Rolling 20 on Fun: tQuest on the Joys of Dungeons and Dragons

Established recently in AY19/20, tQuest is an Interest Group (IG) in Tembusu dedicated to Dungeons and Dragons (D&D), a tabletop roleplaying game set in a fantasy world where players can experience realms of limitless possibilities. tQuest aims to introduce new players to the world of D&D, bring together experienced players, and equip interested students with the skills to run their own campaigns. Tan Yanrong interviews two of their Dungeon Masters (DMs), Kingsley and Luke, for the not-so-magical but equally spell-binding stories behind their involvement.

1. Tell me about tQuest!

Kingsley: tQuest is a group of nerds, who have a love for Dungeons and Dragons (D&D), and decided to form an IG, so that we could try to play every week for this semester. D&D is a tabletop roleplaying game, but it’s more than just a game: it’s more like a shared narrative that everyone participates in. There’s a party of a few players led by a DM [Dungeon Master] who is in charge of the world and shapes the story. And the players are there to make actions and enjoy the world the DM has made for them.

2. What do you like about D&D and what do you wish for people to know about it?

Luke: I love stories and storytelling, so for me, D&D is really about bringing a story to life. Or, it’s like co-creating a story, but it doesn’t require everyone to be able to write, or act, or whatever. It’s structured in a much more fun and engaging way, as a game, as opposed to, like, a task. It really satisfies my crave for narratives. [I have an] investment in narratives, and everything after that is a bonus, I think.

Kingsley: For me, it’s really a place where people can be who they want to be, and play how they want [to play]. They really can do anything they want. There are limits, of course, but in the end, most DMs will not limit who you can be and what you can do. It’s a place where you can just sit down, relax, and do things that you would not normally be able to do, and just have a good time.

tQuest’s AY19/20 yearbook photo.

3. How did you guys get started playing D&D?

Kingsley: Well, I’ve always known about D&D. I’ve seen videos, read stories… The first time I ever played was online, with some of my online friends, [and] we played together a few sessions. It was quite fun, but a bit difficult, because it was mixed medium, partially through voice call, sometimes through text, and we used Roll20, which is a virtual tabletop [website]. Then after that, I always tried to find games, but it’s quite hard, because you usually need to find a group of friends that you won’t mind playing with, that you won’t mind being a bit goofy around. So it was a bit difficult until I came to NUS, and here I found a lot of people who wanted to play D&D, some people who never played before but wanted to play, and some people who are very experienced with it.

Luke: I discovered D&D about…ten-ish years ago? When I was in America, it was just one of those things. All of my friends really liked playing Magic: The Gathering, and so one day one of them just tried out D&D. And, everyone was awful at it, and they never played again. But I was very caught with the idea. I love books, I love stories, and I found it fascinating. I mean, everyone makes their own fanfiction, right? Whenever you read Harry Potter, you always imagine, wow, it would be so cool if I was in the Harry Potter universe!

Kingsley: And some people do it more than others.

Luke: Yes, and some people do it more than others. And some people actualise their fantasies in like actual writing, right? And then I was just like, well, okay, this is perfect, this medium where I can [have] all those great narratives that I’ve read, I can insert myself and my friends into those narratives. And I thought that was really cool. Then I came back from the US, and for a while… I mean, I was very young then, so I didn’t really play with anyone, because, you know, I can’t tell my mum, like, “Oh yeah, I’m going to this 30-year-old guy’s house to role-play.” My mum’s going to be like, “Whoa, what?” Because I couldn’t really go out and play, I bought all the books, I read through all of them, and I was like, Wow it’d be so great to play. And finally, like five years later, well, I had a lot of time between JC [Junior College] and army. Just nice, there was a game shop under my house. I ended up going for campaigns there. I think at one point I was playing in three concurrent campaigns at the same time. I was really into it for that period of time.

