Nerd Union turns RSC into a dungeon

A sword-wielding pixie was pinned under the foot of a monster on the second floor of Wichita State’s Rhatigan Student Center Friday night.

It was a “giant, hulk-ogre-zombie thing,” said freshman Caleb Hobbs, and the heroic pixie is his character, and he’s not alone.

Hobbs was one of 10 members of the WSU Nerd Union, battling a hoard of zombies and monsters to save the world from a dangerous artifact that night. Or, keep it for themselves. That’s the fun part for these gamers — none of them knows how the story will turn out.

They’re playing Dungeons & Dragons, among other things, and four nights a week these students gather at the RSC to pursue their nerdy hobbies.

“I discovered D&D in high school,” Hobbs said, “and in college I was surprised to find out I could play it, too.”

D&D is a fantasy tabletop role-playing game that was designed in the early 1970s as a variant on strategic war games. Instead of controlling military units, however, D&D players take on the role of fantasy characters and become part of a cooperative storytelling experience.

For some of the students, playing D&D is a right-of-passage. For others, it’s a way to relax and make new friends.

Hobbs said he found out about the Nerd Union while looking into other student groups. He decided that Nerd Union was more to his liking, especially when they added D&D to their regular diet of anime, video games and other interests.

“I love playing Dungeons & Dragons because it’s a fun time, and it gives me something to look forward to after school.” Hobbs said. “I work hard, but in the end I also get to play. I like to be engaged with school, but I also have a fun side, and Nerd Union gives me that.”

Freshman Bryce England, who is studying international business, takes his turn as DM on a different night. He’s been playing since he was 12, and said the game has made him a better student.

“I know it’s had an impact on my math scores,” he said. “Plus, when I started DMing, I had to learn how to tell stories and work with people, so it helped with social skills and with creative writing.”

Another freshman, Sierra Bonn, a biomedical engineering/pre-med student, went to high school with two Nerd Union founders, treasurer Chandler Bolen and president Alex Pennington. As soon as she came to WSU, they signed her up.

“I’ve been a member since birth, practically,” Bonn joked. “When I heard talk about starting up D&D, I knew I had to get in on that.”

D&D was actually part of Bonn’s childhood, she said, as she used to tag along to gaming sessions with her father.

“The idea of fantasy games was always appealing to me,” she said. “I like video games, role-playing games and stuff like that, but I also like the freedom of D&D, how you’re not confined to a specific quest line like when you play video games.”

It wasn’t long ago that calling someone a “nerd” was an insult — a form of bullying. Claiming it as an identity has made the Nerd Union one of the fastest growing student organizations on campus, growing from a handful of enthusiasts to 41 members in the past two years.

Dungeons & Dragons is the group’s newest endeavor, however, having just started playing in the fall. Engineering student Parker Amos, a junior, is their head Dungeon Master – the guy who organizes games, keeps track of rules, rolls dice for monsters and presents the plot.

He was introduced to D&D in high school by his debate, improv and forensics coach.

“I joined NU because I have always been a bit nerdy,” Amos said. “Besides that, I really wanted a place on campus that was designed for people with interests like mine. I just love it.”