Students at Williston High School gather at tables, discussing the next campaign. At one table, these young adventurers have gotten themselves embroiled in a war between dwarves and elves.
The kids describe their accomplishments.
“I may have disintegrated multiple people,” said Reid Torbox.
He isn’t the only one.
“I shot a prince in the face,” said Shelby Irish.
Irish was standing on a hill far away supporting the others. But she can get attacked herself — already, she has died twice over the course of the campaign.
This is Dungeons and Dragons — as played at WHS. The group meets Wednesdays after school.
It started as a group of about 12, but has kept growing. On this week, 32 students — a quarter of them women — were there, and some days it gets as high as 40, said Erik Olson, counselor at the school, and the leader at one of the tables.
Students at each table take on roles — an elf, a magic user, or some such — and play along with the scenario spelled out by the “dungeon master.” Whenever there’s a battle or other element of chance, players roll the dice to learn their fate.
What it’s about
Alex Falcon, handling this table, describes the attraction.
“It makes us more creative with our outcomes. And there’s more of a sense of unity,” he said.
Before D&D, he didn’t participate in after-school activities. This is different, he said.
“And I’m glad I did. It helps me converse with my peers,” Falcon said.
Torbox agreed. He described himself as “anti-social,” but D&D is an exception.
“I do not like leaving the house. But this is the one time a week that I am very happy to be out of the house, doing this,” he said.
Torbox says the character he plays has incredible charm — enough charm to persuade his enemies to go out and do what he wants them to do. That sounds like the opposite of his own personality. Or is it?
“It’s not that much different than me,” he said. “Once I get to know people, it’s so much easier to get social. And they can tell you that — ”
“Yes, Irish add.
“ — because I know them, I will strike up conversations with them,” he said. “This character is me, but me when I know the people.”
Falcon adds that Dungeons and Dragons is good for academics. Rolling the dice and using that to determine damage helps him with his math.
And D&D has helped Irish with her writing skills.
“I used to be bad writer. I was never the best. But because of this, it gives me a better imagination what to write about,” she said.
Megan Jorgenson, at another table, describes what D&D means to her.
“It’s a different kind of reality, almost. Something where you can be anything you want to be, and do anything you want to do,” she said. “Something you can’t do in the world here, but something that is possible elsewhere, like in your mind, with your imagination.”
And people can be anything. Jacob White is a dwarf knight — specifically an eldritch knight. Zack Osten is a druid wood elf.
Jared Burg is a tree and a scholar. Because he has lived a long time, he has seen a lot and has a lot to teach. Just don’t ask his name. It’s 50 words long, but at least they rhyme.
Joe Drumm, science teacher at WHS, also helps out the D&D club. He says the club helps them interact, in an environment that isn’t centered on academics or athletics.
“It gives them an outlet in order to meet people, to work on social skills. Also, to work on, actually an academic skill of storytelling. They have to learn how to behave within a narrative, and they have to be creative,” he said.
These students can enrich themselves in a nontraditional way, Drumm said.
And the students have responded — beyond what Olson and Drumm imagined.
“Neither of us predicted that this would take off as big as what it did. When we started, we thought we would have a club of maybe 15 or 16 individuals,” Drumm said. “I want to continue to pull people, because it gives them an opportunity that otherwise they wouldn’t necessarily have.”