An epic adventure in the stacks

Aug. 23, 2013 @ 03:48 PM

On Saturday afternoon, Durham County librarian John Davis plans to take a handful of people to another world.

A Durham native, born and raised, the 30-year-old beard aficionado and fan of artisanal cocktails is kicking off a Dungeons & Dragons tabletop role-playing game campaign in the main library branch.

Five players have signed up for the first two-hour session, with another six on a waiting list.

“I’ve always had lots of people on the periphery of my life who have wanted to play, but could never find anyone to run a game for them,” Davis said. “I figured it was possible that this was a widespread problem, and that I could tap that pool of unsatisfied gamers to come to the library and play.”

But as much as he wants to reach those would-be players who already know the ins-and-outs of polyhedral dice, monster manuals and character sheets, Davis also wants to expose the pastime to people who might never have heard of his favorite hobby – especially teens.

“The world isn’t the nicest place right now, and there’s nothing wrong with spending a little time escaping into a fantasy world now and then,” he said.

Davis first played a tabletop game back in the 1990s set in the cyberpunk setting of Shadowrun. That group never quite got off the ground, he said.

“The guy running it transferred schools,” he said. “But that was enough for me to catch the gaming bug, and it wasn’t long before I was struggling my way through running D&D games using the Red Box (D&D Basic set), and the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition books I checked out from the library.”

The most blatant effect of his experiments in tabletop gaming, he said, was developing a skill for building worlds that his players could explore. For the new group, as an example, he’s using maps from previously published scenarios, but devising his own adventures.

Reading RPG sourcebooks taught him how to glean useful information from texts and participating in adventures helped with his communication skills.

“When you’re sitting around a table, working in a group to (out of character) tell a good story and (in character) accomplish some kind of heroic task, you have to learn how to effectively communicate with people, and that’s probably the biggest thing that I’ve taken away from tabletop RPGs,” he said. “Well, that and arithmetic and probability.”

The hobby also made him quick on his feet from a creative standpoint.

“No matter how much you prepare to run a game, there’s always stuff you haven’t thought of, and you have to be ready to react and come up with new information that fits and meshes with the scenario you’ve already presented,” he said. “And that goes double for when you’re playing.”

The group set to play on Saturday includes a few in their 20s and 30s, at least one teenager and two in their 40s and 50s.

“I have no idea how many people are going to show up, but I’m confident I’ll at least have enough to fill the party of five characters,” Davis said. “And anyone who shows up and doesn’t play is welcome to stick around and observe to see what it’s all about.”

The epic adventure starts about 1:45 p.m.

“I want players in my game to have fun, and be excited to tell their friends about the fun they had at the library,” Davis said. “If they go and check out some of the D&D books in our collection and start thinking about running a game of their own, all the better.”

For information about the group, contact Davis at


Wes Platt can be reached at or 919-419-6684. Follow on Twitter at @HS_WesPlatt. Connect on Facebook at