Dice, paper, and imagination: Exploring D&D in the Philippines

Dungeons & Dragons—commonly known as D&D—is a fantasy tabletop role-playing game that has risen in popularity in recent years. The game’s portrayal in the popular Netflix series Stranger Things was one of the primary catalysts for its sudden prevalence, with the show’s main characters being avid players of D&D and the main antagonist even being named after one of the in-game monsters, the Demogorgon. Adding to this is the international acclaim of Critical Role, an online show streamed on YouTube and Twitch, where prominent voice actors record themselves playing D&D.

While the game’s origin and prominence are founded in the United States, D&D offers a fascinating platform for endless creativity in storytelling and world-building, capturing the dedicated interest of local players across the Philippines.

Take a chance, roll the dice

With numerous editions over the last 45 years, D&D has built multiple medieval fantasy universes—all complete with magic, kingdoms, and treacherous creatures—in which players can explore and vanquish the evil lurking in the shadows. The game’s core mechanic of personal character creation remains the foundation of its flexible ruleset and low-entry point, allowing any sort of lore and setting to be the backdrop of one’s game.

This is why Regine Roxas (III, AB-CAM)—an active player of the game for over a year and the co-admin of DNDLSU, a Facebook group for D&D enthusiasts in the University—defines D&D as a “social game that anyone [from] all walks of life can enjoy.”

“Despite its expansive universe and lore, as well as the rules that could overwhelm a new player, you never need to know all the rules to enjoy the game,” she explains. “D&D holds endless possibilities for how you can create your character and how to play them.”

Paul Gabat, an Information Technology company manager who has been playing D&D for three years, says that one doesn’t need much to start playing. “All you really need is yourself, maybe some pen and paper, and the rules,” he shares.

To begin a game of D&D, each player creates their own unique character and backstory as they choose from a wide selection of races and classes, ranging from a cynical elf mage who can cast numerous spells, to a selfish goblin thief who can sneak through the darkness.

However, one player is designated to take on the role of the dungeon master (DM). Essentially, the DM acts as the narrator, while the rest of the players control their own character, relaying their choices to the DM to progress the story given different scenarios.

When performing an action, players must roll a die—usually 20-sided—with the number deciding the situation’s outcome, such as whether the intended action succeeds or an unwelcome consequence arises. Players are only limited by the frontiers of their imagination, given the free rein to do just about anything. Paul illustrates, “[You can do things] like slaying a dragon, or convincing the queen of the realm to dab with you, because why not?”

Several other elements—such as lore, damage mechanics, and character attributes that can modify a die roll—are needed to add depth to the game and flesh out the story, but Regina assures new players that, “There’s always someone to help you or support you, and you can still enjoy your game to the fullest.”

Entering the Philippine scene

There is a growing number of local communities and events dedicated to celebrating the game, with Facebook groups consisting of thousands of members, popular online streams hosted by Tabletop Philippines, and several large-scale conventions and workshops in the country.

“Especially here in the Metro Manila area, we have full-blown events and games almost every day,” Regina notes, revealing that plenty more events are on the way intending to accommodate new and old players alike. Local groups such as The Merry Panda Tavern, Greasy Snitches, and Adventurer’s Anonymous all host a number of newbie-friendly events all throughout the year. Paul’s D&D group, the Greasy Snitches, also organizes huge, multi-tabled events called Epics, wherein everyone plays under one story.

Joining D&D games and finding communities can be as easy as a few clicks, according to Paul; one option is to visit any of the local groups’ Facebook pages and post inquiries there. Regina also adds that different areas have their respective group chats for easier communication, with one specifically made for Taft and the vicinity surrounding the University. However, if physical sessions are not feasible, the game has also evolved to be playable online through social media platforms and forums, such as the D&D Adventurer’s League PH Roll 20-Bulletin Board Facebook Group.

A grand story for all

This iconic game has indeed come a long way, standing as a significant force in the world of storytelling as well as imaginative learning. But it has also been making an impact beyond its creative facet and rich narratives; Paul highlights one of his D&D group’s greatest accomplishments—successfully hosting a charity event in 2018 and raising P150,000 to aid a feeding program initiated by Ayuda Ranaw of Mindanaw Tripartite Youth Core, a volunteer-based interfaith community catering to homeless youth in Mindanao.  

He further points out how the game provides opportunities for socializing with a variety of people and forming meaningful friendships. “By playing D&D, you start to see people that have similar interests, and the camaraderie is such a great feeling,” Paul expresses.

Regina insists that D&D has the ability to change one’s life for the better, explaining that the game has unfolded into an avenue for finding a like-minded community and experiencing personal growth. “[Playing the game] taught me things like patience, how to let go and go with the flow rather than try to ‘win’ at life…[how to] get through disagreements and how to have fun overall,” she shares.

In this way, D&D is an insightful journey about finding oneself and transcending realities—a platform for interacting with a diverse network of imaginative players, becoming engrossed in different adventures, and unlocking realms of reverie and wonder. As Regina emphasizes, “D&D isn’t about ‘winning’ or getting the treasure—it’s all about the story.”

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