Just roll with it: Collaborative storytelling drives the play at WSU’s D&D Club


Eduardo Castillo

Eldon Taskinen, president of the WSU Dungeons and Dragons Club, describes the setting of Sunday’s game. As dungeon master, Taskinen’s job is to make sure players understand the story as it unfolds.

Far under the fictional world of Molemaster, a battle rages — not a grand battle for the fate of the city, but a battle to protect those in need.

Gnomes flee for their lives as a massive three-legged creature plucks the minuscule miners from the earth with its tentacles and plops them into its thorny maw like cashews from a bar top.

A pirate rushes into the fray, casting a spell of darkness — an attack his fellow heroes bemoan — as he slashes at the beast’s rock-like hide in hopes of bringing it down before any more gnomes meet their untimely demise.

The swashbuckler is a dice roll away from victory or death.

The pirates name is Captain Tubal, and he is played by Sam Smith, a member of the WSU Dungeons and Dragons Club. All Smith has to do to turn the tides of battle is land an attack on the creature, but that decision is not entirely up to him — it’s up to the dice and the gods of luck.

Smith rolls his 20-sided die and calls out the number that signifies his attack. The Dungeon Master (DM) — the rule-holder and controller of the game — confirms the hit, decreasing the unknown health of the creature and leading the party closer to victory.

WSU’s D&D club has been operating since last spring, conducting sessions like this every week. As of this semester, the club has achieved official recognized student organization (RSO) status.

Eldon Taskinen, president of the club, said achieving that status was the club’s goal last semester.

“One of the biggest hurdles was finding a sponsor,” Taskinen said. “And then besides that, the only other requirement is you have to have a certain number of members, which surprisingly, that never turned out to actually be an issue for us.”

Eduardo Castillo
A pile of dice rests on the table during the WSU Dungeons and Dragons Club’s Sunday meeting. The multi-sided dice are used for a variety of purposes in the game.

Taskinen said that when they began, nearly a dozen players joined the fledgling club. They now have 30 members, and Taskinen said 16 of them consistently attend weekly sessions.

Those 16 consistent members come to what is a mildly abnormal style of play sessions, with games alternating Fridays and Sundays and each session being a one-shot campaign.

One-shots are games in which a full story is told during one playthrough. Think of it as sitting down for a single episode of your favorite show — except it can last six-plus hours. This is in contrast to a normal campaign that could take years of sessions to tell a single story.

“It makes it easier for people to come and go as they as they need,” Taskinen said. “Like, if people arrive late or if people need to leave early, it’s not a big deal . . . Since we always run one-shots, they don’t miss anything.”

“If we had a completely new player come into this upcoming session, I don’t think they’d, like, not know what’s going on because it’s all pretty self-explanatory,” added Cameron Fitzgerald, the club’s event coordinator.

The club has a wide array of players, from those like Taskinen who have played for years to those like Fitzgerald, whose first experience with D&D was with the WSU club.

“A lot of the people who we have are well more informed on D&D than I am,” said Fitzgerald, eliciting a laugh from the rest of the group. “And so, they’re always discussing and helping other players out with setting their characters up and things.”

Members are ready to play with any stranger that wanders into their game — making jokes and creating an atmosphere in which newcomers can feel included.

With shows such as “Stranger Things” and “Critical Role,” D&D is in the public eye more now than it has been since perhaps the “satanic panic” of the 80s. This has led to a surge of new players looking for a chance to play, including Bryan Espinoza, who is the DM on the club’s monthly Tuesday-night meetings.

“I was honestly just like, looking around everywhere, trying to find somewhere I could go to play, and this club came around at the right time,” Espinoza said.

There’s plenty going for the pen-and-paper, tabletop roleplaying game. D&D, which has been around since 1974, has engaging game mechanics, and has spawned a massive depth of lore.

“I’ve tried a whole bunch of different games, and you know, I’ve always fallen in love with them and then fallen out of love with them,” Taskinen said. “And D&D is the only one where I started playing it, and as soon as I started playing D&D, I’ve never stopped.”

Taskinen said the outlet of becoming someone else in a completely different world helps players forget their real-world worries.

The club’s executive board agreed that with most games, the goal is to win, but in D&D, there is no winning — meaning you don’t have to get bogged down in the rules of the game. They went on to say that that it’s essentially improv.

“Group storytelling at [its] worst,” Espinoza said, eliciting chuckles from the other club members.

Taskinen said that group storytelling aspect is one of his favorite parts of D&D.

“Everyone at the table is involved in telling the story of what’s happening,” he said.