"The obsessive, delusional side of fantasy role-playing": From Dungeons and Dragons to live-action role playing

I'm a Dungeons & Dragons fan, but live-action role playing sounded like too much. And then I tried it

Published August 18, 2013 11:00AM (EDT)

Excerpted from Of Dice and Men

For a long time, [my friend] Morgan had been talking up something called Otherworld, an “adventure weekend” held every fall at a 4-H camp in Connecticut. Attendees dress up like wizards and warriors and spend three days trying to complete a heroic quest; Morgan discovered the event through a friend and loved it so much he joined the staff.

I begged off. While I’d become less self-conscious about my geeky pursuits, I wasn’t ready to put on a costume and run around in the woods. I could justify spending one night a week pretending to be a cleric, since it’s not that different from attending a poker game or bowling night. But nobody dresses up like ten-pin legend Walter “Deadeye” Williams before they head down to Barney’s Bowlarama.

Besides, Otherworld sounded awfully like something I’d grown to fear and revile: a live-action role-playing game, or LARP. The very first LARP may have been Dagorhir, a medieval battle first organized in Maryland in 1977 by a Tolkien fan named Bryan Weise. Flying high on fantasy after reading "The Lord of the Rings" and watching the Sean Connery film "Robin and Marian," he placed an ad on a local radio station soliciting anyone who wanted “to fight in Hobbit Wars with padded weapons.”

It sounds harmless enough, but to many geeks, LARPs represent the obsessive, delusional side of fantasy role-playing—the actual freaks who make the rest of us look like freaks. There’s an infamous video on YouTube of a LARPer running around in the woods, dressed up as a wizard, and shouting “Lightning bolt! Lightning bolt!” Each one of its 3.6 million views has added to the perception that D&D is weird and that I spend my Tuesdays letting grown men whack me with foam swords.

Since I’d never actually tried a LARP, this bias against LARPing was completely hypocritical and uninformed. And Morgan insisted Otherworld wasn’t a LARP, anyway—the emphasis, he said, is on storytelling, not rules. He argued that many of the attendees were “normal” people, role-playing naïfs approaching the experience like some sort of Outward Bound self-improvement weekend. And he made it sound like it could be fun.

I knew I was going to have to try a LARP—or something like it—if I was truly going to understand the world of fantasy role-playing. So with the convenient excuse of “reporting” wrapped around me like a Cloak of Resistance,* I signed up.

And I started getting into it. A few weeks before Otherworld, a packet arrived in the mail containing the participant handbook and a letter printed in a faux-medieval font on parchment paper. It explained that I’d be playing a mage from Keer, “a medium-sized island in the Talian sea . . . the most wonderful and most terrible place in the whole of the kingdom.” The author, the Duchess of Keer, explained that the island was under attack from a sea monster, a leviathan that was sinking ships and proving beyond her means to defeat. I was to travel to the mainland, to the town of World’s Edge, in order to locate the legendary “Knights of the Golden Circle” and beg them for help.

To do that, the handbook explained, I’d join five other participants in an adventuring party; we’d face a series of challenges that would be resolved through role-playing, puzzle solving, and yes, foam-sword combat. Aside from a short briefing on Friday night, we’d inhabit a fantasy world until Sunday evening; for just under forty-eight hours, I’d stop being ordinary Dave and become “a heroic version” of myself. In other words: I’d be running around in the woods, dressed up as a wizard, and shouting, “Lightning bolt! Lightning bolt!”

As self-loathing began to rise, I constructed my character. Otherworld participants aren’t assigned a PC; they rely on their own attributes and skills, not numbers on a character sheet. But they are expected to integrate into the story, and that requires a costume, a character name, and a background for your heroic self.

I decided my mage was a scholar of magic, detached and intellectual—a character choice clearly driven by psychological defense mechanisms. I named my wizard Dewey, after the library classification system. The fact that I thought this indicated winking ironic detachment—instead of providing proof I was already the world’s biggest nerd—shows my level of delusion.

For a costume, I’d wear brown cargo pants and a dark blue henley shirt, topped by a dramatic ankle-length black fleece cloak. At $200, the handmade item (ordered from a costume shop specializing in LARPs and historical reenactments) represented a level of financial commitment that might signify I was taking this seriously. So I told Kara and the few friends who knew where I was going that the purchase was a dodge, allowing me to wear normal clothes underneath. (Secretly, I was pretty damn stoked: I challenge any even slightly geeky person to put on a real, high-quality cloak and not imagine they’re Gandalf, Dumbledore, and/or Luke Skywalker.) A hand-bound leather journal completed the ensemble—my “spell book,” doubling as reporter’s notebook.

