Party members watch in suspense as a dice roll determines the success of an attack on a goblin during a Dungeons & Dragons session at Curtis Memorial Library in Brunswick on Sept. 14, 2022. John Terhune / The Times Record

A rustling in the tall grass along the High Road to Phandalin brought the party of wizards and warriors to a halt. Bandits and outlaws, they knew, roamed this part of Faerûn.

One member suggested searching the brush. Another preferred to burn it down. Others wanted answers about the mysterious piece of cargo the dwarf Gundren Rockseeker had hired them to protect.

The group decided to confront their escorts and take the treasure for themselves, but too late — a trio of goblins had gotten there first.

Back on Earth, war cries filled the programming room in Curtis Memorial Library as seven junior high school students readied for battle.

After only two weeks, demand for a seat at the library’s Wednesday afternoon beginner Dungeons & Dragons group has outstripped capacity, according to youth and teen services librarian Jocelyn Kelly, who oversees the program. Curtis could soon expand to multiple D&D groups per week to allow more students to experience the fantasy adventure, which is driven by a combination of imagination and many-sided dice rolls.

“I wanted to provide an opportunity for kids who have never played so they could try it out,” Kelly said. “I think it can be intimidating to start something new like D&D if you don’t know where to begin.”


While Dungeons & Dragons’ invention dates back to 1974, Kelly said she’s noticed an uptick in interest from the library’s tweens and teens since Netflix’s “Stranger Things” brought the role-playing game into the modern pop-culture spotlight.

According to data from Google Trends, web searches for the game have quadrupled since the show debuted in 2016, peaking with the release of season four’s finale this July. During that time period, only six states have shown more interest in D&D than Maine.

Dungeon master Riley Funderburk describes a successful arrow hit in grisly detail at Curtis Memorial Library on September 14, 2022. John Terhune / The Times Record

Eighth-grader Riley Funderburk is among those who have become interested in the game in recent years. As the Curtis group’s dungeon master, Funderburk is responsible for bringing the fantasy world to life by narrating the action and controlling characters that the party comes across on their quests.

After eighth-grader Henry Chase landed a successful dice roll, Funderburk described with relish how Chase’s sorcerer Comodus felled a goblin enemy with a bolt of fire to the forehead.

“I like seeing people’s reactions to the plot of the story,” Funderburk said. “I like connecting with the players.”

Storytelling and imagination are at the heart of Dungeons & Dragons and similar role-playing games, according to Alfred Falzone, who organizes games of D&D rival Pathfinder Society at the Scarborough Public Library.


“So much of our entertainment is centered on a screen and on consumption of content,” said Falzone, who works as an attorney. “This really allows you to sit around a table with five or six people and tell a story together the way that humans have done for thousands of years. I think that’s that is part of the draw.”

For eighth grader Ian Duffy, who started playing D&D with friends two years ago before joining the Curtis Library group, the game offers an exciting opportunity to inhabit a new character.

By day, Duffy may be a member of the Brunswick Jr. High School honor roll. But armed with his dice and character sheet, he morphs into the half-orc paladin Corgan Farl, a morally gray character with a taste for destruction.

“I can do so many things that I normally wouldn’t be able to do,” Duffy said. “And play as something that I wouldn’t normally be able to play as.”

Pre-made character sheets help librarian Jocelyn Kelly and dungeon master Riley Funderburk bring inexperienced players into the game. John Terhune / The Times Record

The party bested the goblins with relative ease but soon met a more formidable opponent: the attention span of junior high school boys.

Progress on the quest slowed in the last half of the 90-minute session, as the party debated whether to continue on the quest, scrap the mission altogether and explore the rest of the fantasy world or harvest the livers of their slain foes.


“This has been a slow-moving journey,” Kelly commented, as several of the warriors talked over each other.

While silliness and distractions can be frustrating for dungeon masters tasked with keeping the game moving, Funderburk said they are both part of learning the game.

Working through those types of challenges is part of the point of the role-playing games, according to Falzone.

“I think it’s a great way to get kids to think critically about how to solve problems,” he said. “How are you going to work together with your other friends to get around the monster or kill the monster or whatever it is?”

After making its way into a goblin hideout, time ran out on the party. With parents waiting downstairs, the heroes transformed back into junior high schoolers and left, discussing their plans for next week’s adventure.

Despite the game’s many tangents, or perhaps because of them, the session had been a success in Kelly’s eyes.

“You’re playing, and you’re getting yourself in this world,” she said. “You don’t have to worry about being cool or whatever. It gives you an opportunity to really be yourself.”

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