Dungeons and Dragons, the tabletop role playing phenomenon from the 1970s and 80s has been seeing a bit of a heyday in the last few years. With its seemingly endless possibilities when it comes to storytelling and gameplay, players have come out of the woodwork to play games like Dungeons and Dragons with friends and at local establishments looking to feed their gaming scene. To get a finger on the pulse of Tallahassee’s tabletop gaming scene, I sat down with Dave Turknett, owner and chief Dungeon Master of Burrito Boarder, a Tallahassee Mexican restaurant and more recently, a haven for gamers looking to do some questing while they eat their quesadillas each Wednesday night.
Could you introduce yourself and tell me a little bit about yourself?
My name’s Dave Turknett, owner of Burrito Boarder. We’ve been here about 5 and a half years. We make fresh Mexican food from scratch. My two passions are food and gaming. I’ve been playing Dungeons and Dragons since 1979, first time I played was in high school. I was in a library and some guy was like “Hey! Wanna play DND? We’re just gonna create a character and you can do whatever you want.” So we rolled a bunch of dice, created a character, and then I walked into a crypt and got killed by a skeleton. That was it! I was hooked! I didn’t get to play for years; didn’t really see anybody playing it. A few years later, I was like 18 and I ran into some people that played. I knew I wanted to do that. I played with that group for about 6-7 years and after we all moved away I really wanted to play. I went to a Half-Price Books in Texas where I was living and someone had dropped off all of the books. Someone’s mom, I think. She must have thought: “these are Satan books!” I picked them all up and I poured over them for weeks and started running my own games. I’ve been doing it ever since.
So you said you run games, can you explain what exactly that entails?
Well, I’m a Dungeon Master. So with most roleplaying games you have players and one person that acts as a referee. They narrate everything, set the scene, solve problems, and voice all the characters. There’s lots of styles to doing it, and I play lots of different styles. The neat thing is there’s lots of different roleplaying games but there’s also many different ways to play the same game. Some people play it like a wargame, they’re very into the strategy and the tactics; some people are more into the story and the character-building. You can pretty much do any of that with any of the games out there these days.
What’s your favorite part of being the dungeon master of the games?
Social interaction, which is really weird because when I play games on computer I’m really into story-based games and I never play online. No desire to play online. Something about sitting down at a table though. That and I like to do voices. I guess that was my other love. If I had known you could do that when I was a kid I probably would’ve tried to do cartoon voices for a living. Just like with my cooking I love big, bold food and I love bold characters. I love to express myself and any art is an expression of yourself.
Since you’ve been playing for so long, have you noticed a resurgence in tabletop games in the last decade or so?
Oh, more than ever! It’s a huge resurgence and not just with Dungeons and Dragons. I play lots of different games now because there are so many games available. It used to be a real niche thing but it’s so much more accessible to the wider population now. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that it’s no longer stigmatized. Dungeons and Dragons is an iconic name and there wouldn’t be most of these video games if we didn’t have it. We run games on Wednesday nights and it started the first night with one person. I said “Hey! We’re gonna play DND” and everyone thought I was crazy. I figured it was another night to play DND and my wife wouldn’t get too mad at me because it’s business. On the second week seven people showed up and it just kept growing. Now we’ve got 30-40 people showing up and I have to actively seek new dungeon masters to run more games and expand the place to fit more people because we’re filling up the restaurant. Half of the people that come to play are new players and most of them have been watching series online of people streaming games. There’s lots of actors and comedians playing it now and kids get to go “that’s what Dungeons and Dragons is!” They come in with a lot of excitement and it’s fun. It’s great to see these people come in all excited to play a certain character.
So it seems like this explosion has hit Tallahassee too, huh?
If you know anything about gaming you know that people get these groups that they play with and they typically stick with that core group. I like to share my passions. I share my food and I want to share Dungeons and Dragons too because it’s something I’m really excited about but I know from experience that trying to go into a game store can be really intimidating. Most of the time they have these little groups of people that all know each other and know the rules. The environment going in can make you feel like an outsider. So my thinking was if you come out to a little bar or restaurant like this, it’s a lot more like just hanging out with people at a party. It may be intimidating for a few minutes but after having a burrito or a beer you start talking to people and everyone’s on a level playing field. My thought was to get groups of new players and old players together and give them the tools to just go off and play. Of course I want them to come back here and tell people about us, but I really want to build up the local gaming community. I’ve had people text me and tell me that they have a weekly group playing with friends that they met here.
So it’s easier to get into now?
There’s no 80s stigma of people worshiping devils. Fantasy is more accessible too. You see that in movies. Technology has caught up and fantasy is so much more believable now. It doesn’t have to just be a guy in a suit; look at Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. Same with Stranger Things! People see that and think, “Huh – so this is DND.” It’s showing these kids how we played in the 80s and people want in on it. We have a lot more girls playing now too. It used to be incredibly male-dominated. A lot of the art was very sexist and I don’t think people realized it at the time, but the material itself was very sexist. The people who make the game have done a lot to make the game more inclusive and I love it! The diversity shows in our player base and it makes me happy. I don’t want it to be this one type of person playing the game. I want everyone to enjoy this game like I do.
In closing, who’s your favorite DND character that you’ve ever played?
Oh my god… My favorite character that I’ve ever played was a magic user thief named Blackbird Enfuego. Probably very much based off of the character in the Princess Bride because that’s so many geeks’ favorite movie, but only loosely. Matter of fact, the name of my parent company is Enfuego’s Burritos. I have a plan for a sit-down, high-end burrito place called Enfuego’s Burritos. He was a scoundrel and that’s the kind of character I love to play; that chaotic good alignment. Doing the wrong thing for the right reasons, like Han Solo type of character. They have a heart of gold. Well okay, maybe more like a heart of silver. It’s just a lot of fun and we have a lot of fun doing it.