The Otherworld Adventure was held that year on the first weekend in October at the Windham-Tolland 4-H Camp in Pomfret, Connecticut. It’s a lovely spot in the rolling hills about 150 miles northeast of Manhattan, a three-hour drive unless you’re dumb enough to leave your Fifth Avenue office right before rush hour, in which case it takes six hours. When I finally arrived, the only light in the camp came from a two-story lodge, built into a hill so its basement opened onto the parking lot.

As I entered, I realized I was the last one there. Seven groups of six people perched on wooden benches turned, laughed, and gave me an ovation. I smiled gamely, grabbed the nearest open seat, and tried to score a 20 on my Hide roll.

Kristi Hayes, one of Otherworld’s founders and its current writer and director, stood at the front of the room, giving final directions. Only rogues may disarm traps, she warned us. Stay hydrated. Don’t hit people on the head with your sword.

The demographic breakdown of the participants was my first surprise of the weekend. Nearly half of them were women, and while twenty- and thirty-year-olds did constitute the single largest group, there was a decent number of adults outside that age range.

The six adventurers from Keer were no exception. Three of them, young women from Austin, Texas, had come to Otherworld as part of a thirtieth-birthday celebration. Jen, the birthday girl, would play our bard, “Kinkaid.” She wore fashionable large-frame glasses, a stud in her lip, and sparkly tights under a knee-length green cloak. Summer (a rogue called “Pearl”) bore a resemblance to Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club; her costume included a blue and gold jacket that looked like it was designed by John Galliano for a pirate-themed fashion show, lost at the Milan airport, and rediscovered years later in a Texarkana thrift store. She got compliments on it all weekend long. Elaine (a ranger, “Merrick”) was tall and thin and slightly boyish—or at least that was the effect of the overalls and flannel she wore for a costume. Charron was also female, but older, probably north of sixty. She was local and, like me, had a friend on the Otherworld staff. She’d play “Willow,” our cleric. The final member of the party was comfortably familiar: Phil, from Boston, a tall thirtyish white guy, quiet and a little nerdy. He told me he’d be playing a paladin named “Sure, Swift Justice” . . . but I could call him “Justice.”

There was also a fifth member of our party. Chris, a six-year veteran of the Otherworld staff, would be our companion for the weekend. A combination of a camp counselor and a fixer, a companion is charged with keeping their team from breaking anything important—including bones, the rules, and the story line. Chris grew up on Long Island and seemed familiar to me, perhaps because he fell into a common Suffolk County archetype: an upper-middle-class joe, fond of boating or lacrosse, inevitably described as “a good guy.” He was slightly short, with an athletic build, a healthy tan, and hair cut close to hide where it was thinning and receding.

Chris’s first duty was to lead us outside, and to our combat training. Since the ultimate goal of an event like Otherworld is to immerse yourself in fantasy, these games eschew dice-rolling in favor of actual—though carefully mediated—physical confrontation. LARP battle rules can get quite complex; at Otherworld they keep things simple. Each character gets a set number of “free hits” (hit points, basically) and each time you get touched with a sword, you lose one. When you’re down to zero, a hit on a limb means you must stop using that limb; a hit to the torso knocks you unconscious. When that happens, you fall down and quietly count to fifty; if no one comes to your aid before you finish, you’re dead.

As a mage, I had just one free hit, making me the weakest member of the party. I could get hit at most three times (anywhere, limb, anywhere) or as little as two times (anywhere, then torso) and be killed stone dead. Fortunately, as Ganubi has demonstrated, death is rarely permanent in fantasy role-playing games. At Otherworld, getting killed means you become a ghost, and you take a piece of cheesecloth out of your pocket and drape it over your head like a Scooby-Doo villain. You’re not allowed to speak or physically interact with people, and you must remain that way until resurrected by a cleric’s spell or magic potion.

A friendly staffer handed us each our “boffers”—three-foot-long swords built on a rigid core, but padded all over with thick black foam. They’re light and easy to wield, and when you’re hit with one, it hurts about as much as getting tagged in a pillow fight. My compatriots were all issued swords that were about three feet long; as the mage, I received a dirk, about a foot shorter but otherwise identical. I couldn’t help myself: “It’s not the size of the sword, but how you use it,” I told them.

