Friday night fantasy: Dungeons & Dragons in Delridge

(D&D player Brannon Boren, left-front, reacts to a turn of events with other players at Uptown Espresso in Delridge on a recent Friday night)

Story and photos by Tony Lystra
Reporting for West Seattle Blog

Each Friday evening, a throng gathers at Uptown Espresso in Delridge to battle dragons, orcs, trolls, vampires, demon lords, and worse. They slide up to the coffee shop’s many broad, weathered tables and lay out their dice, “character sheets,” maps and figurines, then spend the evening in a fantasy.

They’re playing Dungeons & Dragons, the ’70s-created role-playing game, where players tell a story together, learning what happens next, deciding how they want to respond, and rolling dice to determine their success.

Game play at the Delridge shop (3845 Delridge Way SW) usually starts around 7 p.m. and wraps up just before midnight. The evenings can attract 50 people or more, organizers say. There’s even a custom gaming table in the store that opens up to reveal a pit where maps can be laid out and figurines maneuvered. (Uptown is under new management and has cleared its shelves of games it previously offered for sale, but the D&D nights are expected to continue.)

Dungeons & Dragons, once thought a bastion of the awkward and scorned by Christian evangelicals as occultist, has enjoyed a startling resurgence in recent years.

A younger generation, raised on screens where crystal-clear renderings of monsters lash out at them, are discovering joy in the kind of analog, offline socializing their parents once regarded as the only way to play a game. Games at Uptown are often punctuated by thunderous outbreaks of laughter, and the smiles are wide and anticipating.

D&D, as it’s known, is now increasingly thought of as therapeutic for those with autism, dyslexia, anxiety disorders, and more. And the game’s reputation as a dangerous form of escapism has waned. (Turns out late D&D creator Gary Gygax was a Christian.)

Max Ramawy, a 19-year-old student at the University of Washington, began playing D&D at Uptown Espresso two years ago, shortly after coming to the U.S. from Indonesia. He said playing these adventures eases his anxiety and gives him a chance to connect with people in a country that’s still new to him.

“I actually talk to people here,” Ramawy said. “It just feels brighter here.”

Last year, D&D enjoyed its biggest sales in more than two decades, with upward of 8.6 million Americans playing the game. The game’s $50 manuals are often kept behind sales counters, including at the Barnes & Noble in Westwood, because they are in such high demand. (Counter clerks said addicts often swipe the books and try to return them for cash.)

Game nights are popping up across Seattle, including at West Seattle’s Meeples Games (3727 California Ave. SW), which hosts dozens of D&D and other fantasy game events — and they’re drawing younger players.

Taiki Goto, 11, of Seattle, was the youngest person in a group of men, most in their 20s and 30s, who were making their way through a D&D adventure at Uptown on a recent Friday night. Goto said said he began playing earlier this year after a guest at his parents’ Airbnb taught him the game.

“I like the … creativity of doing whatever you want instead of following a set of rules,” he said.

That the characters on Stranger Things, the hit Netflix throwback to the ’80s, obsess over D&D is surely driving the resurgence. And it doesn’t hurt that Seattle is a gaming town, with all sorts of board and video game companies operating out of the city. It’s not uncommon for a game’s designer to be playing at Uptown with one or more of his or her creations on the shelves nearby.

Wizards of the Coast, which acquired the D&D brand from TSR, the game’s original publisher, in 1997, is based in Renton. (More evidence that D&D has gone mainstream: Wizards of the Coast is now owned by Hasbro, one of the world’s largest toy makers.) Amazon-owned Twitch was broadcasting more than 50 hours of live D&D games each week as of last year. You read that right: People are tuning in to watch D&D the way they watch the NFL.

“D&D is more popular than it’s ever been,” said Brannon Boren, 50, whose silver hair with a blue mohawk dashing across the middle is an easily spotted fixture on most Friday nights at Uptown.

(Boren holds a figure he uses to keep track of his character during the game)

A great deal of D&D’s newfound popularity stems from new and simpler rules, known as D&D’s Fifth Edition, which Wizards of the Coast published in 2014. The new rules made the game more accessible to kids and newcomers while rekindling the spontaneous energy of the original version, said Boren, who has played D&D since he was a kid and now works as a game designer at Seattle game maker Big Fish.

On a recent Friday, Boren and a group of a half-dozen other players were making their way through a classic D&D adventure called “White Plume Mountain.” Boren recalled playing the same adventure as a youngster in the ’80s and said he’s pleased new generations are getting to enjoy it as well as other D&D stories.

“I see more children playing the game than in more than 10 years,” he said.

6 Replies to "Friday night fantasy: Dungeons & Dragons in Delridge"

  • Aaron Rowand December 31, 2018 (11:19 am)

    An incredible story witch tugs at my heart!  I’ve been playing for the majority of my 39 years, currently run 2 separate games, one of which my wife and son play in.  My father taught me and I have the privilege of teach both of my sons.  I’m so happy to see establishments such as Uptown Espresso inviting people to come and play.  They get to enjoy a place to have a little fun with people who have the same interests and relax after the work week.  Kudos to everyone there, and thank for for publishing this story so people can see what is happening with ‘the worlds greatest role playing game’. 

  • Michael Yolen December 31, 2018 (12:17 pm)

     And the game’s reputation as a dangerous form of escapism has waned. (Turns out late D&D creator Gary Gygax was a Christian.)”LOL!  What century do you live in?  First of all, I don’t know anyone who thinks D & D is dangerous.  Second of all, how is being Xtian an antidote to dangerous forms of escapism?  Hilarious.

  • dsa December 31, 2018 (1:29 pm)

    Copied from Wikipedia:=============paste==============…”At various times in its history, Dungeons & Dragons has received negative publicity, in particular from some Christian groups, for alleged promotion of such practices as devil worship, witchcraft, suicide, and murder, and for the presence of naked breasts in drawings of female humanoids in the original AD&D manuals (mainly monsters such as harpies, succubi, etc.).[13][123] These controversies led TSR to remove many potentially controversial references and artwork when releasing the 2nd Edition of AD&D.[81] Many of these references, including the use of the names “devils” and “demons“, were reintroduced in the 3rd edition.[124] The moral panic over the game led to problems for fans of D&D who faced social ostracism, unfair treatment, and false association with the occult and Satanism, regardless of an individual fan’s actual religious affiliation and beliefs.[“…==========end==================

  • Raised in WS December 31, 2018 (1:51 pm)

    This is so cool. In an age where so much of our interactions and entertainment have become screen-based (not necessarily knocking this), games like D&D, TCGs, board games, etc. really shine in their creativity and and face-to-face interaction and I think are a very timely alternative to the digital abundance that we have today that somehow can at times all feels the same.

  • David S December 31, 2018 (5:25 pm)

    Michael Yolen, it’s not centuries, but decades.  It seems silly now, but back in the late 70s and early 80s, many fundamental Christians railed against D&D, as well as bands like KISS and the TV show Bewitched.  

  • Steve December 31, 2018 (7:32 pm)

    Sadly everyone in that party died when the rouge mistook the the scales of not  so friendly platinum dragon as a pile of coins.

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