WEST ORANGE, NJ — Elves, Giant Spiders and bow-wielding Bandits have taken over the West Orange Public Library on Friday afternoons—not through the fantasy novels lining the shelves or the latest J.R.R. Tolkien adaptation of Peter Jackson waiting to be rented off the library's DVD rack, but through the teenage Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) club’s weekly gatherings.
These mythical characters and creatures can be found every Friday from 3:15 p.m. to 5:15 p.m. in the meeting room, where local teens get together to embark on this epic campaign.
“Dungeons and Dragons provides a chance for teens to work as a team that features storytelling, on-the-spot strategic thinking, math skills, role playing and teamwork all rolled into one,” said Kristen Churchill, a former West Orange librarian who partnered with Tim Moyer, a Dungeon Master with more than 20 years of experience running D&D campaigns, and the New Jersey-based nonprofit Heroes Journey Inc. to initiate the program two years ago.
Like many fantasy and roleplaying games, a D&D campaign involves battling it out with monsters and villains along with fulfilling a series of quests and adventures. It’s a world filled with magical swords and mythical races like elves, orcs and dwarves—whatever the imagination can muster and often whatever the D&D Handbook advises. Those magical swords and ornate cloaks exist in the imagination.
Each character’s progression is tracked on paper and is further realized through note-taking and arithmetic. Success—whether it’s striking an enemy with the cut of a broadsword, or a perception roll of the dice meant to investigate what’s lingering behind the brush—is at the mercy of the dice roll.
There is much to absorb for any beginner stepping into his or her first D&D campaign, but that’s where Moyer comes in. For Moyer, who has led the West Orange Public Library group since its inception, volunteerism means guiding high school-age teenagers through a D&D campaign.
Moyer, who has been playing D&D since he joined the army in the 80s, became involved with Heroes Journey Inc. a few years ago through a friend who is a librarian in another town. The nonprofit uses gaming like D&D as well as video, board and card games to foster youth development and education outside school, according to its website.
In West Orange, Moyer runs an introductory campaign similar to the ones he manages outside of the local group, he said. Instead of the “experience points” seen in many D&D groups, the West Orange players progress through a goal-oriented style of play.
“This is a beginning campaign I run when I get a new group of players,” said Moyer. “They are a part of a guild, which is a great way for players who don’t know each other to get comfortable.”
Moyer explained that during the campaign, the guild is hired by the imaginary local towns to investigate a series of robberies to their caravans.
“This is designed for people who don’t know the system,” he said. “I’m trying to move away from the idea that ‘this is D&D let’s kill things and win.’ There are several ways to solve the problems the players are presented with.”
To help the teens role play, Moyer has them keep four questions in mind: Why is your character a hero/adventurer; what is your character’s view on killing; why would you wish to be part of a group; and why would a group wish to have you?
Emphasizing that being an adventurer is one of the more dangerous challenges in D&D, Moyer also reminds players that the D&D world their characters inhabit is a hostile one.
The players of the West Orange Public Library D&D campaign, which currently consists of six teenagers who morph into the identities of Edolas Silver Blood, Lou LeBlanc, Ajax, Reezo and Keverand each week, take Moyer’s four questions to heart.
When battling a group of bandits on Friday, they tried unsuccessfully to apprehend a bandit in a non-lethal way. The culprit, a non-player character (or NPC), was voiced and acted by Moyer the dungeon master.
During the same session, the group also employed problem-solving methods similar to detective skills to begin investigating a mysterious death in the fictional city of Tristram.
In addition to reinforcing the positive skills and socialization that “Heroes of the Quest” aims to promote through roleplaying, D&D also provides an opportunity for people to connect with others who share a passion for gaming and to have good, old-fashioned fun with friends.
All levels of D&D players from grade nine and above are invited to join Moyer’s band of adventurers, which is currently looking for more members. Snacks and drinks are available during sessions, and a healthy dose of escapism and “geeking-out” is encouraged.
Visit the West Orange Public Library webpage to learn more.