Roll for Friendship: Dungeons & Dragons: Dungeon Club: Roll Call By Molly Knox Ostertag and Xanthe Bouma

Dungeons & Dragons: Dungeon Club: Roll Call

By Molly Knox Ostertag, Illustrated by Xanthe Bouma

Published by Harper Collins

Dungeons & Dragons: Dungeon Club: Roll Call (Roll Call for shortis a new graphic novel from writer Molly Knox Ostertag and artist Xanthe BoumaRoll Call tells the story of Jessica Descheneene and Olivia Aguilar; they're middle school best friends who both love D&D. Jessica plays as Sir Corius, a male tiefling paladin, and Olivia is the Dungeon Master (DM). Wanting to expand their sessions to include other players, Olivia tries to start a D&D club in their school. But Jessica is against this as she is not very social and prefers to just hang out with Olivia by herself, and she starts to sabotage Olivia's efforts. Will the two friends come to an understanding? Will they add more players to their campaign?

I am so happy that Roll Call exists. I am a woman who has been copyediting and proofreading tabletop roleplaying games (TTRPG) for over five years, including games that use D&D 5th Edition mechanics. Most of the people I work with in this sphere have been men (most of whom have been awesome to collaborate with), but it’s wonderful to see the TTRPG sphere featuring more players and creators identifying as BIPOC, LGBTQI, and female. This book makes it clear that D&D isn’t just for white boys, that it’s for anyone who wants to tell a story and solve problems along with a group of like-minded people.

There are lots of little moments of representation and intersectionality in Roll Call. For a lot of young readers, there will likely be a character in the cast who looks like them. This representation truly matters. Olivia is a Latina. Jessica is a young Diné woman who plays as a male character. There are also Olivia’s friends the Sams: Sammi Mitchell, a young white woman who’s a jock, and Sam Geller, a young man with braces who’s into theater. Bouma has drawn a variety of body types, skin colors, and hair styles for these middle schoolers, and unlike a lot of comics and manga about school-aged kids, these characters look their age.

Bouma’s art has to balance the high fantasy of the campaign with the down-to-earth New Mexico houses and the utilitarian middle school, which isn’t easy. Yet they make it look effortless. Jessica, like a lot of TTRPG players sees her world through the lens of the game. There are a lot of panels where we first see the world as it is and then we see it how Jessica perceives it. Two seemingly popular girls looking at themselves in the mirror become two evil monsters. The awkward, nerdy boy becomes a gelatinous cube with slightly askew glasses. The exterior of the school becomes a foreboding, crumbling castle.

D&D-style caption boxes are woven throughout in to introduce readers to not just monsters and creatures in the campaign sessions but also to some of the middle schoolers. Middle school can be hard. Middle schoolers are forming their personalities and choosing after-school activities and pastimes without as much input from their parents. At the same time, a lot of kids aren’t quite certain who they are, so it’s easier to latch onto a few popular kids and try to imitate them. I found that in high school, it was easier to find your crowd and spend most of your time with them. In middle school, on the other hand, you were either cool or uncool, and again this will likely resonate with readers who are either living through middle school right now or remember what it was like.

Critics of TTRPG argue that these games are nothing more than escapism. And that is definitely true, but campaign sessions also provide a safe space to explore who you are and what your values should be. It allows shy, conflict avoidant, quiet, and people-pleasing players to set boundaries, take risks, speak up, fight for their beliefs, stick up for the weak, and more. And it through D&D that Jessica is able to grow as a person.

Roll Call is an inspiring, fun read with plenty of moments that made me laugh. I hope that middle-grade readers will be inspired by Roll Call to start playing a TTRPG and to create a school club. It doesn’t have to be D&D, though I’m sure Wizards of the Coast would strongly prefer that.