For decades, tabletop role playing games (RPG’s) like Dungeons and Dragons have been the foray of dimly-lit basements, played in secret amongst like-minded friends eager to leave the real world behind and explore a realm of fantasy beyond their wildest imagination. But recently, this geeky hobby has found its way into the light of day, with D&D’s latest books shooting up to the top of the Amazon.com charts and celebrities as wide ranging as Stephen Colbert and Vin Diesel singing the praises of rolling dice. One sunny Saturday, I ducked into the Eagle’s Nest at Manuel’s Tavern to check out Atlanta Role Playing Game Day, a monthly pen-and-paper playdate that aims to bring together players of all experience levels.

Organizer Jasen Johns started the event as a way to introduce people who were curious about the hobby to more experienced players. “If I can get new gaming groups to start up out of these game days, I’ll consider it a success,” he told me. “We’ve even got a six-month old here. You’re never too young to start gaming.”

As games of Dungeons and Dragons and Dungeon World started up, I joined a table for a session of Fiasco, an RPG with more of an emphasis on story and character than rolling dice and mechanics. Inspired by the depressingly madcap adventures of the Coen Brothers oeuvre, the game allows for a variety of stories ranging from the political machinations of a small southern town to power struggles in an Antarctic research station. Of course, being the fantasy nerds that we were, my table chose a playset inspired by your traditional sword and sorcery RPGs. And so, I settled in with my newfound comrades as we spun a story of samurais and sorcerers, golems both good and evil, and one unlucky townsperson with no powers whatsoever caught up in the middle of everything.

The energy in the room was electric, as players sang out in accents of varying accuracies, flinging spells and swinging swords in a desperate attempt to make it through the adventure. In typical Fiasco fashion, every character ended up on the bottom (except for that golem who, naturally, ended up a divine being of unimaginable power; go figure). But more importantly, a table of strangers came together to have a good time and left as friends. That’s the real power of tabletop games: it encourages you to work together and build new bonds while making you feel like a hero the whole time. And thanks to these regular meetups, even newcomers can experience the joy of leveling up.

Atlanta Role Playing Game Day rolls into town the first Saturday of the month, alternating between Manuel’s Tavern and Joystick. For more details, follow the Atlanta Gaming Guild.

Local Scout Julian Modugno is a writer, comedian, filmmaker--basically a whole list of red flags for a first date. His movies can be found on his YouTube channel, Bland Hack Pictures, and his best one-liners are available on that Twitter thing at @juliocentric.