Low-tech `Dragons'


Baldar the Black and his clan enter a dark cave through a secret door.

With the enemy approaching fast, they must escape by moving a column in a certain way. Eldavar, Baldar's ex-wife, figures it out and flees to freedom, leaving her children and grandchildren to face the attack.

"The thing that really got to me was, in real life my ex-wife is a dedicated mother and grandmother, but in the game she's absolutely vicious," said George "Baldar" Lincoln of Sharon "Eldavar" Lincoln.

Lincoln and his family throw multi-generational bouts of Dungeons and Dragons, the 31-year-old role-playing game whose following continues to grow despite computer programs and video-game consoles.

More than 4.6 million people regularly play the tabletop game in the United States, said Charles Ryan, brand manager of Dungeons and Dragons at Wizards of the Coast.

Ryan expects about 25,000 gamers around the globe to visit their local card shop Saturday and celebrate Worldwide Dungeons and Dragons Game Day.

Walt's Cards on German Hill Road and a number of other local shops will host Worldwide D&D Game Day. Participants who join in the festivities will receive free miniatures and other promotions.

"Once you start gaming, you never stop," said Dan Campbell, a Walt's Cards employee. "You gotta get your fix somehow."

Campbell's words ring true for Lincoln, a comic-book fan who said he picked up D&D about the time it came out in the mid-'70s.

After playing with his co-workers at McCormick's, Lincoln took the game home to his wife and children. Eventually, his grandchildren became interested in it, and a good portion of the family plays together on holidays, he said.

"It's great," said Lincoln, a 57-year-old IT manager who lives in Lutherville. "It's a way for all of us - my children and my grandchildren - to do something together and to role-play together. They might kill me or they might fight me. It puts all of us on equal footing, at least in terms of the game."

The role-playing game's basics are described in three books: the Dungeon Master's Guide, the Monster Manual and the Player's Handbook.

On average, a good D&D game requires about five people, Campbell said. One person becomes the dungeon master, who sets up the premise and tells the story. The others choose characters based on race (human, halfling, elf, dwarf, etc.) and character class (barbarian, bard, ranger, rogue, etc.).

Players roll dice to determine their character's power in certain areas and gain levels as the game progresses. Along the way, the dungeon master creates problems in the form of tricky landscapes and bad guys the players must overcome to advance.

Though people can buy miniature figures, game boards and extra story books, gamers say all you need is a set of dice, a flat surface to roll them on and a pencil and paper to keep track of your character levels.

Ryan said he often compares D&D to poker night, where friends sit around and socialize while playing a game. Electronic games fail to duplicate this social aspect, he said, which is one reason players are still gung-ho for D&D.

"In an electronic game, no matter how sophisticated it is, you can get to the edge of the map and you can't go any further," Ryan said. "There is no edge of the map when you're playing Dungeons and Dragons tabletop, because whatever you can imagine being there, it's there."

Walt's Cards hosts Worldwide Dungeons and Dragons Game Day 11:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Saturday. Walt's Cards is at 7620 German Hill Road. Call 410-288-7044. For a list of all participating stores, visit wizards.com.


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