Wizards and trolls Secaucus center for role-playing festival

For four days, Secaucus will be the home of wizards and warriors, Halflings and dwarves.

No, this is not a re-run of the recently released Lord of the Rings trilogy movie, but a festival of role-playing called “Winter Fantasy” and the kick off of the 30th Anniversary of the release of the Dungeons and Dragons role playing game.

Winter Fantasy, from Jan. 29 through Feb. 1, is an annual get-together of gaming people who gather at one location to meet with and play with gamers from across the country.

Although the event has been held for over a dozen years, this is the first time it will be held in Secaucus.

“This is an event put on by the Role Playing Game Association,” said Mary Elizabeth Allen, Marking manager for publishing for Wizards of the Coast – the company that currently owns the rights to D&D. “People come together to play.”

This is not a competition in the traditional sense. There is no national winner or king of the role playing fantasy world, she said, but rather, just people who love role-playing, getting together for a larger-than-life event with Dungeons and Dragons as one of the key components.

“This involves some of the core and most dedicated players,” Allen said. “People get together for a whole weekend in winter”

The event will likely draw from 800 to 1,000 people, although anyone can attend the event to watch the games free of charge.

The festival first started in Milwaukee, where D&D was created. For years, the event found a home in Fort Wayne, Ind., drawing people from across the nation and around the world.

“While Fort Wayne is a wonderful place, we realized that it wasn’t the easiest place to get to,” Allen said. “We also knew there were a lot of players on the East Coast, which is why we came there this year. Secaucus is easily accessible by train, plane and car. We looked at a number of places, but found the Meadowlands Convention Center had the space we needed – you have a lot of people sitting around tables and that needs space. It also has a lot of hotels and places to eat. We thought it had all it needed.”

A brief history of D&D

D&D is currently owned by Winters of the Coast, which purchased the brand in 1996.

D&D was created by Gary Gygax and Dave Amerson in 1973 modeled roughly, but not entirely, after the characters and world found in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

The game was originally designed as part of tactical studies, but sooner found a market. It is often called the grandfather of all role-playing games.

Although most gamers use some form of map, the game can be played without a board, and takes place mostly in people’s imaginations.

The game is overseen by a player called the Dungeon Master, who narrates the adventures, holds all the secret maps, and controls all the non-player characters.

Players select a character from the six main races: dwarves, elves, gnomes, half-elves, Halflings and humans. Then, they select a class: warrior, paladin, ranger, wizard, mage, cleric etc. Special dice determine other aspects of the character, how much power each has. Powers and such often grow with the characters’ experiences through the game.

The rules are complex, and numerous books have been issued over the years as the game expanded or grew in popularity.

D&D became the target of some fundamental Christian groups, partly because the designers insisted on authentic rituals for many of its magical indications. This only managed to elevate D&D to a cult with a sometimes fanatic following that has helped keep the game alive when many other games vanished over time.

Expect a slightly older crowd

While most of the players tend to be boys or men, Winter Fantasy brings out a lot of female players as well.

“People who come to this show tend to be in their twenties and above, partly because you have to travel to get there,” Allen said. “So it will likely see people in college or beyond.”

Many of the volunteers that oversee the game-playing tend to be in their thirties, experienced and dedicated role-players. There are players certified by RPAG that have reached a level of play and a familiarity with the rules, monsters and running of games to qualify.

“There are core guys who love the brand and love role playing,” she said.

Year-long celebration

Winter Fantasy will kick off a year- long celebration of the 1974 official release of the first Dungeon and Dragons game.

“We will be thanking fans at this event and through the course of the summer and fall for supporting the game,” Allen said.

Allen will be giving a seminar to those gamers on Thursday night.

“There is no fee to enter the show, so people should feel encouraged to come in and take a look around,” she said. “If someone is interested in playing an adventure, the charge is $3 per game. We also have a fun event on Saturday evening as 7 p.m. called Living Grayhawk Open Fiesta, which is free to anyone who wants to participate.”

But, she said, folks are strongly encouraged to reserve their spot in advance.

Winter Fantasy hours are: Jan. 29, Thursday, 1 p.m. to midnight; Jan. 30, Friday, 8 a.m. to 1 a.m.; Saturday Jan. 31, 8 a.m. to 1 a.m.; and Sunday, Feb. 1, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

For more information or directions, call Meadowlands Convention Center at (201) 330-7773.


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