It might not be Hawkins from Stranger Things, but Mumbai has its own niche underground community that plays Dungeons & Dragons
Indrani Ganguly playing Dungeons & Dragons. The game requires a Dungeon Master and at least two players. Photos/Ashish Raje
Mumbai-based Indrani Ganguly was 11 when she discovered and joined a niche online role-playing game community. This international community introduced him to Dungeons & Dragons (D&D), touted as the most common and easiest tabletop role-playing game (TTRPG). Although it has been around since the 1970s, there has been a resurgence in popularity with shows such as The Big Bang Theory and Stranger Things. The game was designed by Americans Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson in 1974, and is strongly associated with nerd/geek culture. Complex and rich in tasks and rules, it remains the game of the few and is not as well represented in role-playing circles as characters from Marvel and the DC Comics universe.
In 2016, Samir Alam, India’s first TTRPG/D&D publisher and creator of collaborative storytelling platform Panic Not! entered D&D after seeing it on The Big Bang Theory show. “You have to read the books and know the rules,” says the 35-year-old. “It’s a daunting task for anyone. Eventually I came across one of the books and was mesmerized. The whole structure of the game was nothing like what I had assumed,” says -he.
Indrani Ganguly made handmade dice that are a crucial part of a D&D game
The game requires a Dungeon Master (DM) who directs the game. He is the referee and storyteller of the game, maintains the setting and the adventures. An ideal setup for a D&D game would require at least two additional players, if not more. “Think of it like a writer,” says Alam, who is the DM, “where I create the story and the world and pull people into it. Players make decisions like the characters. An average session lasts three to four hours and longer campaigns last for months or even years.
“I have the ability to share this world with people, to tell a story and to involve them. It’s the same satisfaction that the author of a film or a TV show would have. Only here I I can see people’s eyes light up the moment they understand the essence of the character I’ve created.
Rachit M has been printing miniatures in his 3D printer and painting them since 2016
When Ganguly was first drawn into this universe, the Mumbai community was tiny and comprised mostly of old-school gamers. It was also not as accessible as it is today.
Rachit M, a 36-year-old businessman, confirms adding: “Six or seven years ago, the community was not even a quarter of its current size. Modi entered D&D around 2014-15, but couldn’t find any other players locally. Since D&D is a social game, finding participants can be a daunting task. He spread the word through friends and was eventually able to gather a few friends to play with, which eventually swelled.
Do not panic ! played an important role in bringing people together from the fragmented group in Mumbai. Currently, there is a semi-active Whatsapp group, a Telegram group, and a few Discord servers. Mahim-based Ganguly is also the co-founder of Desis & Dragons, India’s largest TTRG community with over a thousand members. Most D&D players in Mumbai know each other by now.
Investing in figurines and other items such as cards and dice is not required, but it does help improve the experience
Discord has made it easier to find other players and banned the purchase of game accessories such as dice, cards and figurines, which can be expensive because they are mostly imported. “You can just play online,” says Ganguly, 21, adding that Desis & Dragons specifically connect Indian enthusiasts. For Alam, D&D was an avenue of socialization. “I’ve never been outgoing,” says the Worli resident. “In role-playing, you share [only] a part of yourself.
Do not panic ! model revolves around offline dating. Before the pandemic, they held weekend sessions with eight to 10 people in attendance. The monthly convention brought together nearly 100 people. “It’s a community activity to meet like-minded people,” says Alam. “We focus entirely on an in-person experience to reap the interpersonal and mental health benefits of gaming.”
Do not panic ! hosts offline D&D events every weekend, either at someone’s house or in cafes or public places, which accommodate around eight to 10 people per session
Alam believes online media lacks the psychological and physiological benefits of offline events. “People who participate online are more problematic and varied because there is a sense of anonymity, which leads to a lack of trust, which hinders connections and without connections you can’t have a community,” says- he. They resumed offline sessions in May.
In the pre-COVID era, they also held art exhibitions which provided a platform for enthusiasts such as Ganguly and Rachit. Ganguly has a collection of 60-80 dice sets and over 100 D20 dice (iconic 20-sided dice). Last year, it started manufacturing custom 3D dice, making it India’s leading dice maker.
In 2016, Rachit started collecting figurines representing players on the board and painting them. He now prints his own figurines on a 3D printer and painstakingly paints them. “I have no artistic training,” he says. “I learned everything from YouTube and the online community,” says the Bandra resident. He leans towards a proper setup with figures and other accessories. However, this is not strictly necessary. You can start with just a paper and a pen, or a smartphone. “You can choose the amount of investment you make,” says Ganguly.
The demographic age is vast. Children as young as seven attend Alam’s offline sessions, as do men in their late 50s. Like most games, D&D is more popular with men than women. Nicole Ellis, a 27-year-old advertising professional from Chembur, is an exception. She’s been playing since 2018, and she and her friends aren’t playing damsels in distress. “We play on an equal footing,” she said. “There is a conscious attempt not to be offensive and rude. We create safe spaces for everyone to be considered. Ellis spends about 10 hours a week in the D&D universe. “I’m addicted to being in a fantasy world where I can have adventures and take risks that I wouldn’t take in the real world. There are no restrictions,” she says. D&D is called within the community “theater of the mind.” “It’s better to be delirious in a crowd, than alone,” concludes Alam.