One local group seeks to build community through Dungeons & Dragons
Dungeons & Dragons, and other tabletop role-playing games, first became popular in the 1980s, but they are getting a lot of new interest due to shows like Stranger Things and other pop culture trends. However, turning that interest into actual play, and finding a space or community to explore those interests, can be difficult.
For the Columbia community, there’s a new group trying to make it easier to find that community. Detect Nerd is an organization working to make nerd culture more accessible.
One of the ways they’re doing this is live one-shots — a one-time, two-hour live roleplaying game where players have a Dungeon Master (DM) guide them through a story with an audience watching.
In November, that one-shot took the audience to a 1950s Supperware Party, which was Anna Furstenau’s first live one-shot as a DM.
"Anyone who's creative can find an avenue to participate in the scene of tabletop gaming."Doug Miller
“To kind of prep for that, I spent an ungodly amount of time researching what 1950s house parties would have been like so that you could really make the, you know, hour-long portion of it where you're describing the scene and building the suspense really make that come alive,” Furstenau said. “And then of course, we got into the shenanigans of fighting jello casseroles and deviled eggs that animated.”
But long before jello casseroles came to life — Detect Nerd was just an idea.
“We want to give people, any person, an inclusive space, a judgment-free zone, a just room to be who they want to be as a nerd,” Elizabeth Keach, one of the co-founders of Detect Nerd, said.
While looking for a space to host their live streams, the founders of Detect Nerd discovered people all over Columbia seeking a community and guidance on how to play D&D and other similar games.
“We decided to do one-shots because there were a bunch of people that wanted to play, but didn't really know about the time constraint, like they were like, 'Oh, it's gonna take too long to play, or it's too hard to learn, or, you know, math is hard,' and you know, all that stuff,” Keach said. “It always hurts my little heart. We just want to give people entertainment, for sure. But at the same time, just give people opportunities to meet other fun friends that they can branch off with.”
Doug Miller is the other co-founder of the group. For Miller, finding a community is the first step in playing because there has to be a sense of community and trust for good gameplay.
“It gets to be this weird kind of group therapy where you're discovering yourself,” Miller said. “You're discovering options to experiment with who you could be. And so there's that kind of sense of potential and togetherness and acceptance.”
There’s also a creative aspect to these games and many ways that new and experienced players can be involved – from simply watching the live stream to developing and drawing characters, to worldbuilding and the writing of campaigns, to playing the actual one-shot.
“Anyone who's creative can find an avenue to participate in the scene of tabletop gaming,” Miller said.
This is especially important for Anna who is DMing the 1950s jello casserole monster one-shot. They said Detect Nerd is providing a space for something special, especially in a world that doesn’t let adults have these outlets.
“To have a space where you are completely dedicated to imagination and bringing that imagination to life for the people around you,” Furstenau said. “It's really childlike, and also not at the same time. It really saved me during the pandemic to have an outlet like that to really exist with my peers in a playful way, and not have all the doom and gloom that was happening around us to have a space where we could just go without having to physically go."
While Detect Nerd is still young, they have a lot of big ideas. In addition to their live one-shots, their live-streamed campaign and fantasy film nights, they are also planning events to help teach people how to play D&D. So they can bring the magic of the game into everyone’s daily lives.