There is a saying by playwright George Bernard Shaw that “Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will get what you imagine and at last you create what you will”.
While a single person can imagine only a handful of characters in a number of situations, a group of like-minded individuals can create intricate worlds with complex and interwoven lore together.
This is the premise of Dungeons & Dragons, known as D&D, a fantasy tabletop role-playing game published by Tactical Studies Rules Inc in 1974 and later continued by Wizards of the Coasts.
With nearly 50 years of history tied up in D&D, what made the game so widely played is that it is derived from miniature war games where, instead of focussing on formations, players create their own characters to embark on imaginary adventures, focussing on fantasy settings.
In a D&D game, one person called the Dungeon Master (DM), serves as the overseer and storyteller. The DM dictates and maintains the setting of the adventures as well as playing the role of the in-world inhabitants, while deciding and resolving conflicts that may occur from in-world events and actions carried out by players.
This, along with player’s growth both in-world through experience points to level up their characters as well as learning how to co-operate with other players to achieve a goal, mixed with players taking actions and the DM acting on them, help to create memorable stories while also fleshing out the lore of the world as player’s actions have a deep impact on the world, which is recorded by players and DM.
I was able to meet with some of these DMs who help govern the worlds built alongside local Bruneian players. Awangku Yura Dupa Imamul Bahar bin Pengiran Haji Yura Dupa Khoadadad and Jihan Masria Al-Haqam bin Haji Masri, frequent a small locale at Serusop called Wild Magic Store.
Speaking on the history of D&D in the nation, Awangku Yura said that previously D&D was played mostly via physical tabletop.
“But with the pandemic, it was difficult due to social distancing. So they had to adapt, which resulted in going online.”
He said the D&D community in Brunei at first resorted to using Skype but, due to technical issues, it didn’t work. “So we use another platform, Discord. That’s how we communicate with friends and D&D committee members, and created a new community to play online.”
While the global pandemic has wreaked havoc on certain hobbies, both Awangku Yura and Jihan expressed their surprise that D&D saw a surge of players during the past year.
“A lot of people have shown interest in D&D especially during the lockdown.”
Awangku Yura noted that it was challenging for the community in welcoming new players during such turbulent times.
“When you first started, people didn’t know how to play D&D online. and we had to frequently try it out. Another platform that we used during the pandemic was the Roll20 programme.”
Roll20 are used by the D&D community to simulate scenarios such as the battlefield and the maps of D&D for players and DMs. It helps with visualising the game.”
Similarly, Jihan also explained that another prominent programme used by the D&D community is D&D Beyond, which focusses on facilitating players in creating their own characters, and knowing what their abilities and skills are; all the while being easily shared to other players and DMs in the game.
He noted that players used to need a piece of paper, which was the player character sheet where they would write everything down such as stats and abilities. “But with the introduction to D&D Beyond, we managed to share our character sheets with the DM and other players online. You don’t have to be online to view it – you can even download it in PDF and put it on your phone or your laptop, making it more accessible.”
Despite the ease of use, both Awangku Yura and Jihan highlighted how there are stark differences between playing D&D online versus offline. In particular, Yura noted, “You have the freedom to be anywhere when you play D&D online.”
He also added that there is a different feel when D&D is played physically. “You get to see the expression of the DM and how the characters are reacting to the situation.”
As such, Awangku Yura noted that the D&D community in the Sultanate accepts both styles of play.
“You’re still playing D&D as a community, and building the world together, and for me it’s not really a matter of whether or not you can do it, but a matter of if we can all work together and make the world together.”
Another misconception regularly faced is the acquisition of models necessary to play D&D. For D&D, this can range from character models to represent players and opponents in-game to large-scale sceneries to depict the world at a miniature tabletop.
On how the global pandemic has affected the acquisition of said models, Awangku Yura said the D&D community in Brunei started to shift towards 3D printing and the use of Hero Forge, a website that players can use to sculpt and print their own 3D models.
“We do have access to a website called Hero Forge and that is the way we can customise our characters and make them into a 3D model that we can save as an STL file or Hero Forge can print and deliver it to us. But do getting the STL File, you get to customise your character.”
Jihan also added that, “In terms of printing the model, it wasn’t a challenge. The only challenge perhaps would be scaling it to the right size such that it would be a match for the board and map.”
Another joy that the hobby provided is the painting of the 3D models, which many in the community take pride in as it not only helps them express their artistic side and creativity but also helps further flesh out their characters through their very own painted 3D models.
“Most models are technically grey so you get to paint the models. according to your character’s perspective,” said Awangku Yura.
Though with the pandemic slowly turning into an endemic as the nation and the world slowly open up in adapting to the new norm, both Awangku Yura and Jihan are observant in the current trends as they noted the potential of the community to continue to fluctuate in terms of player base.
“It will probably go up and down because it depends on the players. For example, students – are they able to commit to playing D&D or are they playing just once in a while? And then people who are working, again if they have holidays, great, but if they don’t have the time or commitment to join the games and sessions it’s fine because it’s an understanding that we have to agree to one another.”
With the nation’s D&D community being so closely knit in striving to create a unique fantasy world only found in Brunei, I asked Yura how curious onlookers can join in on the hobby, to which he said, “If you want to try out D&D, my advice is to let your imagination go wild and make sure that you have a mutual agreement with your party and your DM and make sure you’re having fun.
“D&D is not a competition, but it’s a team world building game that you create. Imagination and adventure itself is always different with whoever you’re playing with. It’s always going to be a wild ride.”