Meg Creelman describes herself as a second-generation geek. Her father, an avid Dungeons & Dragons buff, took Meg to her first DunDraCon D&D convention in 1980. The four-year-old Meg was instructed to run around and make sure all the electronic typewriters were plugged in. By age ten, she knew the ropes well enough to participate in any standard adult game that involved rolling dice and filling out character sheets. Six years ago, she met her husband Walker Creelman while playing a live-action vampire game at Diablo Valley College. The two represented rival clans who had joined forces to fight a rogue army of magical beings. “It was a ‘rally against a common enemy’ kind of thing,” Meg recalled.
Role-playing games still bolster the couple’s relationship. Every Sunday they meet with friends Mary Hunter, Jay Johnson, Matt Romero, and Dan Mayberry at Mary and Jay’s Pleasant Hill apartment. (It’s a fairly incestuous group, given that Jay used to date Meg while Dan dated Mary, but now Mary dates Jay). They all sit at a kitchen table provisioned with bananas, potato chips, Pepperidge Farm cookies, cans of Coca-Cola and Squirt, and a jar full of colored dice. The group has been meeting consistently for two years, usually for role-playing games that last from two to six hours (but can go on for twelve, depending on the players’ enthusiasm).
On a recent weekend in February, at the 32nd-annual DunDraCon, dozens of gothic vampires, Roman crusaders, bounty hunters, traveling monks, Victorian ghosts, feudal Japanese warriors, sword-wielding dwarves, and flannel-shirted D&D aficionados descended on the San Ramon Marriott Hotel. They colonized the entire parking lot and took over the bike lanes for half a mile in either direction, flitting up and down the elevators dodging bell carts and trolleys, and transforming the ground floor into a nexus of gaming rooms clustered around a large D&D bazaar and trade center, where vendors hawked everything from Star Wars pocket model ships to battleship games to 100-sided dice encased in transparent golf balls. Meg was saddled with babysitting shields and weapons for the Society of Creative Anachronism, whose members did live combat demonstrations in the hotel courtyard, using chain mail armor and rattan and duct tape swords. Conference goers had reconfigured many of the first-floor rooms, stripping out the beds and installing giant tables for marathon role-playing games. “Some RPGs last four to twelve hours,” said DunDraCon publicist Ellen Robertson, whose husband Roderick chairs the convention. “Six to eight hours is average.”
Robertson spent most of the convention handling logistics, directing people to games, and preventing people from cooking in their rooms or role playing in the stairwells. Although time constraints and a move to Oakhurst prevent her from gaming regularly, she remains upbeat about the burgeoning D&D scene. She said the age range has gotten a lot wider over the years (“people bring their grandparents and stuff”), not to mention that role-playing games finally attract a substantial number of women. “When it first started out, it got a link to science fiction fandom, so you think of geeky guys and a couple girls sitting around a table drinking Jolt, eating chips, and telling a story,” Robertson said. “With live-action role-playing games, there’s more appeal to a girl,” she continued. “It’s improvisational theater rather than sitting around waiting to lop someone’s head off.”
Like Meg, Robertson was first introduced to the scene by a man. She attended her first DunDraCon 25 years ago at the behest of her husband and quickly latched onto it, given that she already knew some role-playing fanatics from working at the Renaissance Faire and the Society for Creative Anachronism. She even wrote her own role-playing scenario for an existing online game called Call of Cthulhu, which is based on the work of HP Lovecraft. “This was a real variant on it,” Robertson explained. “It was a Victorian spin on it with lots of variations including vampires.” The basic storyline had Robertson’s character kidnapped and turned into a silver horse, which her vampire-husband seizes. He then goes charging into the highlands of Scotland in pursuit of his missing wife, not realizing she is the horse he is riding.
Although Robertson jokingly blames her husband enlisting her into the D&D world, she obviously has become an enthusiast in her own right. At DunDraCon 32, she paced the hotel floors wearing a ninja T-shirt and quartz disk necklace, along with a campaign button that said “Cthulhu for President.” Beneath it was a slogan in small print: “Why vote for the lesser evil?”
Most of the members of Meg’s group also have played role-playing games for decades. They typically started with D&D, although their favorites today are the samurai game Legend of the 5 Rings, the pulp game Spirit of the Century, and the sci-fi game Teenagers from Outer Space – in which aliens infiltrate a small-town high school in the US and try to “fit in.” Walker got hooked on a Marvel superheroes game during a fifth-grade Boy Scouts camping trip and continued gaming through a ten-year stint in the Air Force. Dan joined an after-school program at Diablo Valley High called the Mystery and Adventure Club. The club provided a space for kids to play D&D, Champions, superhero games, and Hearts, recalled Jay, who used to take the bus there from his own high school, Ygnacio Valley. Dan said gaming gave him a social outlet in high school, since he had a huge stuttering problem and often got picked on. “It’s a hobby that doesn’t necessarily require a lot of brain power, but it attracts a lot of brain power,” he explained. “And those in high school with brain power to spare are ostracized. I was in speech therapy. That made me an even more popular target for the bullies.”
Before he could finish his story, Jay cut him off: “Get off the cross. We need wood.”