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Dungeons & Dragons & Disability

So here I am still signed off from work. And over the course of this year I have truly struggled to find join in any of my old hobbies except for one, which has taken over and restarted my creativity: Dungeons and Dragons. First let me introduce myself: I am Helja, the dwarven cleric. I am Anakis, the tiefling Druid-warlock. I am Meredith, the human sorcerer.

For anyone who doesn’t know what it is, it is a Table Top Role-Playing Game (TTRPG) typically played with pencil, paper, dice (LOTS OF DICE), and imagination. One person in a group is the Dungeon Master (or Game Master), and they weave the story and the settings and battles, and play any number of characters that the Players will encounter and decide how to deal with. Players design a character that they role play as, making decisions as this character, not as themselves. The basics of this character are Race (Human, Dwarf, Elf, Halfling etc.) and Class (Rogue, Cleric, Fighter, Wizard etc.) but you then add to this by thinking up a backstory, a personality, and flaws with your DM. All this to hope that your characters get on or at least tolerate each other enough to work together to achieve larger goals – I’d say save people but there are evil characters and groups so it really depends! It’s not just a case of stabbing and burning everything you meet, you get to know characters of the world, try and use your charisma to maybe avoid violence…and yes sometimes kill the hell out of some things and loot their body and home. The more you do, the more you level up, the ‘stronger’ you get, the harder the adventures can become. It sounds trite but imagination really is the limit with the D&D. Well imagination and dice rolls. This is the basics but if you want to know more find your local tabletop game café and see if you can sit in on a game. Or drop me a comment and I will try and answer your questions.

Anyway, back to the topic. Being off work as long as I have, and recently being unable to volunteer, I’ve been going round the bend. I’ve been bored, depressed, lost, and almost incapable of seeing past the pain I’m in day to day. I don’t know when this happened, but at some point D&D became one of my main interests and coping mechanisms. I think it comes down to several aspects of the game.

1) Socialising: I know that once a week I am going to meet up with my friends over Skype and have fun not only role-playing and adventuring together but also catching up and chatting and just create together. This leads me nicely to…
2) Creativity: Being ill has led me to struggle with getting the mental energy to work on my creative writing and story plans, my hands have been so painful that I’ve struggled to hold my pencils at the right pressure. I have so many ideas that I want to complete (or even start) and it’s frustrating as all hell to have stuff swirling round your head that you can’t enact. Enter D&D. Obviously my friends and I don’t know what we’re all going to do, so our role playing is a form of fantasy-themed improv, which allows me to be creative in a sense. I have designed and made a dice tray including a dragon, a sword made of dice, and the D&D logo, when I’d been really struggling to come up with pyrography designs for my wooden boxes. Designing the backstories for my characters and writing them up has helped me get back in touch with my writing because…you get to know your character so well so I just like to write it out in full so that it’s almost like a short story in itself to go over stuff that doesn’t/hasn’t yet come out in sessions, because their stories are so vivid in my mind. I have some more stuff planned I want to make (drawings, more dice trays, story about my other character) and it’s exciting to feel this imaginative and creative again.
3) FanDom: Now as well as my own game I play with my friends, I have got INTENSELY into Critical Role this year. If you don’t know what this is, it’s “a bunch of nerdy-ass voice actors” (Matt Mercer, Liam O’Brien, Sam Riegal, Marisha Ray, Taliesin Jaffe, Laura Bailey, Travis Willingham, and Ashley Johnson, with the occasional nerdy guest) roll dice and play D&D for us to watch on Twitch or YouTube. You might think that watching people play a game that occurs for the most part in other people’s head wouldn’t be that interesting but you’d, in my opinion, be wrong. They’re a group of friends and they genuinely look like they’re having fun together, even during the painful parts of the story (they have genuinely cried during parts of the story, as have some of my friends in my game, just showing that D&D isn’t just dice and numbers, it’s characterisation and emotions). The DM creates incredibly vivid and varied worlds, which is part of what makes the show so alive as, without visuals like a normal show, Matt has to put in a lot of work to build it in our heads. This show has inspired fanfic, fan art, fan music/musicals, and clothing and accessories on places like Etsy. As I get somewhat socially anxious, having CR and D&D as a whole as interests means that with a proportion of people I have topics to talk about which makes me a little less stresses. Additionally, the cast of CR have inspired me to get more into D&D helping use my character to choose spells, not just choosing the ones that do the most damage. Being able to share in the CR fandom inspires me and makes me feel less alone in the world. Also nice to see other people with disaster characters 😀
4) Now my final reason is a bit bleak and maybe hard to explain, so settle in. I am disabled, mentally and physically so and despite the fact I’ve been living with these illnesses for between 1-8 years, I still haven’t come to terms with the restrictions, pain and general suckiness that is life as a spoonie. I know that I could be so much worse and I’m thankful for what I am currently still able to do, but there’s so much stuff I thought I’d have done or be doing by now and yet here we are. There’s not a day that I’m not in pain and it’s easy for that to wear a person down. Now all the reasons above make me feel better as a disabled person, but the act of playing D&D helps in and of itself. I think it’s because my imagination is still very active so it’s highlighting something that hasn’t been taken away by ill health. The characters I have made aren’t perfect, they have flaws, but they can do magic, they can fight monsters, if they want to, they can become heroes. It’s easy for me to think of all the stuff I can’t do in the real world, but my D&D characters can try and sometimes succeed in incredible adventures, that I could never do (even if I wasn’t disabled!).

I hope this all makes sense to those who play D&D or watch Critical Role. If you think you might want to play D&D, I’d really recommend watching some recorded games (Critical Role, High Rollers, Hells Belles are some names off the top of my head) or just going to find a group. It’s amazing how easy it is to talk to new people when you have a nerdy past time in common, especially when you don’t have to be you for much of the time.
The last thing I want to say is that if you have any mental ill health, there have been some evidence-based studies showing a decrease in some symptoms after regular playing of RPGs like D&D. I will try and find a link to this later if anyone is interested.

I won’t say that D&D has saved my life but I think it’s saved my mind…well, as much as it can be.

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