Recently, I got to have weekend for the books. It wasn’t a long vacation, or even a very far one. My friends and I decided to take a weekend to rent an air B&B cabin in the forest and spend most of the time playing D&D. Dungeons and Dragons - a popular tabletop role playing game - has been in my life for many years now, but the idea of spending an entire weekend to play was never something in the cards…
…until this weekend. We finished our day’s work on Friday, packed all our stuff in our friend’s truck, picked up one more friend and headed toward the forest. On the drive, the four of us spoke on our recent mundane lives until the conversation quickly turned to more comfortable topics: music, fandoms we all enjoy, and D&D. We all are in a weekly remote campaign with each other, but this was different. We were playing a one shot (a short story) for the weekend and it was one of the first in-person games we have had since the Pandemic. We had occasionally met for a few hours on a Saturday at the local coffee shop to play, but this was monumental compared to those. We would spend most of our hours playing, and when we would get tired, wanted a break, needed to cook, etc., we could pause the game and get back to it whenever we were ready. The excited conversation took us all the way to the cabin. We arrived and met with two more friends who had gotten there a few hours prior. After a few joyful hugs, we made our way into the air B&B.
Now you might be picturing a small cabin in the woods in which one of us was going to run out screaming later. I know this whole idea might sound like the beginning of a horror film, but that was part of the appeal, because we were planning on playing Curse of Strahd, a famous horror themed D&D adventure. As for the cabin, I can assure you this place was neither Evil nor Dead. This beautiful two story cabin had 4 bedrooms, 3 baths, 2 balconies and a hot tub. The open living room and dining area (where we would be doing most of our gaming) was probably bigger than my whole house combined. The long wooden dining table, exotic chandelier, and views of the dense forest beyond fit perfectly with the aesthetic of the setting of our adventure: the gothic Castle Ravenloft. Everyone excitedly called dibs on rooms, gave each other small gifts, and started to grab what we needed to play the game.
The premise of Curse of Strahd was simple: we were a bunch of characters from all different worlds and lands, whisked away to Strahd’s castle, and we needed to defeat the vampire lord in order to leave. Once settled in, we sat down ready for the story.
“The mists call to you...”
When I tell you how awesome Jo did as the DM (Dungeon Master), I want you to magnify that by 1000, and then you would start to get close to understanding how good she was. Like a good host at a party, the DM makes sure the story goes smoothly. The DM has the biggest job. They ensure that the story told continues to flow, helps determine the mechanics (the system of luck in the game), and they know most of the premise. They make sure that everyone is having good time, remaining comfortable and entertained. Behind the DM screen, Jo felt right at home. It’s wonderful to watch someone do something they are good at. It’s even better when they allow you to participate in their awesome geekyness. Between the pacing, the mood, the carefully crafted music, the slight costume changes for important NPCs (non-player characters), the acting, the word choices — it was simply magical, like walking into Disneyland after many years away. It was safe, and familiar, and immersive.
We took breaks to rest, helped out with cooking (although that was headed up by one of our fantastic friends who is an excellent cook), made time for walks around the block, and even conversations in the hot tub; but of course, most of our time we wanted to stay in the game. Collectively, we wanted to work together to tell an amazing story and we wanted as much time as we could to do so.
There were laughs, tears, theories about each other’s backstories, challenges, and finally, victory. By the end of the weekend, we had told an incredible story. It wasn’t long after that we needed to pack up and head home… away from each other. Away from these characters we had gotten to live and understand and relate to. Away from this vacation, which had been a moment in time without boring work and monotony.
I knew I would be heading back to my house, but leaving this magical world we had created, I started to get homesick. I completely understood the appeal of a D&D weekend away from the world, but until this experience, I hadn’t yet lived it. We said our goodbyes and thanked each other for an amazing weekend. For the next few days, we wrote each other, sending inside jokes from the game and funny memes trying to hold on to a little bit of the momentum; a bit of that world.
It didn’t help much.
We know the only thing left to do is schedule another time, book another cabin to defeat a vampire lord, head into the faerie realm, board a starship, or whatever our imaginations can come up with.
Sometimes, the journey to a magical world is only a short drive away.