Actors, writers and artists got together on Saturday afternoon at Meltdown Comics for a day of Dungeons & Dragons with a purpose. Celebrity Charity Dungeons & Dragons set out to raise funds for Reach Out and Read, a national literacy organization that provides books to pediatric healthcare practitioners to give their young patients while teaching parents the importance of reading aloud to children.
Satine Phoenix, who hosts Meltdown's twice-weekly meet-up DnDMelt as well as the comic shop's DrawMelt life-drawing classes, organized the event. Phoenix, who has been playing D&D for 17 years, had been itching to do some charity work. Finding participants wasn't a challenge.
"If you put out that you want to play Dungeons & Dragons, you find all the other people who want to play Dungeons & Dragons because we're all in the closet," says Phoenix. "Nobody really talks about it, but a lot of people play it."
The first Celebrity Charity Dungeons & Dragons event took place in 2010. Phoenix describes that as "a trial run with a lot of the same people."
The participants were divided among four tables, with each group featuring its own Dungeon Master. They played from 1 to 6 p.m., all of it streamed online via Stickam. Viewers could check out the stream by making a donation of $1 for each table they wanted to watch.
For this year's event, Phoenix brought in Keith Baker, creator of the Dungeons & Dragons campaign setting Eberron. Baker was not only a Dungeon Master for one of the four groups playing, he wrote the adventure that everyone used on Saturday. Phoenix provided the illustrations for the adventure, which is available as a PDF this week for a $5 donation.
"One of the things about Dungeons & Dragons that is the strength of it is that everyone builds their own stories," says Baker.
Over time, players take the tools of the game and develop their own worlds, which are shared by their fellow players. Since Saturday's event was a one-time-only game, it presented Baker with a different sort of opportunity as a writer.
"The challenge with an event like this, where you have people who don't know each other and are only going to play this one time, is having something that feels compelling and enjoyable, even if they aren't playing with characters they know or people they know," he explains.
"That's the part that's interesting to me as a writer, is trying to tell a satisfying story in a way that's not really what the game is at its best."
Like DnDMelt, the charity event featured players of all different backgrounds. Model-actor Chloe Dykstra (There Will Be Brawl) has been playing for a year. Others, like writer Pat Kilbane (Brain Eater's Bible) and writer-producer Javier Grillo-Marxuach (Lost, Medium, The Middleman) have been playing on and off since they were children.
"It's been an interrupted, lifelong thing," says Grillo-Marxuach, who currently plays the fourth edition of Dungeons & Dragons.
Meanwhile, other participants were former Dungeons & Dragons players looking to return to the game.
"I played it when I was a kid, which was during the Reagan administration," says famed artist Coop, "but I haven't really played it since then."
"The last time I played D&D hardcore was probably when I was in college," says Lowenthal. "I've tried, but it's hard when you get older to carve out entire weekends of time."
Celebrity Charity Dungeons & Dragons was a special event, but you can check out DnDMelt at Meltdown Comics on Thursdays from 5-10 p.m. and Sundays from 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Check out the Meetup site for more information.
See Page 2 for some helpful tips for new D&D players.
Saturday afternoon, I asked a few of the participants in Celebrity Charity Dungeons & Dragons for their tips for beginners. Check out the responses below:
"Don't be overwhelmed by the rules. There are books and books of rules, but you don't have to know them all. If you play with someone who has already played, it's pretty intuitive. Just don't be intimidated." --Pat Kilbane, writer (Brain Eater's Bible)
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"Take a lot of risks. Don't be afraid to take risks, otherwise it will be a boring game." --Chloe Dykstra, model/actor (There Will Be Brawl)
"The first piece of advice I would give is pay attention to the other people in your party. This isn't a solo game, unless you're playing a solo game. The people I've had the least fun playing with are people who really don't care about anybody else." --Yuri Lowenthal, actor (Naruto, Ben 10, Durarara!!)
"Always check for traps." --Javier Grillo-Marxuach, writer-producer (Lost, Medium, The Middleman)