COB ADDER, Iraq – The proverb “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” was immortalized in the 1980 Stanley Kubrick film The Shining, and seems fitting when applied to a deployed environment where soldiers work long hours; often with no days off.
A small group of soldiers know how to play when they meet twice a week at the Resiliency Center on Contingency Operating Base Adder to escape the long days of their deployment and play an imaginary, role-playing game; complete with vampires, werewolves, elves, dragons, and a variety of other magical creatures.
“I enjoy hanging out with the group and playing because it allows me an outlet for whatever has been going on, and lets me just be me,” said Spc. Cody Leonhardt, team leader, 1729th Field Support Maintenance Company, from Baltimore, Md. “It helps me calm myself and have fun.”
The game takes place in a supernatural world and each soldier plays a character with different skills, abilities and magical powers.
“For me, it's the chance to go to a different world,” said Pvt. Douglas A. Anderson, computer detection systems repairer, 1729th FSMC, from Hebron, Md.
“I look forward to my nights of play so I can get that time away from the grind of the day-to-day Army life,” said Anderson. “The fact that I get to share that time and that adventure with close friends only makes it better.”
Through role-playing, these soldiers transport their imaginations into a fictional world that allows them to battle undead creatures, fly over treetops, and cast magical spells.
“Adventure is fun,” said Spc. Dorothy Gray, information technologies specialist, Company B, 3rd Brigade, Special Troops Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division, from Las Vegas, Nev. “We don't get a lot of it in our daily lives here when you are in a support role. Being confined to a small area with very few amenities offered tends to bring a person’s morale down. Until you meet some people who like to do the same things you do, and you enjoy their company immensely. When you find those people who accept you for you, and everyone can be themselves, it is an awesome thing.”
The adventures these soldiers experience together, through their characters, creates a comradeship that is unique to the role-playing world.
“What I get out of playing the game is camaraderie, and a chance to relax and have fun with wonderfully imaginative and eclectic people,” said Gray.
Members of the group also enjoy using the time to play as a break from the rank structure they live with during the day.
“Everyday I walk around post as Pvt. Anderson, but a few times a week I get to be Zander, the magic-user, and fight on the various quests he is on,” said Anderson. “For those few precious hours I get to forget the day-to-day worries of a solider and be somebody else; and at least in my head, be somewhere else.”
The game is organized by one person who acts as the narrator of the character’s journey, and a referee for the players.
“My role in the game is to create the game-board and play the bad guys that the characters encounter throughout their adventure,” said Capt. Donald Larsen, commander, 362nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, from Butler, Mo.
The game is played the old-fashioned way, without the use of technology such as the Internet or electronic devices. Instead, players use role-playing dice, diagrams on a whiteboard, and their imaginations.
“That is where the adventure comes in,” said Gray. “Since we are limited in our real lives here, it is nice to get together and do fantastical things with our imaginations.”
“Our group will bring their game items, snacks, drinks and smiles for all,” said Gray. “We joke, and laugh, and talk, all the while we play a game that lets us work together and still be ourselves.”
For some members of the group, this is not their first experience with a role-playing game.
“I have been playing these role-playing games for years,” said Sgt. Phaedra Clements, information technology specialist, Company B, 3BSTB, 1st Cav. Div., from Malden, Mass. “To me, it is a way to have a good time, blow off steam, and meet like-minded geeks. There is no judgment, just people having a good time.”
It may be all work in the day for these soldiers, but they certainly find time for play, making them anything but dull.