We then squared off against six staffers for a brief bit of sparring. I’m no fencing expert—my knowledge doesn’t extend much beyond en garde and touché—but I think our performance would be classified as manger la merde. Sword fighting is complicated even when your health isn’t on the line, and when you’re in actual group combat, with enemies coming at you from all sides, it’s incredibly difficult.

Once we were trained and equipped, Chris wished us good luck and pointed toward a man standing near the corner of the lodge, where a path wound uphill and around the building to its as-yet-unseen main entrance. “The Storyteller will walk you up to the tavern,” he told us. “I’ll see you later.” He turned and walked back into the basement.

I glanced over to Jen, looking for someone to take charge, but her eyes reflected my own sudden panic. I was hoping that Chris would provide a buffer between me and them, that he’d be my ambassador to Otherworld and allow me to maintain emotional and intellectual distance. But now he was gone, and the members of my party seemed no more ready to commit to the fantasy than I was. I took a breath, successfully rolled an internal Will save, and walked forward.

Fortunately, the Storyteller didn’t cut an imposing figure. His round body was wrapped in a professorial tweed jacket, complete with leather patches; at his neck, a faded yellow scarf was tied in an ascot knot. His thick head of brown curly hair made me think of Bilbo Baggins.

The Storyteller held a leather-bound book in front of him, and as we approached, he looked down and began to read.

“Once upon a time, in the kingdom of Lyria, six travelers embarked on a dangerous expedition,” he said. “They were asked to leave their homes and families to travel all the way to World’s Edge, a tiny village situated at the far border of the civilized lands. It would be a perilous journey, they knew, but the need in their homeland was very great, and so the travelers shouldered their packs and began the trip.

“They marched for days and days, not daring to tarry in any given place for very long. Every day they delayed increased the chances they would be unable to complete their mission in time, and though they spoke little of this, the knowledge weighed heavy upon them all.”

He turned and began leading us up the path, still reading from his book. We left the training area behind us and stepped into the unknown.

“Upon reaching the border of Moreth, the westernmost duchy in Lyria, all the travelers looked around themselves in anticipation. Moreth was renowned as a land of strange magical energies, and inexplicable phenomena were said to be commonplace there.

“The danger they encountered on their first night in Moreth, however, was of the nonmagical variety: While the group slept, their camp was set upon by a gang of bandits. The party of travelers escaped with their lives, but the bandits absconded with most of the coins they had carried.

“Still, the adventurers’ spirits were raised as they neared their destination. The autumn days were pleasant for walking, and the countryside and woodlands of Moreth were very beautiful.”

At the top of the hill, all was wildness and moonlight. A lake appeared at our right, shimmering and tranquil, undisturbed but for a few wisps of fog. Beyond it, hills and forest extended to the horizon, no lights, no cars, the trees interrupted only by a few indistinct dark shadows. Cabins, probably, but perhaps something stranger.

“Night had fallen dark and silent around them by the time they reached their goal. Coming down the wooded trail, they saw lights shining from a building.” To our left, the lodge had been transformed: Flickering candlelight spilled out of the windows, and the faint sounds of tavern life: a low hum of voices, clinking glasses, indecipherable fragments of conversation. The Storyteller stopped at the threshold.

“They had reached their destination at last. The six stepped up to the door and entered the Inn at World’s Edge.”

I recall those last few steps to the tavern in vivid detail. Self-conscious, nervous, and worried about what lay ahead, I’d been an easy target for simple theatrics and gently hypnotized by the Storyteller’s tale. The other members of my party seemed similarly affected. We pushed open the doors and walked inside.

The Inn at World’s Edge was a welcome sight after a long journey from Keer, warm, cozy, and safe. Small groups of strangers huddled in the dim light, dressed in simple tunics, vests, hose, and cloaks. They leaned forward and talked in low voices, as if a word spoken too loudly might wake them from a dream.

Our party took seats at a table covered with dark cloth and set with eight heavy pewter plates. A lantern and small candles flickered at the center. On the wall to our right, a royal-blue banner emblazoned with a sunburst hung above a stone fireplace—the crest of Baron Valerius, the noble who governs World’s Edge.

After a few moments, a woman in a plain cloth dress with a lace-up bodice approached the table and bid us welcome. She handed us heavy ceramic mugs, stepped away for a moment, and returned with a pitcher of wine and a charger covered with grapes, cheese, and chunks of cured meat. Famished, we fell on it with gusto.

A few minutes later, we were joined by the final member of our party. A man stood at the head of our table, wearing a loose blue tunic. He seemed familiar to me . . . slightly short, with an athletic build, a healthy tan, and hair cut close to hide where it was thinning and receding.

