Tabletop adventure gaming has Trumbull teens spellbound

Chelsie Labrecque and Zanny Stowell have been surprised by the demand for the library system's Dungeons & Dragons clubs.

Chelsie Labrecque and Zanny Stowell have been surprised by the demand for the library system's Dungeons & Dragons clubs.

Donald Eng / Hearst Connecticut Media

When most people think of games that are popular with youths between 12 and 18, titles like Fortnite and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) probably spring to mind. But according to library staff, it is a 45-year-old team-based tabletop game that includes lots of reading and math that has drawn unprecedented interest.

Earlier this summer, the Fairchild-Nichols branch started a Dungeons & Dragons club that meets one Wednesday each month. This proved so popular that the main Trumbull Library started a group of its own. Demand was high enough to form yet a third group, which is now also full.

“We thought we’d get a few kids to sign up,” said Zanny Stowell, who started the first Main Library group. “But that filled up fast, so we started started another one, and that one filled up.”

Stowell and Youth Services Librarian Chelsie Labrecque said there are numerous factors drawing 21st Century kids and teens to put down their smartphones and sit around a table with their peers.

“I think some of it is the show Stranger Things, where the main characters play the game,” Stowell said.

Labrecque added that many of the podcasts popular among teens also mentioned D&D.

In addition, teen and young adult books like the Harry Potter series and the Lord of the Rings movies have drawn a new generation into the fantasy world of wizard, warriors, and damsels in distress. Well, actually not so much distress, since the modern gamer is much more likely to be female than most people think.

“The stereotype is that D&D players are boys that are awkward around girls,” Stowell said. “But look at the people that registered, half or more are girls.”

The depictions of female characters also has come a long way since the days when women warriors were drawn wearing armor that critics described as “chainmail bikinis.”

“It’s made girls a lot more confident to come join a group, knowing that it’s not going to be exploitative,” Stowell said.

The game also has moved on from the morality scare of the 1980s, when parent groups falsely linked DnD playing with Satanism.

“The parents have been very supportive,” Labrecque said. “A lot of them used to play themselves.”

For those unfamiliar with the game, players create characters and are guided on an imaginary adventure by a “dungeonmaster” who serves as the narrator and referee. Conflicts are resolved by probability-based dice rolling, meaning weaker characters can defeat more powerful ones - but it’s unlikely. Games can last for many playing sessions over a period of months.

Players are also encouraged to act in-character and work cooperatively with their fellow players. Stowell said the game provided ideal social interaction.

“What makes the game so interesting for people is the flexibility, and the ability to create your own scenario,” she said. “Some kids may not be into sports, so this is a chance for them to be with their peers and learn life skills like cooperative problem solving.”

Role playing also provides a chance to be someone else for a while, Labrecque said.

“Once I created this character as a 30-year-old male,” she said. “So I ended up playing, in-character, as the Dad figure for the group. I was the one saying, ‘Guys, this house is on fire, stop looting and see if there’s anyone here that needs help.’”

Stowell agreed, with a slightly different take on character development.

“It’s a chance to be the person you always wanted to be,” she said. “Play as a character whose traits you want.”

The Fairchild Nichols Memorial Branch hosts its Dungeons & Dragons club for youths 12 and older one Wednesday a month. The next seesion is September 25. Registration required.

The Main Library clubs meet every third Saturday. Both sessions are full but call the library to get on the waiting list or to be informed if a third group forms.