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Title: Dungeons and Dragons continues to cast spell

Source: Houma Today, March 24th, 2010

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Dungeons and Dragons continues to cast spell

San Antonio Express-News

Published: Wednesday, March 24, 2010 at 11:01 a.m.

SAN ANTONIO — A ragtag band of warriors huddles in a small room at the aptly named Dragon’s Lair Comics & Fantasy here. They’re locked in combat with a horde of dark elves, known as drow, who have developed some very intelligent insects for what can only be nefarious purposes.

It’s the type of adventure that can take place only in the imagination. Or, in this case, on a tabletop framed by several players and a game host known as the Dungeon Master.

Each is armed with sheets that bear character names such as Keraga the barbarian and Fie the rogue, along with statistics for traits such as dexterity, armor class and stealth. Multicolored dice with four, 10, even 20 sides shimmer at each player’s side, while at the center of the table sits a small battlefield like a chessboard with miniature knights that bear hooked wings and heady spells.

Welcome to the world of Dungeons & Dragons, the original role-playing game, or RPG, that opened the door to many a geek’s wanderlust for worlds of fantasy creatures and combat long before “The Lord of the Rings” movies and “World of Warcraft” ever made such arcana mainstream.

“D&D is a game that has evolved over the years,” says Andy Collins, RPG development and editing manager at Wizards of the Coast, which publishes D&D.

“Our goal is to keep it fresh and relevant to gamers of the current era.”

Tastes for games have changed over the past 30-plus years, he explains.

“Certainly we’ve become more visually oriented as we’ve moved more heavily into computer games, online gaming. Attention spans aren’t quite as long.”

Now in its fourth edition, D&D has come a long way from that little boxed set of three booklets created by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson in 1974.

Consider the game play of today’s fourth edition players such as April Bremner, aka the aforementioned Keraga. Bremner tracks her character stats on her laptop while rolling 6-sided dice to inflict damage and eventually dispatch one of the drow controlled by Dungeon Master George Pena Jr.

Bremner has played D&D since high school, a good 27 years. “It’s definitely faster, but it’s definitely easier to pick up now,” she says, adding that D&D’s fourth edition also is more group-friendly.

“It’s branching into more social stratospheres,” says JJ Shaw, manager at Midnight Comics in Houston. Shaw says today D&D also benefits from social networking via Facebook (facebook.com/dungeonsanddragons) and Twitter (@Wizards—DnD).

Collins notes online tools connect players across the globe. And Wizards offers an online D&D character creator and monster builder with plans for more applications and utilities.

Of course, there are those who prefer to keep their D&D adventures firmly rooted in its unplugged past.

Take Ray “Gramps” Stevens, a gray-haired Dungeon Master with a love of all things first edition D&D. A few days before the fourth edition players had the room, Stevens oversaw a first edition game he created while his son Marshall and granddaughter Kat played along with a handful of others.

“A lot of people play it as a war game,” Stevens says of the current D&D system. “We play as a fantasy role-playing game.”

At the first edition game, Katy Ottinger was so into her role as a half-orc deathly afraid of daisies that she practically hopped out of her chair despite having her leg in a brace.

Ottinger refers to D&D as “theater sitting down,” which she says makes the lingering misconception that the game is secretly evil or satanic all the more confounding.

“This is actually a good, fun, family activity,” she says.

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