin and create a social gathering a heck of a lot classier than the pizza-fueled game nights some of us might have held in high school.
An adventurer’s feastTara Theoharis creates fandom-inspired recipes and parties, celebrating everything from board and role-playing games to TV shows, books, and comics.
“I’ve been playing tabletop games since college; I was introduced to them by my now-husband,” she says. “I loved them so much and wanted to do even more with them. And shortly after college wanted to learn a little bit more about cooking and entertaining, and elevate them from the college dorm parties that we used to have to a little bit of a nicer dinner party that feels a little bit more grown-up — but still keep some of my original passion.”
This led her to create a blog, The Geeky Hostess, as a way of holding herself accountable to learning how to cook, bake, and entertain.
When it comes to Dungeons & Dragons, Theoharis says food is vital to any good campaign.
“D&D can be a bit of a marathon, depending on how long you’re playing with your friends. If you’re doing a one-off campaign, it can take the full day; if you’re doing a regular campaign, and you’re meeting up weekly or monthly, you might only play for three or four hours at a time,” she says. “But your players will get hungry and they’ll get thirsty in that time.”
She suggests making sure you have food that will keep them satisfied but not exhausted, and nothing way too filling. You’ll also want to make sure that you have a nice range of drinks, and something that will keep them hydrated.
“If they are of age and interested in imbibing, a nice alcoholic drink or two is very helpful,” Theoharis adds.
(For a D&D-themed treat that incorporates fiery alcohol, head to the bottom of this story.)
Maiers doesn’t drink, but appreciates alcohol’s usage as a social lubricant ... within reason.
“I find that alcohol in small amounts can help people kind of open up a little bit — but you’ve got to be cognizant of how much people start drinking because people start getting drunk,” he says.
Food plays an important role in Maiers’ local games.
“I grew up doing Totino’s pizza and Little Caesars and Mountain Dew during the game. When I went to get back into it as an adult, I was like, ‘I don’t need the junk food anymore; I actually want to have decent meals.’ And my wife, Bobbi, is actually a really good cook. So we sort of do a thing where we would all make a big dinner together — everything from different pasta dishes to salmon and sweet potatoes,” he says. “That way, when everybody shows up, we actually have something good to eat, and then it all kind of brings the group together — it kind of makes them more relaxed to play the game.”
If you really want to hit the food out of the park, make it thematic. Theoharis recommends thinking about the types of food served in movies like “Lord of the Rings” and “The Princess Bride” and go from there.
Some fantasy franchises, such as “Game of Thrones,” publish official cookbooks. On rare occasions, you might find recipes in Dungeons & Dragons accessories — Maiers recalls a Dragonlance tome from 1987, “Leaves from the Inn of the Last Home,” containing instructions for stuff like “Otik’s Spiced Potatoes.”
“It’s often really easy to just even start with some meat, bread, and cheeses if you want to something a little more casual and snacky, all the way up to doing roast chickens and stews as some nicer, hearty meals,” Theoharis says.
She went all out for one campaign, creating a complete tavern menu from which players could order, featuring items (or stand-ins for items) such as stuffed eggs, foraged salad, roast goose, stew, sandwiches, and scones — all while Theoharis acted as the tavern “wench.” Something that complicated might be a bit more work than you’re interested in doing, though.
For a much simpler way of emulating a fantasy world, consider adding bright colors to foods or serving cocktails as fancy potions — something Denver-based cosplayer and YouTuber Ginny Di has done.
For a DIY video on how to make a Potion of Health and a Potion of Heroism, she found inexpensive, easy-to-make cocktails that happened to match up visually with in-game potions. Then she poured those cocktails into potion bottles.
“The aesthetic is more about what sells it than what the actual drink is,” she says. “You don’t have to go totally crazy. There even people who just will put beer into a metal beer mug, and that’s great.”
One thing worth noting is that the Dungeon Master controlling the game does not necessarily have to be the same person providing sustenance. In fact, Theoharis points out as a rule of etiquette that all the other players should take care of the food.
“They (the Dungeon Master) are doing a lot of work and they’re putting in a lot of prep time for the campaign. So even if you’re just ordering some pizza, I’d say if you can, don’t make the DM put in the money for it because they’re providing quite a bit.”
Setting the sceneSmell and taste are not the only senses a host can use to pull players into the world of Dungeons & Dragons. Hearing and sight can also play a part.
Creating an immersive soundscape is simple: Set up some speakers and play music or sound effects that reflect what the players should be feeling. Maiers creates playlists with music from video games and other sources. Di uses ambient tracks curated by Spotify user Brian Wilson. Something as simple as playing crickets chirping to signify that it’s nighttime helps players get into the right headspace, she said.
Decorating the room you’re playing in can also help, Theoharis said.
“Some simple things that you can do to medieval up your space would be to turn off lights and light a bunch of candles — it’ll give a nice feel to the campaign,” she said. “It will also bring you back into the dark ages when there was no electricity. You can go even further and encourage your players not to have phones or computers at the table. Not only will it keep them more in character, it will actually focus them on the game as well.