“My name is Kint,” he said, smiling. “May I join you?” He took a seat at our table. “What brings you to World’s Edge?”

Otherworld is a little bit like "Fight Club": There’s brawling, there are secret missions, and you’re not supposed to talk about it. Participants—who may only attend once—are asked to keep the plot a secret; I’m risking a boffer sword up my backside over the few details I’ve already shared.

The code of silence isn’t a by-product of Project Mayhem–style brainwashing, despite the hugely dedicated staff. (Otherworld is run by former participants like Morgan who return year after year to share the experience; their level of devotion may border on cultlike, but it lacks any of the creepy implications.) Instead, it’s all about spoilers. The Otherworld weekend is really a massive piece of interactive theater, with a script, a cast of characters, and a set of plotlines, some of which repeat year after year. Being a participant feels something like if you climbed up on the stage during the final act of Hamlet and kicked Laertes in the crotch . . . and the actors responded by working you into the story and reciting dialogue the Bard had written in case this sort of thing happened.

Otherworld was founded in 1991 by four members of Quest, a Connecticut-based LARPing group. Several months after completing a particularly challenging adventure, they received a letter from one of the participants.

“It was from a woman who’d attended, and she started by saying, ‘You’re going to think I’m crazy, but the event you ran changed my life,’” says Kristi Hayes. “She was working in a dead-end job she hated, and she was living with her boyfriend, who from the sound of it was really treating her pretty badly. She’d sort of accepted that . . . this was probably about the best she could expect from life.

“And then, she said, she came and spent the weekend having all these adventures and doing all these challenging things. She was particularly afraid of any sort of public speaking, but at one point during the event, the story line took a dark turn and she had an idea about how to fix things, so she stood up in a crowded room and told everyone about it. People listened to her and followed her idea, and as it turned out, doing so saved the day.

“She told us that for a long while after coming home from the event, she continued on with her normal less-than-stellar routine but often thought about the weekend. She thought about the person she’d been there, the one who’d stood up in front of all those people, even though she was afraid, and convinced them to listen to her. And I will never forget what she wrote about that . . . ‘She would never put up with crap like this. She would find a way to fix things . . . if I can do heroic things when I’m running around in the woods, why can’t I do them here at home?’

“And then she did. She went out and got herself a better job and she ditched the lousy boyfriend. She’d made those changes and built herself a better life, and she felt like she needed to write to us and thank us for it. That was just amazing to me, that we’d been able to help someone reach that point. And we started thinking, ‘Gosh, if this event did all that, when really our only goal going into it was for everyone to have fun, well, what would happen if we ran events where we tried to give people these opportunities?’”

Because Otherworld deliberately courts non-LARPer participants, it does away with many of the rules typically found in those games. There are no skill points or attributes, and even though you adopt a fantasy name, you remain yourself; you’re not role-playing a character with its own personality.

“I’m always hesitant to use the word ‘role-playing’ to describe what you’re doing at Otherworld, because it so often makes people think they’ll be pretending to be someone other than themselves,” says Hayes. “Still, having said that, we’ve certainly borrowed plenty of ideas from D&D and other role-playing games. We’ve also borrowed ideas from experience-based educational groups like Outward Bound, and then mixed them up together to make something related to both but its own separate thing.”

Otherworld also simplifies the rules for activities like spell casting. In many LARPs, if you want to shoot a lightning bolt at an enemy, you have to hit them with a thrown beanbag while calling out the name of the spell (“Lightning bolt! Lightning bolt!”). At Otherworld, you blow a whistle, everyone freezes in place, and you read from a script that tells everyone exactly how to react:

“I, [name], a mage of Fire, do cast the spell of Lightning Bolt upon [select one target]. I now call down from the sky a mighty bolt of lightning, which will strike your [specify one limb of your target].”

Otherworld focuses on story, not game play; it’s trying to impart an experience. In many LARPs the plot is utilitarian—“The red army and the blue army are at war” or “You’ve been hired to kill an evil lich.”**  At Otherworld, there’s a fully developed narrative, a central shared conflict, and dozens of party-specific subplots.

Kint was so moved by our tale of the leviathan and Keer’s desperate need for help that he offered to serve as our companion. He had a house not far from the tavern where we could spend our nights and promised to introduce us to locals who might help with our quest: Solomon, the innkeeper; Serendipity Bostwich, a scholar and scientist; and Obsidian, a cleric rumored to be among the most powerful in the kingdom.

