A group of adventurers recline in a warm tavern, enjoying food and drink and rest. It is how most good stories start in Dungeons and Dragons. A rag-tag group of characters get thrown together and pushed into a journey of the DMs making, fighting monsters and facing demons as they vie for riches and renown.
At the head of the table the DM, Stefan Pokorny of Dwarven Forge donning a cloak, draws the strangers around the table into his world. For the next six hours his story telling and player’s dice rolls determine what comes next.
Fanfaire is an event that the High School of Art and Design in NYC hosts every year and is a favorite of mine. It is small, centered around the skilled high schoolers honing their craft. They set up tables alongside professionals and alumni. For many, it is likely their first convention experience.
Every year tucked away in the bowels of the school a group of perfect strangers get to leave NYC behind in favor of a world where they have powers and abilities far beyond anything based in reality. Thieves and magic users and clerics all gather together around a table with hand crafted terrain to tell a story…and probably die.
I had the privilege of observing it this year, watching as the ever talented Stefan Pokorny dragged everyone into a demented dungeon. It afforded him the chance to play his favorite game and show off the amazing quality terrain that is company Dwarven Forge produces.
Perhaps the most wonderful part of the six hours was watching strangers warm up to each other and dive into their characters. This dungeon comes with premade characters, stats rolled and input on D&D Advanced 1st Edition sheets, that players give names, personalities, and accents to. Most notable was a woman who had never played before.
I’m always interested in seeing people’s first experiences with D&D. Some take to it immediately, others hem and haw and blush and stammer. Everyone always finds the fun in it, but this player found so much more. She survived for hours, surprising even herself (as she told me on her way out) as struck down kobold archers and came face to face with creatures in a very deadly dungeon.
After her character met her fate and she stepped away from the table we talked, and she told me she never realized the game was like this. She shared with me that she wasn’t sure what to expect, but certainly hadn’t dreamed of sitting around a table with people she just met, spinning tales, laughing, and stumbling through challenges.
She also didn’t expect everyone to be so kind and helpful, especially as someone who had no frame of reference for how to play.
It struck me because she spoke to why I love this game so much. There’s so much to be said for coming around a table and telling a collective story. When the right people approach it openly and with a desire to drag other people into the wild world of tabletop RPGs, it becomes a healing and wonderful social experience.
I was delighted to hear she planned to find a local game somewhere to give it another try, as she slipped out of the theatre and back into reality.
It was an experience made possible by passionate people, and by a DM like Stefan Pokorny who flawlessly held the table in awestruck captivity for the whole of six hours. He was a master at work, sharing his passion and love for this silly story telling game with people willing to shrug off the pressures of the outside world and play.
Dwarven Forge is a producer of high quality handmade RPG terrain, and has been featured on D&D live streams like Critical Role along with live demonstrations at gaming conventions. If you get a chance to play under Pokorny’s watchful eye, do it. It is an encounter you won’t easily forget.