“If you’re going to be traveling through you know the woods in the forest a lot going out and taking some wild flowers and plants and sticking them in vases around the table can add a little bit of greenery to the field.”
As for the game itself, there are a number of things you can do to help represent the imaginary environment the player’s characters are occupying. The game can — technically — be played with just pencils, paper, books, and dice, with all of the action occurring in the theater of the mind. But using miniature figurines and model environments can make it easier on the players.
Maiers became mildly internet famous, at least within the Dungeons & Dragons community, for building elaborate set pieces for his adventures.
His most elaborate was a village called Titan’s Rest, where, in his story, a nation of humans and a nation of elves meet once every 100 years to renew a peace treaty. The village, depicted using model houses, trees, and LED-based glowing crystals, is built around the remains of a fallen giant — a life-size medical model of a human skeleton Maiers incorporated into the terrain.
Titan’s Rest went viral in May 2019, attracting the attention of D&D-playing celebrities such as True Blood and “Magic Mike” star Joe Manganiello, and voice actor and “Critical Role” creator Matthew Mercer.
“I try to come up with weird scenarios, different terrain where suddenly we’re fighting over a waterfall or a bridge — over a ravine or something like that — to make it more complicated than that. They have to think more tactically as they come through the whole scenario,” he says.
Assuming you don’t have the time, resources, or dedication Maiers has, you can still economically represent a game world in a visually appealing manner. In Di’s homebrew campaign, she uses a dry-erase mat and Dungeon Craft, a low-cost collection of modular, laminated 2D illustrations that can be laid on a board.
Ultimately, you can invest as much, or as little, energy as you want in visually portraying your fantasy world.
Picking your friendsOne final area you can control is the group of people with whom you play. As adults, you no longer have to play with just the handful of nerds at your school who were publicly into J.R.R. Tolkien and war-gaming.
Finding a group that wants to take the game as lightly or as seriously as you do is important, says Di, as is finding players who want to play the game in a similar way.
Some players want to invest a lot of time getting into role-playing their characters and imagining how they would interact within the fantasy setting. Others prefer to focus only on combat, kicking in doors, slaying armies of goblins, and looting whatever treasure they can find.
After following the relatively serious games portrayed on Critical Role, Di says she was surprised by how casual her first D&D group played.
“When I started my own game, I wanted to have a more role-play heavy, more serious game. And so I picked my players based on that. I picked players that I knew were also interested in a more serious game so that I wouldn’t feel like I was just a strong arming this group into playing the kind of game I wanted to play,” she says.
In Durango, local game store Guild House Games is invaluable in helping players find each other, Maiers says. The store in the Main Mall downtown hosts weekly games and provides something of a matchmaking service.
“Danny (Perez), who runs the store, is a huge fan of all of the games,” he says. “I’ve really enjoyed seeing (D&D’s) renaissance and trying to be a part of it here. ... I wish I had a regular schedule so I could run a day in there as well.”
It’s never been easier to find a gaming group, even in a small town like Durango. So if you’ve ever been curious about dice-based dungeon crawling, now is a perfect time to pick it up.
Spice up a game with Fireball CupcakesFireball cinnamon whiskey is a great hit with Dungeons & Dragons players, says Tara Theoharis. After all, fireball is the name of a wizard spell. You can pour it in shots or combine it with mixers. Or ... you can bake it into cupcakes, such as in this recipe of Theoharis’ creation.
“They’re potent,” her blog warns. “They’re boozy and they’ve got a spicy cinnamon kick.”
Fireball CupcakesIngredients:» 1 box spice cake mix
» Ingredients needed for box spice cake mix, minus the water
» 1 cup + 1 tablespoon Fireball (or another spicy cinnamon flavored whiskey)
» 1½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
» 3 cups powdered sugar
» 1 teaspoon vanilla
» Dash salt
» Red and yellow food coloring (optional)
» Cinnamon candies (optional)
Directions:Prepare the spice cake mix as is directed on the back of the box, but instead of water, use Fireball. (My cake mix called for 1 cup of water, so I put in 1 cup of Fireball instead.) Fill cupcake tins about 2/3 of the way with the batter, and bake as directed on the back of the box.
Remove cupcakes from the oven once a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Transfer cupcakes to wire racks.
While the cupcakes are cooling, make the frosting. Mix the butter in a mixer until fully smooth, then slowly add the powdered sugar in, one cup at a time, until it is all mixed. Add a TBS of Fireball, and the vanilla and salt. Mix for about 5 minutes or until the frosting has a beautiful, whipped consistency.
Divide the frosting up in 3 bowls. Set aside one. In one bowl, place yellow food coloring, and in the other, red food coloring. (I use AmeriColor gel food coloring.) Mix the frostings with the food coloring until the color you’d like is reached. Place each color side by side in a pastry bag. (It’s OK if they end up getting a bit mixed up, it makes a more realistic fire color!) Pipe onto the cooled cupcakes and top with a cinnamon candy. Enjoy!
Source: The Geeky Hostess