Comets on the quest for camaraderie

Justin Burch, a freshman studying computer science, maneuvers his pieces during a UTD-themed apocalyptic D&D game. Photo by Michael Stout | Mercury Staff.

Twice a month, students gather to play a post-apocalyptic UTD-themed tabletop game their peers designed to embrace the student culture at the university and develop essential skills.

Comet World is a Dungeons & Dragons-style tabletop game the Living Learning Community designed, in which the board is an entirely UTD-themed fantasy world. D&D is a game in which players progress through the world by encountering and solving creative problems planned by a dungeon master.

Ashley Garner, an LLC coordinator, was first introduced to the concept at a conference in fall 2017, where she saw the successful implementation of the idea. Other universities integrated similar games into their student cultures, and Garner said she thought it would fit well with the gaming population on campus.

The program is designed for students who want to make a casual, rather than lasting, commitment. All skill levels and students, even those not part of the LLC, are welcome to join and play at any time, she said.

“This is home grown. It was designed by a collaboration of students, and it’s also UTD-themed. It’s an alternate reality version of UTD, so our students that are designing the game have built-in inside jokes, they’ve made things really fun,” Garner said.

“Our students already connect in some way to the material, and it’s just discovering a different part of campus of this fantasy world component that students — their own peers — have created.”

Throughout the academic year, the LLC offers academic, social and networking-based programs. The game fulfills the social component of the initiative. The game series, although it has a casual tinge, is part of the LLC’s effort to help students develop essential skills for their careers.

“It’s a way to teach some skills that students need to have when they leave here in a fun way that’s not sitting down in a lecture or sitting in classroom with a group you have to do an exercise with,” said LLC Director Mary Jane Partain. “Getting to do some teambuilding, communication and critical thinking through a different mode versus a lecture-style activity is what I’m interested in.”

Comet World has engaged students in several sessions, each of which resumes where the last one ended. New players create characters that are incorporated into the existing storyline. In contrast to traditional D&D, the series is more spontaneous, said Corey Brasseaux, a computer engineering sophomore who serves as a game master.

“Usually for D&D, you’re playing with a group that you’ve known for at least a little while,” Brasseaux said. “(In) Comet World, you’re getting thrown in with a bunch of people you probably haven’t met before, so it’s nice for meeting new people and makes for an interesting group dynamic.”

A player can expect to find inside jokes and themed relics, such as Temoc, Enarc and campus buildings. Consistent with the UTD theme, character development is based on attributes of players’ majors.

“It’s a really innovative idea to get students out there to try new things and get involved in, for a lot of them, their first tabletop game,” Brasseaux said. “It’s really easy to get into, and it’s really easy to set up. The other D&D group I’m in has been playing for almost two years now, and I feel like I’m connecting with the people at Comet World as much as I have with the group I’ve been with for two years.”

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