Fantasy game players return to the dungeon

WARREN -- Two days next month, the worn stairs to the basement of a Warren comic book shop will lead visitors to another world.
Actually, to just a small corner of another world.
The Archclericy of Veluna is a relatively placid region, populated primarily by law-abiding humans but with enough trouble to keep gangs of dwarf fighters and combat wizards adequately employed.
Dungeons and Dragons, the fantasy role-playing game that first hit the scene in the early 1970s is back, and in a big way.
With a new rule book and new drive toward coordinated plot lines that extend over years (in Earth time, that is), new players are starting and legions are returning back to a game they first picked up in high school.
"It has gotten big in just a year," said Greg Bartholomew, who estimates he sold 150 rule books between the three All-American Comics and Cards shops he owns in the Mahoning Valley.
"It faded in the mid-'90s, but when the new rules came out, the interest really began to pick up."
Convention: About 30 people came to the first Dungeons and Dragons convention sponsored by the Warren shop last year. Bartholomew expects 75 people at the next convention, Dec. 8-9, some from as far away as Michigan and Indiana.
The group mixes teen-agers, who are just taking up the game, with middle-aged men who have been playing for years.
"You don't find too many guys who are in their mid-30s say 'I'd like to learn how to play D & amp;D,'" Bartholomew said.
Armed with rule books, small lead figures, boxes of Nutter Butters and two-liter bottles of Mountain Dew, the gamers sit around folding tables in All-American's basement for four hours at a stretch, pretending they are someone -- or something -- else.
They might be a traveling minstrel, a knight in shining armor or a heavily-armed crusading preacher participating in an adventure that typically includes killing an ogre and finding some gold coins.
The convention consists of five, four-hour sessions over the two days. Players loll on the second-hand couches scattered around the room and guzzle pop between games, Bartholomew said.
Groups of friends can play the game on their own, with one member charged with designing an adventure for the group.
But by taking part in organized conventions, players can take part in a larger fantasy world, with the potential to befriend or butt heads with strangers who are also involved in the game.
The players: Women at these events are few and far between.
"We get bankers and lawyers and also those little short greasy-haired dudes with the glasses and the tape and you know those guys are gamers, too," said Bartholomew, 35, who first took up the game in middle school.
"It is not something you can do to impress a lady."
Whether a sword hits its mark is determined by the roll of a die. The amount of damage a magician's fireball can do is laid out by the rules.
"A lot of people like to play a character that mirrors their own image," said Bartholomew, who describes his wizard Clamert as "a machine gun," who only casts offensive spells.
Doug Jones, 28, who regularly comes to these events, plays a dwarf fighter, whose character mirror's many young men's fantasies, if not their actual self image.
"I don't take no lip from anybody," Jones said. "Basically, I just stand up and start swinging."

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