If the kids from the TV show Stranger Things are what you imagine when you think of Dungeons and Dragons players, then you would probably be surprised to see the dozen or so who rolled up to play at Port Moody's Hourglass Comics and Games on a recent Saturday.
Arriving via everything from Mustangs to motorbikes, they were women and men, metalworkers and theatre teachers, middle schoolers and the middle aged.
The main mission on that day: hunt down a strange squid monster with alien intelligence and mind control powers.
Standing against this bizarre fictional creature in the fantasy tabletop role-playing game was a motley crew of characters: a pair of golden dragon men, one who swings giant swords and one who studies fungus; three musicians so charming that they can coax the world into shifting in their favour; a giant turtle-man ninja in a purple headband, who laughingly clarified that he wasn't a teenager; and a powerful genie who seeks glorious victories to impress a pretty air spirit that he met on a recent adventure, among others.
This is life in the Sundered Lands, a fictional world — and a business — created by Craig Chapman. Around 400 people are signed up already, creating hundreds of characters to battle, barter and bicker over the scattered treasures of a land wrestling with the forces of evil.
Chapman runs games like this one six to eight times a week, usually for eight people at a time, but ranging from six to 24. He needs to run that many games to make sure that everyone who wants to play gets to, and to make enough to live on.
Around half of the games Chapman runs make him no money at all but more and more companies are paying him to run private games for their employees, which is where his profits come from. Those companies, along with regular contributions from some of his avid player base, are what make his business viable.
“I'm at a point where I can't satisfy the demand for professional Dungeons and Dragons by myself, and that's without ever really advertising,” Chapman said. “I'm thrilled that I'm able to make a living running a game I love and I definitely wouldn't have been able to without some of the people it has brought into my life."
Chapman's big financial break came when one of his players, Nick Martin, got him in contact with the first big business to pay him. Martin does social engagement at the tech company Hootsuite, a social media management platform, and convinced his employer that regular games would be good for company moral.
"[Dungeons and Dragons] has helped the people at Hootsuite because it's built bridges between our teams that didn't exist before," Martin said. "We work better together. We have created new projects from it. I'd say it is a fantastic team-building exercise."
Word of mouth from people at Hootsuite let Chapman branch out to other companies, alongside private in-home contracts. As the D&D audience grows and evolves, he has reached a point where he has to pay other people to help him run the games. He currently contracts four others to manage games as well as a couple volunteers to help him keep on top of everything.
“If I really wanted more business, I could probably get it," he said, "but I just don’t have the time. The next step is to start farming out contracts to other [game runners], and from there it’s just going to keep growing and growing.”
• If you’re interested in learning more about Craig’s games, you can see a full schedule of events in his facebook group, “Dungeons and Do-gooders,” alongside hundreds of fan-made drawings and short stories. Alternatively, you can sign up for one of his regular games at Hourglass Comics or Yagger’s sports bar in downtown Vancouver.
What is Dungeons and Dragons?
Dungeons and Dragons is a role-playing game, meaning that most people play it by creating an imaginary character, then pretending to be that character while facing a set of challenges.
There are specific rules for how you figure out what the character you made is good and bad at, and your skill at doing any particular action — such as sneaking or swinging a sword or spotting something hidden — is expressed in a number between –5 and +15. This number is called a skill modifier, and all the different skill modifiers you have are what make your character unique.
One person at the table, called the dungeon master, sets the challenges for the group to face. Whenever any of the other players tries to do something difficult to overcome one of those challenges, the dungeon master thinks of a number between two and 25 and asks them to roll a 20-sided die. After they roll the dice, they add or subtract their skill modifier, and report the number back to the dungeon master. If the total number that the player reached was higher than the number that the dungeon master was thinking of, the player succeeds in doing what they were trying to do, and the story moves forward. If they don't succeed they may face a penalty, and will have to try something else to overcome the challenge.
“I really like this hobby because it is so inclusive,” said Thomas Boylen, who plays as the genie. “You can be whatever you want, and nobody can really criticize you for whoever you are, because it’s your character. It’s great."