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Who you calling a dork, you orc!

Fist bumps all around for Dungeons and Dragons - and the grown men who love the fantasy game.

By CRISTINA SILVA
Published May 21, 2007


TAMPA -- The battle is nearly over. A magic pit of black tentacles is about to drag three men deep inside and smother them.

A brave, good-hearted orc named Talir picks up a nearby hyena with one hand. He uses it as a club to clobber his way through the crowd of attacking monsters.

Whoa.

"You are going to pick up a hyena with one hand?" asks Patrick McCann, the Dungeon Master, as he shoves lo mein in his mouth with chopsticks.

"Well," says Talir, otherwise known as Robert Hodgson, "I am enlarged."

Hodgson is a 25-year-old customer service representative. McCann is a 31-year-old U.S. Army sergeant. This is their weekly Dungeons and Dragons game night.

It's okay if you laugh at them. Even their wives do.

* * *

Dungeons and Dragons, the classic '80s fantasy role-playing game, is like G.I. Joes for overgrown boys, only way more elaborate.

Players create characters who embark upon imaginary journeys in which they battle monsters, gather treasure and earn points to become increasingly powerful.

The characters do all the things kids dream about, and apparently, those dreams don't die after high school.

Major blockbusters like Spider-Man, Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings have only encouraged Dungeons and Dragons fans to celebrate their alternative universes. The game is one of the most popular activities in Tampa Bay on the networking site meetup.com. Last year, DnD creators released an updated rule book.

Fans reason if Tobey Maguire can play a geeky spider boy, they can pretend to be orcs and gnolls.

McCann has been playing since he was 9. "There is always going to be this stigma of, 'Oh my god, you guys are such dorks,'" he said. "To which I say, 'How is your fantasy football game?' You are telling me that isn't equally dorky? I mean, I have a fantasy football game. It just happens to involve elves or swords."

* * *

The players spread out among a pair of joined card tables. Food is everywhere. An iTunes list loaded with Bjork, the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix provides a soundtrack to the smack talk.

"So, you just got shot at," McCann tells Phillip Spencer as he returns from the bathroom. McCann, playing the role of the monsters, had taken aim at Spencer's elf.

"Oh, wait, they didn't hit him," Hodgson points out. "You gave him a protective amulet."

"Yeah, I got that amulet on," Spencer says. "Booyah."

McCann: "You're a hooker."

Between moves, they ramble on, quoting classic flicks from the past two decades. Wayne's World is a favorite.

Henry W. Brennan commands a zombie to attack a raging barbarian ogre with a crossbow.

In DnD, he takes on the persona of a 2-foot lizard man with the ability to summon zombies. The kills excite him.

"That's right, b------."

He has never summoned a zombie before. He's giddy.

Boxes of plastic figurines of monsters, goblins and warriors crowd the living room floor. These are the game pieces.

Food containers are laid out on the table to symbolize ancient monasteries and other village buildings. An upside-down appetizer bowl stands in for a 40-foot dome.

Patrick's 22-year-old wife, Jessica, dressed in black slacks and a blouse, walks in the door after a long day at work and takes in the scene.

"Why are you using my Tupperware?"

"You know it's our temple," Phillip Morgan answers.

She rolls her eyes.

As they play, she usually hides upstairs in the family room and watches American Idol. Occasionally she taunts them as they argue over which player can use a spell to bring a monster back to life.

"You guys are dorks," she shouts.

* * *

On the weekends they go barhopping. Sometimes someone has too many Red Stripes.

Inevitably someone will mention something about an orc or a gnoll and blow their cover. Their Dungeons and Dragons personas are revealed. These are the characters they can slip into only when they are together.

Spencer, 21, plays an elf named Sebastian. Sebastian likes to transform into a bird and fly high above the battle so he can shoot arrows at the enemy.

Sebastian the elf shares little in common with Spencer, a Air Force computer technician who speaks so low that others around him may begin to wonder if they are in fact going deaf.

Morgan, 26, plays with a character that is a noble scout. In the real world he teaches high school math and prefers not to tell his students how he spends his Tuesday nights.

Brennan, 23, is a scrawny restaurant host from New Port Richey. He said he was so weird in high school "not even the goths would hang out with me."

He started playing three years ago with some friends. "I see it as a hobby, like collecting stamps," he said. "Wait a minute, what's more nerdy, stamp collecting or DnD?"

* * *

DnD's appeal to a high schooler is clear. Who wouldn't rather be a powerful sorcerer than a pimply 14-year-old?

But people don't let go of their fantasies when they grow up.

Yes, fans know orcs and elves and gnolls and evil sorcerers do not exist.

That isn't the point.

"We aren't going to get together and go play basketball," McCann said. "But whatever, we are going to explore a forgotten kingdom."

Cristina Silva can be reached at (727) 893-8846 or csilva@sptimes.com.

GEEK SPEAK:

Dungeons and Dragons glossary

A guide to embracing your inner geek:

DM: Dungeon Master, the player who controls the setting of the game and enforces the rules according to the official Dungeons and Dragons playbook.

Orc: a primitive race of barbaric humanoid, largely based upon the orcs appearing in the works of J.R.R. Tolkien.

Gnoll: a race of anthropomorphic hyenas.

Con: Slang for convention, as in, "Dude, I'm so going to the gamers' con in Indiana this summer."

RTFM: "Read the (bleepin') Manual," a command usually shouted to a fellow player who doesn't remember the rules of the game.