UTA alumnus Wesley Farnsworth was scrolling through Twitter when he read a tweet from someone he really looked up to: Adam Koebel, co-creator of the award-winning tabletop role-playing game Dungeon World and queer RPG broadcaster.
Koebel offered his help to any members of the LGBTQ community who wanted guidance and answers on how to start their own livestreams, which sparked a curiosity in Farnsworth.
“I saw that, and I went, ‘Huh, I never really thought about that,’” Farnsworth said. “And then it became all I could think about.”
Farnsworth then took the plunge and asked his community of LGBTQ friends online if they would be interested in forming a livestream group. The response was astounding, Farnsworth said, with 35 people showing up at his house for the initial meeting.
Now, the group meets every Sunday for several hours to play Dungeons & Dragons and has even established a name for themselves: Color Guards RPG. They’re an LGBTQ-centric group, “featuring Queer Storytellers Telling Queer Stories!” according to their Twitter.
Dungeons & Dragons, a tabletop role-playing game, was originally published in 1974.
Following the release of its 5th edition in 2014, Dungeons & Dragons grew in popularity, and its influence has made itself known both on and off campus.
However, unlike popular games from modern times, Dungeons & Dragons isn’t digital, and aside from the optional boards and figures, all the action is happening inside the players’ minds.
“The best way I can describe it is like when you’re a little kid, and you imagine all these fun adventures you went on,” said Ian Klobe, UTA’s RPG Adventure Club secretary. “It’s all in your head.”
The RPG Adventure Club was originally formed to make it easier for players to find students with a similar interest in board games since it can be difficult for people to introduce themselves, said club President Ian Shoup.
Like the Color Guards, the RPG Adventure Club has many people in the same room during meetings, but the club members are sectioned into several smaller campaign groups so that many separate games can occur at once.
Despite the game itself being over 50 years old, Dungeons & Dragons has a heavy following, with an estimated 9.5 million people playing the 5th edition worldwide in 2017, Chris Cocks, president and CEO of Wizards of the Coast, said in a 2017 Twitch stream.
Klobe said one reason the game is gaining popularity again is because players get the chance to be someone they’re not.
In Dungeons & Dragons, players can create their own characters to act as and use them to “explore” the world laid out for them by the dungeon master, or the player that serves as the narrator for the game.
“I like to use the analogy that this a lot like dating; you never find the right group the first time,” Shoup said. “You have different play styles and what you expect out of a campaign or a game, so it only makes sense that you have a larger group or gathering to kind of come together and then meet each other.”
Dungeon masters come up with the story and a loose plan for the campaign. But the power lies mostly with the players, for better or for worse, said the James Evans, the club’s vice president.
“You may want them to go to the castle and save the princess. They may say, ‘Screw it, we’re going to go to the dungeon, and we’re going to drink with some goblins,’” Evans said. “You don’t know what they’re going to do, which is fun. You have to work around each other and make something really cool.”
Evans said that when players do the unexpected, it’s OK because that’s when they form a bond, both as characters and in real life.
That’s why role-playing groups such as the Color Guards try to make sure that their space is an environment that is open and welcoming, said Color Guards member Michael Carver-Simmons.
While the Color Guards meet up to play Dungeons & Dragons, the group is also focused on inclusivity, Farnsworth said.
“We definitely know what it feels like to be in an environment where we don’t feel welcome,” Carver-Simmons said.
But interacting in such a large group can lead to challenges or differences in opinion, which is why the Color Guards have done their best to cultivate an environment of open communication, Farnsworth said.
“If we ever have a moment of conflict in the game, from like, character to character, we always check in with each other afterward to make sure that everybody was OK with it and that it didn’t go farther than it should have gone,” Farnsworth said.
Similar to the Color Guards, Shoup said that his goal for the club was that it was always inclusive. Part of the reason aspiring players might feel like they can’t find a good Dungeons & Dragons group is because of the nerd stereotype, he said.
“If you watch any movie from the ‘80s, there’s always that geeky nerd with the pocket protector,” Shoup said. “And I’m not saying we don’t wear the pocket protector. I’m just saying that we’re not all these elitist people who are like, ‘No, because you are who you are, you can’t play.’”
Having different people with different playing styles mixed in a group is common, Klobe said. Not everyone in the group has to be into the game at the same level.
Most players participate in the game to have a good time, but for Klobe, the fun continues through the end of the game, when players say “Man, that was so much fun. I really want to get into this.”
Nursing freshman Barry Waldman said that Dungeons & Dragons is something that deserves its popularity and attention because it gets people involved with others who have the same interests.
“I really love the role-playing aspect,” Waldman said. “If you want to be crazy or aggressive, you can be that. If you want to be like, zen and super calm and really smart and helpful, you can be that, too.”
Waldman said there are no real-life limitations with Dungeons & Dragons.
“It turns the wheels in your mind of creativity, and it’s just really fun,” Waldman said. “It lets you be who you want to be in front of people who will accept that. And I think this world really needs more of that.”