We were discussing our first steps when the doors of the tavern opened and a man entered whose presence silenced all conversation. Tall and handsome, he was dressed in a scarlet tailcoat and wore a black top hat, which he tipped from his head and tucked in the crook of his arm.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he called to the crowd, “I am Maximilian Von Horn, ringmaster of the Circus Eternal.” The troupe, he told us, had set up camp on the edge of town and for the next two weeks would hold nightly performances. We would have a chance to witness some of the finest traveling entertainers in the kingdom: acrobats, jugglers, a strongman, even a fire dancer.

The pronouncement was met with cheers from the crowd. “Do you have any clowns?” a woman yelled from a table across the room.

Von Horn scowled at the thought. “Clowns, my dear, are an unfortunate side effect of circuses.”

My weekend in Connecticut saw the second and final performance of The Circus Eternal, a story told over the entire weekend, starring most of the staff and every Otherworld participant. (Each party also has its own subplot, drawn from a pool of frequently repeated conflicts—we were not the first travelers from Keer with a nasty leviathan problem.)

Sometimes the story advanced through a form of dinner theater: When our party visited the tavern for meals, staff members (in character as residents of World’s Edge) would stand to make pronouncements or act out scripted conflicts. At other times the actors used a kind of directed improvisation: while walking across town, our party might run into Bumble the Wizard or Professor Chuttlesworth, who just happened to mention a suspicious crime that had occurred the week before last.

Typically, Hayes writes a new story every two years. They’re meant to entertain using elements of traditional theater (The Circus Eternal even included a musical number) but also to encourage participation. Each story places the village in some sort of peril and requires the participants to work toward its salvation.

It’s a surprisingly effective technique. Sure, you might lose yourself in the drama if you sit in a theater and watch a play about a village in peril. But when you sit in the village and the actors come up to you, take your hand, and beg for your help, it’s wholly engrossing.

“As a human, I think it’s only natural for me to be really interested in myself,” says Hayes. “So a story in which I personally play a key part? That’s a story I’m going to find very compelling . . . and when I have the opportunity to do incredible things and amaze even myself with what I accomplish, seeing the story unfold is going to have a really powerful effect.

“It’s like when you watch a feel-good movie and you cheer at the end, because the hero triumphs over adversity and you’re left with this warm glow inside. This kind of story has all that, but the person who triumphs over adversity is you. That’s really powerful.”

I am not a fan of audience participation; when I’m in a theater and the performers step offstage, I tend to shrink in my chair and pray they’ll pick the sucker sitting next to me. But Otherworld is designed from the ground up to pull people out of their seat and into the action, and it’s so smartly scripted you can’t help but be drawn in.

“Each staff handbook I write is about four hundred to four hundred fifty pages long,” says Hayes. “It’s not a true script, of course, in that I rarely tell our eighty-plus staff people exactly what to say. Instead, I tell them about all of their characters—each Otherworld story line has about one hundred characters, not including monsters and encounters of that sort—and the backstory and then also about the rough timeline of the weekend.”

My favorite moments were when a seemingly improvised comment turned out to be a crucial element of the story. For instance, as the plot of The Circus Eternal played out, it became clear that Maximilian Von Horn’s traveling show was more than it appeared to be. A full day after his introduction in the tavern, several parties were ambushed and killed by strange monsters in the woods—evil creatures in creepy harlequin makeup, carrying massive swords. It turned out clowns really were “an unfortunate side effect of circuses.”

Successfully executing those plot twists requires tight scripting, but Otherworld also requires improvisation and flexibility, so players can make their own decisions. They need to feel like they’re achieving something, instead of just watching, and that’s where the companions come in.

Embedded into our party as Kint, Chris was able to gently nudge us the way we needed to go while maintaining an illusion of free will. He’d offer suggestions and advice, but since they came from a member of the group, it didn’t feel like we were being railroaded.

In one task, we discovered we needed to enter the realm of Death to obtain a magic item, but the local portal to the underworld was kept closed by Bumble the Wizard, who cast a spell each morning sealing the way. Bumble—a genial but forgetful fellow, his brain lightly fried by arcane forces—wore a string tied around his finger to remind him of this responsibility. So our party decided our best plan was to wait until Bumble was alone, sneak up behind him, and bash him on the head. We’d steal the string and run off, ensuring that he’d forget his duties, the portal would open, and we’d gain access.

It was a fine plan, except for the fact that the weekend’s story hinged on a totally different way to open the portal; doing so early would destroy the plot and the weekend—and we’d all be wanted criminals once Bumble woke up and reported how we’d assaulted and robbed him.

