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Fans make Dungeons & Dragons come alive

Brian Ritter, 25, of Plainview, left, Anthony Varelakis

Brian Ritter, 25, of Plainview, left, Anthony Varelakis of Massapequa, center, and Jonathan Varelakis of Massapequa, are some of the players taking part in a session of Dungeons and Dragons at Ravenblood Games in Plainview. Every Wednesday night, individuals of all ages gather there to play out their adventures. (Feb. 23, 2011) Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

Suspense hangs in the air as the dice are rolled and the counting begins.

"Seventeen plus two equals 19," says one player.

Silence ensues among those gathered around a table strewn with tokens and tiny figurines at Ravenblood Games in Plainview.

"Finally!" another gamer blurts out. "Part of the ochre jellies are defeated!"

This is the scene at "Dungeons & Dragons: Encounters," a weekly Wednesday night affair designed to unite die-hard players who revel in the fantasy game's world of wizards, dragons and elves. There, among shelves stacked with board games, collectible cards and all things "Warhammer," gamers easily slip into make-believe territory, weaving elaborate tales of action and adventure.

"It is social, and you have a good time," says Alex Bourgoin, 36, of Seaford. Like many of the game's devotees, he grew up playing for hours on end with his brothers and friends.


Created in 1974, Dungeons & Dragons is a role-playing game that's part storytelling and part chance. Players create imaginary characters (think dwarfs, gnomes and halflings) that set off on adventures that might involve exploring dungeons, searching for treasure or rescuing people -- all the while dodging monsters, traps and other obstacles introduced by whoever is serving as the Dungeon Master.

"I'm the narrator," explains Ben Lombardo, 38, an electrician from Bethpage who's playing the master Wednesday night. "I know what is going to happen before the characters do."

Similar to a book series, sessions build on wherever the story left off. Much of this evening's play centers on players defending themselves against "evil oozes" hiding in a fountain and ready to attack.

Despite the complexity and commitment of playing Dungeons & Dragons, the game has persevered over the past three decades, somehow surviving the explosive popularity of video games.

"Back in the late '70s and '80s, Dungeons & Dragons was thriving," says Ravenblood Games owner Peter Gaeta. Now, he says, those players have jobs, homes and families. In 2010, the game's maker, Wizards of the Coast, launched the "Encounters" program as a nationwide effort to reconnect old players and recruit a younger generation for shorter, action-packed sessions. Currently, Ravenblood Games is the only Long Island retail location participating.


There are about 20 Wednesday night regulars, ranging in age from 13 to 50-something. The mood is enthusiastic, and humor abounds.

Paul Leone of Massapequa says he's been obsessed with Dungeons & Dragons since he was 12. Now 33, he was among the still-smitten players who encouraged Gaeta to host "Encounters" at the store.

"The first week, we had one table. The second week, we had two tables. The third week, three tables," says Leone, a middle-school art teacher. "The interest is here ... players who don't have the four or five hours to commit to every week can get into the store and play for an hour or two."

Leigh Johnson, 28, of Huntington, is the group's lone female player. Looking to meet other people in the Dungeons & Dragons community, she (a half-elf sentinel) joined the program with her fiance, James Candalino (a dragon-born cavalier), and the pair spends close to three hours a week at Ravenblood playing their roles.

"We have a lot of fun and laughs," Johnson says.

Dungeons & Dragons Encounters

WHEN | WHERE: Sessions start at 5:30, 6:30 and 7 p.m. Wednesdays at Ravenblood Games, 1163 Old Country Rd., Plainview. New players welcome when the next season of play begins May 11.

INFO: 516-935-7400,

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