Special Studies turns students into adventurers, tackling Dungeons and Dragons together

The dungeon master, David Lessard’s set of mini figurines sits next to the box of basic supplies for a Dungeons and Dragons campaign, ready for use by the class on July 6, 2023, in Smith Library. CARRIE LEGG/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Stacey Federoff
Copy Desk Chief

A group gathered around a table in Smith Memorial Library watched as David Lessard unfurled a battle mat in front of them, shifting their Dungeons and Dragons character sheets and dice as a familiar shape was revealed on the map in front of them.

“How can you teach D&D without including a dragon?” said Lessard in an interview before teaching a Special Studies class, “Dungeons and Dragons (RPGs) for First Timers,” Thursday in the library to complement the Week Two theme, “Games: A Celebration of Our Most Human Pastime.”

Along with Lessard serving as the dungeon master, the class had a full complement of seven adventurers, including Bob Lee (“Sam,” an elf ranger) whose grandson Nick Wright (whose character was “Hekabe,” a dwarf cleric) asked him to join the class.

“What are you going to say to your grandson?” Lee said. “I’m not as knowledgeable as he is, but I’m catching on.”

Wright said he wanted to learn since his parents have played the game for about five years, and he watched the TV show “Stranger Things,” where the characters often play and reference the game.

Mamie Kanfer Stewart and Gina Mating point to a route on the map for their characters to take during the short Dungeons and Dragons campaign they participate in as part of a class on July 6, 2023, in Smith Library. CARRIE LEGG/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Justin West (“Gromwhittle,” a human druid) said he joined the class because he will be leading a group of students in the fall, and wanted to get firsthand experience. He said he was glad to link the class to Thursday’s lecture by Joseph C. Cyrulik.

“One of the things that he told us is that D&D came out of war gaming and the Tolkien world,” West said. “It was cool to see that (connection) actually.”

Mamie Kanfer Stewart (“Concerta,” a half-elf bard) said she wanted to learn in order to share the game with her daughters, ages 11 and 13. 

Ryan Smith reaches for his set of dice during the Dungeons and Dragons class on July 6, 2023, as they work together to complete a short campaign in Smith Library. CARRIE LEGG/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

“The lecture Monday talked about how games give you permission to compete with each other, but in a healthy way; and to be mean to each other — but in a healthy way,” she said, adding that she looks forward to starting a campaign to create a space to “get out your anger, show your love and work as a team” while building relationships with her family.

Gina Mating (“Melora,” an elf wizard) and brothers Russell Smith (“Bagon,” a Dragonborn sorcerer) and Ryan Smith (“Ragnarok,” a half-orc paladin) also took part in the quest, which involved finding a cursed ruby and map from a dwarf to find a dragon’s barrow. The group had to return the ruby to break the curse and unlock the rest of the treasure.

“It’s totally a great teamwork game,” Wright said, after the campaign ended. “This is 100% a ‘should-play’ game. I would totally play this again and I love it.”

To get in on the action, Chautauqua Cinema’s screening the film “Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, 2:15 and 5:30 p.m. Sunday and 5:30 p.m. Monday.

“(The movie captured) the tone of playing the game well, the joking around, and the balance of fun and action,” Lessard said.

Or, kids can “Design Your Own Dungeons and Dragons Character” from 4 to 6 p.m. Monday at the Jessica Trapasso Pavilion at Children’s School, hosted by Play CHQ.


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