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Dungeons & dreidels

All Duke senior Camilo Caceres ever wanted was to serve in an elite unit of the Israeli Defense Forces. That, and play Dungeons & Dragons. In an even remotely just world, that shouldn’t have been a problem: occupying the West Bank by day, rolling a D-20 by night. But for most of us, “remotely just” remains a fantasy, if you will. Last month, the IDF announced that it was denying high security clearances to D&D-playing recruits; and Caceres, who had been planning on a June enlistment, saw his dreams bulldozed.

On Wednesday night, Caceres and his role-playing partners graciously interrupt a seven-hour session to answer a few questions. “I’ve been playing officially for five years,” he tells me over a mug of Hawaiian Punch. “Before that, it was just me and a D&D player’s guide, thinking how cool it would be to be a Sorcerer. Sometimes I wished I could summon a girlfriend.”

I giggle.

“Oh my God!” says Lynnsie Bowles, a level-20 Druid. “Your laugh sounds just like Kefka from Final Fantasy VII!”

Caceres, Colombian-born with dual U.S. citizenship, has difficulty articulating his desire to immigrate to the Holy Land. “I hear there’s orcs in Israel,” he offers. Regardless, the Israeli army should be jumping at the chance to enlist such an eager recruit. But the powers-that-be remain insistent, choosing instead to slander a defenseless minority: “These people,” an unnamed military official told Israel’s Ynet News, “have a tendency to be influenced by external factors which could cloud their judgment.

They may be detached from reality or have a weak personality—elements which lower a person’s security clearance, allowing them to serve in the army, but not in sensitive positions.”

Caceres can’t help but express his dismay when I tell him just what the Israelis think of his hobby. He grips a hand-painted pewter figurine until his knuckles whiten, and then releases it with a whimper. “It’s just that they’re attacking my honor,” he says. “If they took the time to know me, they’d find out that I didn’t have a weak personality. I just want to fight terrorism. I can cast Fireball.”

Fireball or no, Caceres will soon be faced with an impossible decision. When the recruiting officer leans across his Tel Aviv desk and asks him, “Do you engage in, or have you ever engaged in, role-playing activities?” Caceres can salvage his commando dream—but only by denying who he is. Or he can proudly proclaim the truth—and face the consequences.

“If a soldier answers in the affirmative,” says the Israeli officer, “he is sent to a professional for evaluation, usually a psychologist.”

Exactly what goes on in “evaluation” is classified, though D&D message boards are abuzz with the possibility that repeated viewings of the Lord of the Rings animated series are somehow involved.

Caceres refuses to consider the possibility, simply reiterating his desire to fight orcs and his ability to cast Fireball. But his friend Jason Ziglar, a longtime Dungeonmaster, is more adamant. “I was willing to let Operation Defensive Shield slide, but this is an absolute outrage,” says Ziglar. “It’s worse than don’t-ask-don’t-tell. The IDF is trying to control our thoughts—you fantasize you’re with a supermodel; I fantasize I’m with a dragon; there’s no difference. They’ve just decided that some fantasies are worse than others. So where will they stop, huh? What’s next on the list? You people think we’re a bunch of geeks, but you just wait. First they came for Camilo—next, they’re coming for you.”

Powerful words from a powerful Dungeonmaster—but words that are unlikely to sway the State of Israel. Caceres is trapped as surely as a Wizard in a labyrinth, trapped by the invisible forces of politics and paranoia, but trapped all the more rudely. And so, sometime before his graduation in May, he must choose whether to throw away his dreams or his dice—or, like the dreidel-spinning Jews of old, to roll his D-20 in secrecy.

“I can cast Fireball,” Caceres says.

And as he is reduced to an entirely understandable flood of tears, I turn to Paladin Anna Levina for a closing thought: “I think it’s absolutely disgusting that the filthy Israelis would say my good friend Camilo can’t be a commando, he knows what he’s doing and can run very fast and one time he killed three Ogres by casting the abjuration spell of Dimensional Anchor which really upset Jozan the Evil Cleric but got him 25 gold pieces, a large crossbow and a portable battering ram which will really help him in the army and he knows more spells than anyone but especially Fireball which is especially useful against Evil Chaotic Half-Elves—and how dare you say I’m detached from reality?”

Rob Goodman is a Trinity senior. His column appears every Friday.


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