You stand in front of a portal, with an ancient man called Drazhar the Unclean, who carries an odour on his trench coat, and an Elf, of indeterminate age. The portal leads to a research facility ship, on a faraway planet, where something has gone terribly wrong. The planet is known to be bitterly cold. What do you do? I'm faced with this challenge at my first Dungeons and Dragons night. I’ve been wanting to try D&D since Stranger Things made it cool again. Eddy fighting bats while shredding the Master of Puppets guitar solo...That was the clincher. So, when I heard that Artemis Games run D & D nights, not just for seasoned players but for beginners, I jumped at the chance to have a go.
I’m at Adventure League night, at Artemis Games in Treble Court. Samsara Dowsing is our Dungeon Master. She is a masterful storyteller who has me engrossed in the world we are entering. I’m apprehensive because I’m the newb, and I'm trying not to annoy them with too many questions but the Dungeon Master puts me at ease when she winks, and whispers, "Basically you can do anything you want."
There are no mistakes in a game of D&D. Each person describes their character so we are collectively visualising our journey together.
This is collaborative storytelling and you can be as theatrical as you like. It's role playing with dice.
The characters are as diverse as the people around the table who are all beautifully quirky and welcoming. Owners Colin and Alia Duffy, tell me that a lot of the local game playing community are neurodiverse. Alia herself is on the Autism Spectrum. It's a safe space for neurodiverse kids too. Some struggle at first with the social aspect. Small talk can be tough for some of us. Learning social rules within a new culture is hard for anyone, but Alia has seen growth amongst their regulars who had social difficulty at the start and have become some of their most dedicated members.
She says "Historically there hasn't been much of an area for people who love games to do stuff in Gisborne. There's a bit of cross-over with the theatre scene, which is great. Theatre nerds make great Dungeon Masters!
Learning the rules of the game is of secondary importance. The first good trait Alia looks for in a DM is the ability to improv and spin a yarn."
But Artemis isn't just Dungeons and Dragons, the shop itself is full of board games, table-top games and a few Rubik’s cubes. Bringing the kids in to buy a family board game seems a great way to get them away from the screen and enjoy some family time. Alia says they opened the business in 2019 which in hindsight was not the best timing. "We've had a bit of a rough time with the pandemic and cyclone, but we're going to keep holding on until we can't. I haven't drawn a wage in two years, to me the community is more important than the business side of things and I want to see it thrive!" At $10 a game Adventure League is cheap entertainment. About ten people sign up for a game once a month, and anyone is welcome. Don't be overwhelmed by the character stats and dice maths. Just immerse yourself in a story and have a bit of fun. Embrace your inner geek. So, as an acrobatic cat woman, the size of a basketball player, I somersaulted through that portal, followed by an Elf with two cross-bows. (He wouldn’t sell his second crossbow because you never know when you might need it). We found a blood-soaked note in the hands of a decomposing body, which we couldn't decipher it until I rolled a dice and bought a potion for a few gold coins.
When the three day journey back to the portal was questioned, the DM soothed nerves by saying, "don't worry we'll be travelling at the speed of plot."
Story by Aimee Vickers
Photographs by Owen Vickers