Nice Dice: Oberlin’s Thriving Tabletop Game Scene


Madison Olsen

A group of students play Dungeons & Dragons in their common area. Tabletop role-playing games can foster playful, creative spaces to explore identity.

And as the sun sets in the distance, you notice a stillness over this wretched city. The blood of the warlord Cairo has dried on the steps of his palace, the dark gods of the psychic maelstrom have been vanquished, and in defiance of the very fabric of this world, all four of you feel at peace. For the first time since the world almost ended many years ago, a tree begins to grow in this dry desert from the seed you planted in the corner of the compound.

People often think of tabletop role-playing games the way that they think of board games, movies, books, and other genres of entertainment — but this isn’t quite right. With TTRPGs, anyone can enter a whole new world and be a whole different person if they’d like. For some, this is an opportunity to explore a deeper sense of personal identity. For others, it provides a space to seek a different self.

A veteran of TTRPGs, Dan Russo, OC ’19, is able to access what he’d do in various hypothetical environments, solving hypothetical problems.

“It’s the living vicariously thing, where you’re playing the character because you want to know what it’s like,” Russo said.  “There are characters who go about situations in a way that you would never in a million years approach like that … but it’s something you want to tap into.”

When such investment is the case for everyone at the table, it’s easy to become emotionally attached not only to the characters but to the people behind them. For College fourth-year Renée Geyer, playing in TTRPGs has even allowed important exploration of gender identity. 

“I’m a nonbinary person, and I’ve been leaning more masculine recently,” Geyer said. “My friends refer to the character I’m playing with he/him pronouns [during a] whole session just to see how things like that would feel.”

For Jacob Nadel, OC ’19, Dungeons & Dragons has been a fun place for personal identification with stories, whether he’s playing or defining a story himself as a Dungeon Master.

“It’s impossible to avoid putting some part of yourself in any character you inhabit for seven months,” Nadel said. 

D&D and other TTRPGs have seen a huge bump in popularity during the past year, amid the pandemic’s social isolation. Players everywhere have been enjoying the hope-filled escapism of fantasy storytelling.

“It was really nice when it was hard to keep in touch with people,” Geyer said. “We were getting used to basically all our friendships suddenly being long-distance. It was really nice to have a weekly guaranteed hang-out with friends.” 

As we’ve been relegated to our desks at home, so many changes have happened socially, but TTRPG sessions help bring back a sense of community. 

“There’s a base level of social interaction that I would like, and TTRPGs produce a really good mechanism for that,” Russo said.

If this personal exploration, social connection, and temporary escapism sound fun to you, give table-top gaming a shot. You never know the beautiful stories that might come from it, the incredible lifelong friendships you might make, and the parts of yourself you might be able to explore.

Somewhere, in a desert far, far away, separated from me by land and time and imagination, a tree grows in the corner of Cairo’s compound — and it was my hands that planted it.