STEPHANIE XU/THE VARSITY

Tabletop games, in a broad sense, refer to any board game played on a flat surface. But the term has also developed a second, more specific meaning that excludes games like chess and backgammon. It is used to specify role playing board games, distinguishing them from Live Action Role-Play (LARP) and video games that centre on role playing.

Netflix’s hit thriller series Stranger Things heavily highlighted the tabletop gaming trend of the eighties, with best friends Mike Wheeler, Dustin Henderson, Lucas Sinclair, and Will Byers frequenting Mike’s basement to play Dungeons & Dragons; the kids often use the game as a reference point in their sleuthing.

This is one of the most recent shoutouts tabletop gaming has received in mainstream media, but it is not the first. From Leonard Hofstadter hosting a Dungeons & Dragons Christmas game in The Big Bang Theory to the gang from Community dedicating an entire episode to the game, Dungeons & Dragons has become a ubiquitous reference for tabletop gaming in popular culture.

Finding a tabletop community at U of T

Tabletop gaming, and the world of games outside of Dungeons & Dragons, has gained recent popularity, notably at U of T. The University of Toronto Tabletop Gaming Club (UTTGC) was founded two years ago and works to connect those interested in tabletop role playing games, collectible card games, board games, and miniature wargaming.

Spencer Robertson, President of the UTTGC, noted that while role-playing games have reached a new level of popularity, “it is still a challenge to find people to game with on campus, let alone space to do so.”

While tabletop games are still foreign to many, they might be able to provide the average student with an unexplored form of stress relief. Robertson believes that “the escape it offers from the student life” is what draws students to role playing games.

Robertson noted that many students experience stresses of schoolwork and financial obligations. “It’s nice to be able to see yourself as someone different, whether you’re a Paladin crusading against Demons, or a scavenger harvesting archeotech from a forgotten civilization to sell for profit,” he said.

CritCon

Friday marked the first day of the inaugural UTTGC-sponsored CritCon, a three day convention of tabletop gaming, tournaments, and seminars — all with a cash bar.

Designed to bring back the gritty feel of the ’80s university conventions, CritCon was located downtown at U of T’s own Hart House.

Guest of honour and Toronto native Ed Greenwood is the creator of Forgotten Realms and a New York Times bestselling author.

Greenwood brought a charity component to the convention by auctioning off seats to the game he’s running to raise money for The Children’s Book Bank. The message of this charity, which works to promote children’s literacy, resonates with many gamers.

“A lot of people within this hobby started with creating their own adventures as kids. The ability to draw inspiration from history, mythology, and fiction further helps you to tell your own stories,” said Robertson.

CritCon vs. ComiCon

At conventions such as Toronto ComiCon, which feature panels on upcoming mainstream movies and events such as meet and greets with wrestling superstars, gaming sometimes is an afterthought, Robertson said.

While ComiCon moves away from its comic book roots and towards a Hollywood focus, CritCon offers those with a specific interest in gaming a weekend to completely immerse themselves.

One of the trademarks of recent ComiCons attempting to appeal to the masses has been wading through dozens of events on television features and episode screenings to find the few events geared towards your specific interests. By contrast, CritCon focuses solely on gaming, showcasing a board game library, featuring industry professionals as guests, and hosting its own role playing games.

Getting involved

Role playing games may seem a bit daunting with their abundance of terms and rules and the incredible array of games to play. Those who may not be familiar with the hobby might be interested in getting involved through a UTTGC event.

As for next steps, Robertson recommended Geek and Sundry’s Critical Role, a group of “high end” voice actors who play Dungeons & Dragons on Thursdays on Twitch. “[They] can really show you how fun and thought provoking the game can be,” said Robertson.

A celebrity endorsement doesn’t hurt — Robertson also recommended D&Diesel, a special edition of Critical Role run for Vin Diesel, who happens to be a huge fan.

Correction: an earlier version of this article did not identify Spencer Robertson as the President of the University of Toronto Tabletop Gaming Club. 

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