4. Are there any works that you draw inspiration from when you design your characters or your campaigns?

Luke: I tend to use sourcebooks. Sourcebooks are, like, the D&D official adventures. They give you the adventure, they give you everything, like the plot, the characters, the stats, everything. I use them a lot in my campaigns. I don’t follow them strictly, but I think they give a very good baseline. So, I don’t need to come up with so many characters on the fly, I can just use random ones. And I can completely repurpose them, I just need to use the name and the look, and I repurpose them into whatever I want. I generally tend to be inspired by whatever media I’ve recently absorbed, so whatever TV show, movie, book I’d recently read. I think one thing that’s stuck with me is a really unknown series called Lockwood & Co. It’s a fantastic book series that I really recommend everyone read. It’s a YA series, but it’s really good, very interesting. I think it’s a very imaginative source that I often draw from.

Kingsley: I like to create my own stories. Whenever it comes to oneshots, I like to write them myself. And when it comes to campaigns—uh, well, it’s a bit of a challenge, but I think in future I would like to write my own campaigns. But for now, I’m sticking with the pre-made ones, because it seems like a tall order, at the moment.

Luke: I tried writing a campaign once. I got like, two sessions in, and then I realised, Holy sh*t, there is just so much to write, it’s impossible to finish.

Kingsley: [laughs] I do have a bit of background in writing … So it comes a bit more naturally to me. And I don’t really know where I draw my inspiration from, I just write whatever comes to my head. I’m more aware of the tropes that go into normal storytelling, so it’s not really any particular story that I look at for inspiration, I just draw inspiration from the tropes themselves. Like, say, which tropes do I like, which ones do I like to mix around and form into a nice story. I do like eldritch horror, so I do draw some inspiration from that. There is one place which is kind of obscure, it’s the SCP Foundation, and I draw inspiration from that as well.

Luke: SCP Foundation is such a cool concept though. It’s just a wiki page where people just write their own monsters and post it on the SCP with, like, backstories and everything. Pretty cool.

tQuest members during a late-night session of D&D last year.

5. What’s the D&D subculture like, in Singapore and around the world?

Luke: I’ve actually participated in six or seven separate campaigns, like, with random people. One very distinct location I remember was [when] we went to Little India, and this guy had this really small apartment, like a two-room apartment, and we were playing with a party of 10 or 11 people. So we had one dining table—a small […] one about the size of this [suite lounge table]—and we had 11 people squeezed around it. We took up the entire living room, basically. And halfway through the campaign, his wife came home. She opened the door and there were like 12 random people sitting in her living room, and she was like… [laughs] Yeah, that was quite funny.

I think because in Singapore, D&D tends to be more obscure, the culture tends to be better. A lot of people who I found in D&D are very against the nerd stereotype, so, very well-spoken, very artistic. In fact, I’ve met quite a few Singaporean poets, relatively famous. And [D&D] is how they relax.

Except our generation tends to follow the nerd stereotype, though. So, the older people who play are actually very, like, cultured and cool. And the people in our generation tend to be the awkward, zero social skills, nerd people. Yeah. So that’s a bit unfortunate but, oh, well.

Overseas, it’s much more mainstream, I think. You have things like Roll20, they have celebrities come on and play every week… I think it’s much more mainstream there, so you get a much wider variety of people. Of course, no matter where you go, the stereotype will be, you know, it’s a nerd game. Which, I mean, it is a nerd game, so I think that’s fair. But I’ll be very interested to play D&D in another country. When I was in London, I almost managed to find [people] to play D&D with. Almost. But [my] schedule could not quite fit it. But it would be cool. I’m interested to see how different cultures would [play] it.

Kingsley: And online it seems to be growing even more than you would expect. Like on YouTube and Twitch. Now it seems like almost everyone and their mother is playing D&D on YouTube or Twitch. Like they’ll just gather their friends, and then they’ll have a session, and either record it or just stream it. ‘Cause it’s just so easy.

