School is out on Friday afternoon before spring break, but about two dozen kids are eating in the hallway outside room 258 at Northwestern Middle School.
While most of their contemporaries are learning to jump into freedom week on school campuses, these hard-hitting, one-of-a-kind collections of Locks & Dragons are fun, a thriving after-school group dedicated to the popular fantasy board game. a game that has been around for decades.
At four o’clock in the afternoon, the kids write their names on a sign-in sheet and wander into Christal Bricker’s geography and history school where they stand around the long tables. The noise level rises into the red. So sugar intake- boxes of feed and cans of restaurants are scattered. There are layers and layers of bedding in the backpack. Everywhere you look there are counters of squares, six squares, eight, 10, 20 – it’s a game of chance that comes down to where you roll.
“Bambo drops in the shop standing there,” says prison master Keegan Berry, a 13-year-old eighth-grader who leads one of the afternoon’s five D&D sessions, or games in D&D lingo.
“And it’s not even the first time,” adds one of the players. They are referred to as a quiet, blonde haired girl who is close to her and giggles with a smile on her behavior choices.
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Head down to the library, where the two groups have moved due to lack of space in the school, Sergeant Alex Hernicz, a paralegal with the Army JAG, is in charge of the teacher of the prison over the top four. Willing to help with the club last fall, after encountering Bricker through the game’s many dungeons & Javas.
“Which one of you got hit by the flame thrower?” asks sixth graders Kapri Ezakovich and Albert Hartman to fire up their campaign.
Hernicz, who set up D&D games for soldiers and contractors in his recent deployment to Iraq, has been playing the board version for half a dozen years.
He and the D&D Club will be taking a field trip to film the new movie “Decks & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves”. Opens Friday.
“At the end of the day, I try to give them as much freedom as they want, as long as they know the consequences,” Hernicz said of the role of the prison master.
There is joy in both rooms as the kids yammer with each other, breaking through bags of Doritos and chomping donuts for sustenance as they dream up new solutions to whatever plot their prison master has in store.
“It gives freedom,” says Berry. “You are the only one with a finite mind.”
During a period of life that is notoriously rough for many, the D&D Club is a way for these teens and pre-teens to express themselves creatively in a fun and supportive community.
“It’s sometimes hard to find your people when you’re in middle school,” Bricker said.
“You feel awkward and you don’t know where you fit in and you go in and say oh, I’m going to break up with them. I found my people. No, it’s not always fans. Some middle schooler feels like a weirdo. “
Bricker, a D&D neophyte who started the club about 18 months earlier, had been approached by a curly-haired girl wearing Conversa sneakers who asked if she was their fiancé. Latericius reluctantly failed to get his act together after the last club under his patronage, the debate club. But she shuddered: “I hate to say no to kids,” she said.
It was the ninth of October and the students had decided to meet after school on Friday – not the best day for the club, Bricker thought, what with the long week and the arrangements for the watch. He thought they would last until Christmas and was extinguished.
LUCIUS PICK: Teens can play Dungeons & Dragons in libraries
But to his surprise, 14 kids showed up to the first meeting and it only grew in popularity. Now he finds no fewer than 20 students at his school every Friday, sometimes as many as 60. And there’s even been a second club, the Monday Afternoon Teacher’s Club, which includes Troy Manuszak, a 17-year-old junior at Palmer High. A school that loves the game and the community only makes time to play. Five to six campaigns run each Friday, each stacked with three to eight players.
“We live off each other,” Manuszak said. “It’s really cool watching people grow up.”
He once made the mistake of sneaking out a paycheck for the same night at a school dance. Never again.
“I’ve had kids yell at me,” Bricker said. “They said we don’t want to go to some fool’s dance. We want to play D&D. People don’t know how inclusive D&D is. It doesn’t matter if you play baseball, straight Like or play on the train. It’s how you were born and how much fun you are all around?”
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