The Yangon Society of Make-Believe Wizards

It’s tough being a nerd in Yangon – partly because the Frontier editors are crotchety jerks.


For example, when I pitched a story about the first Myanmar-speaking Dungeons & Dragons players (exploring the interaction of Western fantasy tropes with local culture) they shot it down. Frontier had already done something about Pokemon Go, and wasn’t it basically the same thing?

Well, Oliver, I’m sorry if the hobby has too many “Pikachus” for you.

They only know about Dungeons & Dragons in the vague, theoretical way a Swiss librarian would know about the Super Bowl. It’s a “role playing game”, or RPG – that is, adults playing schoolyard make-believe with the help of thick rulebooks and 20-sided dice to fight skeletons, cast fireballs and steal treasure. There are RPGs based on Star Wars, Call of Cthulhu, the zombie apocalypse and other genres.

It’s fun, OK?

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And anyway, part of the thrill of being a foreigner in Yangon is watching things sprout up and blossom from nothing. I got to be in the first little cadre of nerds who began bootlegging official rulebooks and bringing in special grid mats and tiny plastic goblins from game shops in Bangkok or Taiwan. I spent an entire afternoon in Phandeeyar’s high-tech maker space building a ziggurat out of foam.

Then the RPG community went legit: The Rough Cut, a coffee shop in Sanchaung, shut down, and we pooled our money to lease the space. Thus began Dagon Dice: an entire club for people to pretend to be dwarf wizards or Jedi bounty hunters.

It has shelves of figurines and model scenery, a sound system and – the crown jewel – a custom gaming table with a built-in LCD monitor for virtual maps and terrain. Dagon Dice was even featured in the Myanmar Times, which pretty much makes us the biggest thing since Atlas Rooftop Bar’s ginger martini won Cocktail of the Week.

But for Frontier, I had to submit this column at the last minute just so they would have no choice but to publish it. (And if you cut that line, Tom, I promise the next cartoon I draw will be sort of mediocre.)

Why? An expat dope buys a Chinese moped and suddenly he’s “the White Rider.”  But bring up the new game society in the newsroom, and they’re all: “You mean that magic Gandalf Potter club? Buncha’ nerds!” (And then they high-five each other and go smoke cigarettes. or something.)

OK… maybe I’m a touch insecure. But I just want to feel cool. I’m both not edgy enough to be a cool journalist and too edgy to be a cool Christian. But at Dagon Dice, I can be an authority…  even if only for half-elf sorcerer magic.

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