Inside the magical world of Abu Dhabi’s Dungeons & Dragons group

Sugie Reaves has been playing since he was a child and now hopes to unite other fans of the game in the capital

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It’s one of the most popular fantasy role-playing games of all time, but there’s been a renewed interest in Dungeons & Dragons over the past few years.

This is in part thanks to the Netflix hit Stranger Things, in which the game is played by the show’s young protagonists, as well as the pandemic, when many people turned to gaming to keep entertained while staying at home.

However, for Abu Dhabi resident Sugie Reaves, 43, the game has been dear to him for decades, as he has been playing since he was a child.

“As a kid, I had a big interest in fantasy and adventure. Like most kids I had an imagination, so I was a D&D fan before I even knew it,” he tells The National. “At some point, I was introduced to the game and from the first moment I saw it I was hooked — an entire world of adventure, mystery, epic fights and magic opened up to me.”

Sugie Reaves acts as the dungeon master and storyteller for a Dungeons & Dragons game, during a meetup in his apartment in Khalifa City, Abu Dhabi. Khushnum Bhandari / The National

Looking to find other like-minded individuals and wanting to introduce that same magical world to others, he created the Abu Dhabi Dungeons and Dragons Facebook group in January last year. He calls the decision a “no-brainer.”

What is Dungeons & Dragons?

Dungeons & Dragons began as an interactive game which would be set up on a table in 1974. One player takes on the role of dungeon master, who directs the game, while the other players each portray a character, determining its species, occupation and moral and ethical outlook. They can choose the character’s abilities, such as strength, constitution, dexterity, intelligence, wisdom and charisma. In layman’s terms, the winner is the one who amasses the highest score.

Reaves had felt that the emirate lacked a bit of social media presence for the game. “I know of several players, but the problem is, they don't know each other,” he says.

Currently, the group has almost 100 members. While Reaves says Stranger Things has helped with a surge of interest in the game, he points out that the timing of a new Dungeons & Dragons game edition, plus social media influence, helped amplify it all.

“The company that makes D&D created a new edition that has a simplified rule set. This allowed anyone to easily understand the game fairly quickly. Then, a famous social media streaming show called Critical Role became extremely popular. More than a million followers were watching a group of talented friends play D&D and this started a big wave,” he says.

“This only became more prominent when Stranger Things debuted. The popularity of D&D has never been bigger. I now have friends showing up to my game with Eddie Munson's D&D T-shirt from the show. It's great.”

These days, the group he plays with tries to meet once a week, however, that’s not always possible. He jokes that the trolls, goblins and evil dragons aren’t the real villains of D&D, rather, it's planning around everyone’s schedules. But thanks to technology, things are a bit easier these days. A couple of Dubai players are able to join via Zoom or on one of the many apps for the game. This is one of the reasons why he enjoys playing so much.

Joseph Quinn as Eddie Munson playing Dungeons & Dragons in 'Stranger Things'. Photo: Netflix

“The group is diverse and each person is free to add their own twist and ideas to the game and stories. No two Dungeons & Dragons groups are the same, our group shows this. Everyone is very supportive and welcoming,” says Reaves, who likes to play as the dungeon master, acting as the game's organiser.

For those who are unaware of the game or its rules, he says one of the best things about it is that it can be played in many ways. It is a group game, meaning there is a social aspect to it. But other than that, players are more or less free to choose.

“It can be whatever you want it to be. It can be a serious, epic story arc where a band of adventurers must come together to solve the mysteries and put an end to the villains that are plaguing the kingdom, or it can be silly. You and your friends could be cows and all you need to do is escape the farm before you become hamburgers. Seriously, you can do that with this game.

“We had a player one time get ‘cursed’ by magic mushrooms and she could only talk ‘chicken language’. My neighbours are still curious about what they hear coming from my apartment," he says.

While there may be some hesitation about joining the group, especially for anyone who is new to the game, Reaves says the D&D community is very welcoming. He also suggests looking up videos on YouTube about the game and its lore, or just watch other people playing, to feel more comfortable.

"It's the most fun you can imagine. Half of my players never played before, but after one game they became hooked," he says. "If any of you have an interest, you can come join the Abu Dhabi Dungeons and Dragons group on Facebook. We will be happy to have you."

The Facebook page for the group is Abu Dhabi Dungeons and Dragons

Updated: July 21, 2022, 11:35 AM
What is Dungeons & Dragons?

Dungeons & Dragons began as an interactive game which would be set up on a table in 1974. One player takes on the role of dungeon master, who directs the game, while the other players each portray a character, determining its species, occupation and moral and ethical outlook. They can choose the character’s abilities, such as strength, constitution, dexterity, intelligence, wisdom and charisma. In layman’s terms, the winner is the one who amasses the highest score.