Fighting with Strangers
When I first moved to Toronto, I didn’t know anyone. I had left behind a town I’d lived in for seven years in an effort to change my career path. In addition to leaving my job behind, though, I also left my friends…and our twice-monthly Dungeons & Dragons sessions. Our little band of nerds changed over the years, with people coming and going as their lives dictated, but our love of fantasy, bad jokes and epic stories had us all eager for the next session.
None of us had grown up playing tabletop games. Like so many of our generation of players, we owed our new-found passtime (and dice-collecting addictions) to pop culture. The rise of actual-play podcasts, where you can watch and listen to professional comedians, voice actors and celebrities play an epic campaign from start to finish, combined with a more accessible and flexible update to game mechanics, made D&D cool. Add in the popularity of Stranger Things on Netflix and its heavy reliance on 80s D&D lore, and suddenly everyone got over their fear of looking like a dork for wanting to play.
And so, alone and lonely in a new place, I sought out the familiar territory of pretending to be someone else in a room full of people doing the same. I didn’t know much about my surroundings; I’d been to Toronto maybe once or twice in my life before moving here. I’d heard about the Danforth, though, and that gave me a starting-point for my search.
Typing “D&D Danforth” into my browser’s search bar brought up instant results for a four-hour one-shot night planned for every other Tuesday evening. A quick check of Google Maps and a five dollar reservation fee later, I was ready to…well, wait another week and a half. But when the right day came around, I grabbed my dice and Official Player’s Handbook, and made my way down Pape to the venue the organisers had booked—the Brass Taps Pizza Pub.
The lights were dim, the music and the buzz and clatter of people chatting and playing pool overwhelming as I stepped into the restaurant. As the Meetup page had stated, I went to the back of the restaurant, awkwardly scoping out the other patrons.
I was quickly approached by a neat, bearded man with a hand-scrawled name tag stuck to his shirt. He greeted me warmly, made sure I was there to play D&D, and directed me to a table at the very back of the restaurant, where other players were already sat. I introduced myself to the group—six men of various ages and ethnicities—though I had passed several women at another table, and even a few kids at the beginner’s table. I later found out that the same organisers host a Meetup group that caters exclusively to female gamers, though our schedules have yet to match up.
House rules were briefly explained by our Dungeon Master (DM) before he began our tale, and then we were off. During our four-hour pirate-themed adventure, I lost myself in the game alongside my new adventuring party. We worked together to gain a pirate captain’s trust, avoided being casually slaughtered by an extremely powerful dragon (disguised as a man relaxing in a hammock), and fought off a kraken as we desperately tried to keep our footing on the boat its tentacles curled around. It didn’t matter that none of us had ever met before—we were pirates now, a crew, and we had to stick together.
D&D offers something unique to players. Once you shake off your apprehensions about looking silly and step into the moment your character is living, you form an instant connection with the people at the table with you. You have to work together to advance the story, and that bond is key to navigating the story and tackling the challenges the DM throws at the party.
It was a great way to step out of my tiny apartment and to break the ice on meeting people and exploring a city that seems so huge and daunting. I have since gone to several more D&D nights at the same spot. There’s always something worth going for—A new story, a new friend, or even just a new character to play. Despite the (somewhat absurd) notion of using a digital platform to meet strangers in real life to have imaginary adventures together while doing math, I highly recommend that anyone with even a little bit of interest in the game give it a shot—you might have a better time than you’d ever imagine!