Chris initially tried to warn us off gently (“Maybe there’s another way?”). When we couldn’t come up with a better idea, he made an emotional appeal (“Bumble’s a nice guy, do you really want to hurt him?”). When we revealed ourselves as unfeeling brutes, he succeeded through misdirection (“Since you guys can’t decide, why don’t we do something else and come back to this later?”). Of course, we had decided, but he was able to make his own reservations feel like they were shared. When we tried to return to our ill-considered plan later, he found ways to put us off until the situation resolved itself as planned (“Hey, who’s hungry?”).

Other staff members face their own challenges. Only companions play a single character over the course of a weekend; most staffers play multiple roles, hiding behind monster masks or makeup. They have to make quick changes and move rapidly from one area of the camp to another. In the staff area of the main lodge there’s a massive spreadsheet hung on the walls, stretching from floor to ceiling, easily sixty feet long. It describes where each and every person needs to be at each moment, and in which costume, over the course of the entire weekend. It looks like something you might have found in George Patton’s command center during the North African campaigns.

Chris also carried an iPhone in his pocket all weekend, running a staff-designed application that used the phone’s GPS antenna to track our party’s movements. Organizers planned to analyze the data after the fact to determine common routes around the camp and when attendees tend to do different activities. Ultimately, it will help make the weekend’s planning even more precise.

The stagecraft is immensely detailed, too. Otherworld’s props, sets, and costumes may be constructed by amateurs, but they’re convincing enough. When I first walked into the Inn at World’s Edge, I didn’t see a 4-H camp mess hall—I saw something straight out of Tolkien. It might as well have been the Prancing Pony, where Frodo and his friends met the ranger Strider.

“One of my goals, and one of the ways that the stories I’m writing are different from most other authors’, is that I’m really looking to create scenes we can bring to life with a reasonably high degree of realism,” says Hayes. “I won’t write a story that’s set in a castle, because as much as I love to read novels set in castles, we don’t have a castle at our disposal, and I don’t want to settle for a room with cardboard rocks taped to the wall and a ‘pretend this is a castle’ sign. That’s why, at Otherworld, you won’t meet anyone who can fly.”

By Saturday night, when the rising action hit a fever pitch, I’d been completely drawn into the adventure. Living in a ubiquitous fiction—one made of not just words but physical objects and real people—made me realize how stupid it was to be self-conscious, and I began to truly enjoy the adventure. When a crisis arose that required all eight parties to team up and tackle three simultaneous battles, I committed wholeheartedly—and fought tooth and nail with a dozen strangers, swinging my foam sword like it was Excalibur.

When the adventurers from Keer all returned to our shared cabin—tired, dirty, and triumphant—we were completely sold on the idea we were heroes. As we settled into bed, we swapped tales of our victories; Jen offered a well-deserved victory speech. “Other people went out drinking for their thirtieth birthday,” she said. “I slayed a fucking banshee.”


I had a great weekend, but something was amiss. As the event concluded on Sunday, I heard other participants describe their adventure in terms like “life-changing” and “best thing I’ve ever done”—and I couldn’t reciprocate. Sure, it was fun . . . but not profound. I wondered why I didn’t share that experience.

It’s possible my initial fears and prejudices kept me from fully enjoying the event, but I doubt it. I’m sure everyone else started out nervous, but before long we were all fully engaged. Instead, I think the people affected most strongly by Otherworld lack my regular access to fantasy. Sure, they might watch "Game of Thrones" or play World of Warcraft, but that’s observation, not participation. Their personal day-to-day existence is mundane: expected, explainable. We all live in the muggle world, and only a few of us are lucky enough to get a peek into Hogwarts.

I’m no wizard—but once a week, I feel like I am. Role-playing games allow me to experience the fantastic, and even though it’s make-believe, the catharsis is real. My life isn’t wanting for magic, because I’ve got Dungeons & Dragons.

* “These garments offer magic protection in the form of a +1 to +5 resistance bonus on all saving throws (Fortitude, Reflex and Will).” Dungeon Master’s Guide, page 252.

**“An undead spellcaster, usually a wizard or sorcerer but sometimes a cleric or other spellcaster, who has used its magical powers to unnaturally extend its life.” Monster Manual, page 166.

Excerpted from Of Dice and Men by David M. Ewalt. Copyright © 2013 by David M. Ewalt. Reprinted by permission of Scribner, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

By David M. Ewalt

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