Dungeons of the mind: Tabletop RPGs as social therapy

In the heart of Seattle, a gathering of teenagers sit around a wooden table. It’s covered with character sheets, Dungeons and Dragons (1974) player manuals, and hand-drawn graph paper maps. Pencils, pewter figurines, and dice of various shape are scattered about. The players’ attentions are transfixed on the words of their charismatic game leader, Adam Davis. Davis has a decade of life experience over his players, but communicates with a youthful energy and utter commitment. His role is vital, building the fictional world for these players to fill with their unique characters. Through collaborative storytelling and rolls of the dice,…


Darkest Dungeon’s unpredictable terrors get inside your head

His foot slipped, and Kugel the cleric fell toward the lava that was rapidly filling the chamber. He seemed oddly resigned, taking no immediate actions to alter his fate. “Perhaps this is the end of Kugel,” he whispered as his boots hit the magma. Darvin the fighter, too high up to be of immediate help but ever the problem-solver, called down to the monk Talia, beseeching her to extend her staff for Kugel to grab. But a sudden fit of selfishness had taken hold of the monk. “I don’t think so,” she replied calmly. “I really like this staff. It’s…


The Art of Escape

This article was funded with support from Longreads members. * * * No one wore stripes that spring and summer in Leavenworth. Stripes were for rule breakers, and no one was breaking the rules. “Baseball As A Corrective” read the front page of the New York Times that May. It was 1912 and “the magic of baseball” had “wrought a wonderful change in the United States Penitentiary.” For the first time in Leavenworth’s history, for months at a time, everyone behaved, because everyone wanted to play or watch the baseball games. “Chronic trouble makers began to be so good that the…


Role-playing games are just like medieval oral culture

You’re woken from your slumber by the piercing cries of a man in agony and the splintering of wood. The room is dark, though the glowing embers in the grate cast a dull glow across rapidly moving shapes. All about you is pandemonium: guttural panicked sounds of man and beast. Its stench strikes your attention before you realize it’s stood beside you but in the fire’s dying glow you can see the heft of a large arm reaching out to grab you. Roll for initiative. /// Hwaet. This word—usually translated as “listen”—marks the opening of Beowulf, one of the rarest…


Boardgames are a pain. This app may help

Boardgames are great, but they are an enormous pain in the ass. This is both part of the appeal and the reason more people don’t get into them. They’re heavy, generally expensive, they require hours to set up and take apart, as well as gobs of free time penciled into a handful of people’s schedules. (We are speaking here of the deep, weighty, Boardgamegeek-type of boardgames, not the anything-goes social interations that, say, the Spiel des Jahres celebrates.)  So the 700,000 people that have signed up for Roll20 since it launched in 2012 have sought something easier. The online service…