The sweltering heat met my bare, freckled skin with the blazing sun overhead. Every so often a cloud would tuck the light away, giving us all a brief moment to cool off. It was Peterborough Pulse weekend and the weather was perfect for the summertime street festival.
As I tried to ignore the sweat pooling uncomfortably in mine and my partner’s intertwined hands, I peered over his shoulder at something that caught my eye. I immediately began drifting towards what looked like a large vendor with gaming tables set up. Was that crokinole? Having actually never played, I was immediately drawn to it. The tent the game was under had a large banner stating “Dueling Grounds” in silver writing against its black background.
Little did I know that approaching a crokinole board was going to change everything and help bring forward the person I’ve always been.
“Do you know how to play?” A man came forward asking.
My partner was smirking. I knew that smirk and I couldn’t help myself but return it – he was likely quite good at this game. “I don’t,” I admitted.
The man quickly explained the rules of the game and welcomed us to sit and play against each other. I sat across my partner, ever the jack-of-all-trades, who utterly destroyed me in a game of crokinole within a matter of minutes. We played the second round, none better than the first as my pieces were flying off the board (-2 in Dexterity, friends).
Afterward, I asked the man what this was. At his answer, my eyes grew wide and excited. ‘A new gaming store in town? Let’s hope it’s not like the current one, completely centered around pay-to-play and Magic: The Gathering…’ I thought to myself.
The owner of Dueling Grounds began listing off some of what they offered in store from X-Wing to Magic and more. I heard some wargames be listed as well. My partner, who has zero interest in tabletop gaming or card games of any sort, was smiling and nodding politely as he listed everything off. Finally, I cut in, “Do you have Dungeons & Dragons?”
A sudden spark appeared. “We do, absolutely, yeah, do you play?”
“Only 3.5 right now, but I’ve been playing for years.”
“We’re actually looking to start a Dungeons & Dragons night and a Pathfinder’s Society one, too. Think you’d be interested?” he asked.
I looked towards my partner, biting my lip with hesitation. Could I really make the leap and play RPGs in a store with a bunch of strangers? Could I accomplish this without constantly planning my route to the exits and biting my fingernails till they bled? My partner inclined his head slightly, giving me that boost of encouragement I needed.
“Er, yeah, I’d love to.”
The owner invited me upstairs to see the shop. It was amazing. Nothing like the other local gaming store. It was clean, spacious, inviting, and cool. He took my name and number down and I committed to arriving within the next week for not just one but two tabletop RPG evenings. Though, I learned that Dungeons & Dragons night meant the 5th edition. Eek. I had never indulged in it yet.
With the support of my partner and the adrenaline of excitement, I bought the 5th Edition Player’s Handbook as well as the Pathfinder’s Handbook. That evening I drew a bath and read both of them, front-to-back, never even noticing the water turning cold and stale around me.
I was excited. Exceptionally excited.
On the first evening of Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Adventurer’s League, a small group gathered in the back gaming room of Dueling Grounds. We were led by a fantastic man/DM named Geoff. He herded us like cats while assisting with character creation for all those new to 5th Edition and we got done in time to run a module from Tyranny of Dragons.
Despite starting my evening in the very corner of the room, my eyes continuously fleeting towards the door, within moments of gameplay beginning, I was enthralled. I had forgotten all about where the exits were, the hair standing on the back of my neck, the fear of being surrounded by primarily male gamers, and I was playing Dungeons & Dragons. Geoff was a very enthusiastic DM and he, along with the group of people around him, was everything I could have hoped for in a weekly gaming group.
On the first evening, there were just over ten of us. Seven months later there are nearly thirty-to-forty of us every single week, always back for more. In our small city, that is a triumph.
Before I found Dueling Grounds, I had been sentenced to enjoying my Dragonlance in privacy, mulling over the lore of it to myself, and playing sporadically with a small group of friends.
Growing up, I always felt ashamed to display what I enjoyed as a hobby. Only old grognards like Dungeons & Dragons – right? Not young girls like me.
Every week now I can walk into this Friendly Local Gaming Store and breathe a sigh of relief. Everyday life gets left at the door and as soon as I step inside I get to be Aether, the incredibly prejudiced Ranger, or Nimble, the neurotic Tabaxi Monk or play the mask of many characters as a DM.
A thing as simple as a FLGS has changed my life so much over the past few months and I could not thank the owner of Dueling Grounds or the head DM of Adventurer’s League evenings enough. Both have created an incredibly inclusive, safe environment where many like myself are able to come and game without any worries.
Through-out the week, I see many fellow gamers from my city post on Facebook or Twitter about how life is getting too heavy to lift and they always follow-up with, “Is it Tuesday yet?”, just holding on for the next time they get to escape everything and play.
So thank you. Thank you to the people and the places that provide a sanctuary for so many individuals and groups. Every friendly local gaming store, every owner struggling to get by, every volunteer GM constantly prepping – thank you. Our lives wouldn’t be the same without you.