Luke: And also ‘cause COVID now. So now people are seriously developing a lot of software to facilitate playing D&D online. Which is pretty cool. Unfortunately, we have no money to buy them. CSC, please give us funding thanks. [laughs]

6. What are some of your more memorable moments playing D&D?

Luke: [laughs] I can spend ten years talking about this … Legitimately, I have so many. He’s heard, like, the same few, a quadrillion times. [softly] You have to stop me… You have to stop me, Kingsley.

Kingsley: Pick your favourite one.

Luke: Oh my god, no, there are too many, I can’t pick a favourite one… Okay, I’ll use Khairul because he is Tembu, so he’s quite cool. He created this character called !Hgkh!—yeah, have fun translating that [into text]. And the whole point about this character was that he’s incredibly stupid, so he had 6 intelligence. And he referred to himself in third person, of course, and he could hardly speak any English—or Common, in the [world] of D&D—and his life goal was to try every meat. So, across the story, he would try to take a bite out of every single enemy he came across. There was a Dragonborn in the party, so after every single battle, he would get the Dragonborn to breathe onto the meat to cook it, and then he’d just eat it. It was quite hilarious. And his ultimate goal was to try, like, dragon meat, I think. Or something like that. It was quite a funny story.

tQuest members poring over sourcebooks during a session.

7. What are tQuest’s plans for the future?

Kingsley:  We just started last semester, and we only have, like, two full-time DMs, so this semester we really wanted to get more people interested in DMing. And [having] even more sessions simultaneously, so like multiple parties and multiple DMs. But, because of COVID, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to arrange sessions. And finding DMs is gonna be a bit hard, too, ‘cause we have to train them, [while considering] zoning, [so] they have to be in the same zone as us. And we don’t want to force them to learn online, because we think they should have their first experience offline, then it’ll be more natural that way.

But, in the ideal situation, we would like to just bring D&D to more of Tembusu. Because I think most people seem to have heard of it, but people seem to be a bit shy to get into it, or they think it’s some weird nerdy cult thing, and they don’t want to try it. So far, we’ve been holding chill sessions to invite people to try it out, and hopefully they will want to stay with us longer, and we can grow tQuest from there.

Luke: But this semester we’ve had a lot of sign-ups so far, which is good. I think about 16 or 17 people, which is a lot more than last semester, when it was just my party basically. It was about 7 or 8 people. So, this semester we got quite a lot of sign-ups, and next semester, if we don’t all die from COVID and the restrictions loosen up, then hopefully we’ll be able to really push the envelope in terms of what happens.

8. What are some challenges tQuest faces as an IG?

Kingsley: I think the main problem is really the barrier to entry, because we only have a limited amount of time at the start of the semester for people to really join in, and joining in midway is much harder. That’s why this semester we tried to have the oneshot so early in the semester, so people could try it out at least, and see if they want to join in. But even that is still difficult, because the other problem is that we like to be low-commitment, but [with] D&D by default there is quite a little bit of commitment to it, I think.

Luke: I think it’s fine, ‘cause I’ve legitimately never met someone who’s played a proper game of D&D—by ‘proper game’ I mean like, have a competent DM that isn’t an idiot, and have competent players that aren’t idiots—and not enjoyed it. So, I feel like the commitment thing is whatever. If people enjoy it, they’ll be back for it. We just need to get people in the gate in the first place. Which means more aggressive publicity next semester. And honestly, I really feel that once people play, they’ll enjoy it. Currently, I think we have a 100% success rate in terms of—everyone who came for the oneshots signed up for a campaign. We just need people to come and play.

9. Do you have any parting words?

Luke: D&D is the single greatest experience on the face of the earth and everyone should try it.

Kingsley: [laughs] Great pubs.

Luke: [laughs] No, no, really, I’m really thinking of one thing I would enjoy more than playing D&D, and it’s hard. Even though I would say I have quite a lot of hobbies. I like to do a lot of things. I really can’t think of something… Yeah, I would more or less drop everything to play a game of D&D. 

Header image by CompLady from Pixabay. Feature image by tQuest. All other images courtesy of tQuest.