This August, I'll be one of the players at "Adventurer's Wanted: Rebellion", a live D&D show on August 3rd, 5th, 17th and 24th. Ahead of that, I thought I'd write a reflective piece on what D&D has done for me.
The first time I heard of D&D was probably the same way as most people: when I saw it being mercilessly mocked as a game for very boring sexless men on TV shows like The Big Bang Theory or IT Crowd. The first of which is liberally peppered with dorky misogyny across the spectrum, all the way from "ball and chain" to "your mum" jokes - just watch the clip (if you can you're stronger than I am). When I first saw people playing D&D it was a group of my male friends who seemed to spend five hours hitting things with swords and sticks (there was probably more there to it, but I would normally fall asleep halfway through, I've always found the storytelling aspect of D&D to be pretty soporific). The common denominator here was men. And so I counted myself out from the get - also because I wasn't really a fan of fantasy, save Game of Thrones which I mainly loved for Sansa Stark, and I didn't see much Sansa Starks about in this game.
When I tried to first get involved, I had a lot of performance anxiety - which was ironic as a poet whose career has centred around performance. I felt awkward doing the voices, or trying to commit to weird character choices. I was constantly worried I was doing things wrong. I got a bit better over time and at the end of 2017, I was asked to join an non-male D&D group.
My character was part Minerva McGonagall, part Lin Beifong but mostly your traditional Church of Scotland Presbyterian woman. She was stuck in a world filled with magic, tricks, drag musicians and all she wanted to do was go home. The most exciting thing for her was her cat, which she named "Grey" after her favourite colour. I would turn up with my glittery unicorn dice box and play someone who's favourite food was plain porridge. We couldn't be more different.
The D&D group itself was made up of our D.M. plus four other players - only two of whom I knew previously. On my way to the first game I was kicking myself the whole walk for signing up to something so preformative and charismatic in front of strangers. In reality, it turned out to be one of the best decisions I've made in years. The first couple games consisted of us all turning up, and playing pretty much straight away after everyone arrived. Now, we have a designated hour before each game to catch up. We have a group chat which we use to play Frisbee in the Meadows, talk about our day at work or complain about men. The group has been a way for the six of us to talk about our problems in a group separated from our normal friendship groups or lives. We went through final exams, break-ups, house moves, job stresses and annoying flatmates together. We checked up on each other constantly.
But it wasn't just outside the game - it was also part of it. Our characters looked after each other and reminded each other of important notes. I began to feel that some of us used our characters as a way to process things we were dealing with in life (and hey, maybe some of us were just setting fires or punching owl bears, but I think that's therapeutic too). I was playing Gertrude - someone who hates fun and extravagance. My D.M. said something very wise - that everyone's characters is little pieces of them that they exaggerate. I think of this dwarf I've created as mimicking the part of me that stubbornly wants to be logical, get my head down and push through work.
I have other characters in other campaigns too - a silent gnome, who I think reflects the lonely, reflective and introverted part of me; a Marry Berry-esque dragonborn, who mirrors my naivete and desire to look after people before myself; and a teenager from the 80s who probably reflects my young desire to be cool and have roller blades.
I think that any kind of performing, storytelling or just talking for an extended period of time necessarily leads us to talk about ourselves and reflect upon who we are. When you add in the extra layers of D&D: that the characters are self-created and the game a collaborative effort, I think it becomes even more reflective. When this was added into a supportive environment of non-male people, who are socialised into communicating through problems, a little game of D&D ended up helping me think more about who I am and deal with the problems I was facing (namely: moving house, changing jobs, and starting new medication). This Friday marks the last game of this campaign - one of our members is moving away, some are changing jobs and others are entering more commitments at work. Some of us will still play together, but with new characters and a different story line. I feel emotional leaving this little world behind, but also like it has taught me so much.
So I owe a thank you. Not only to the people who got me into this fun and silly game, but also to the non-male group of friends - whom helped me process and talk through things. And lastly, thanks to a grumpy stubborn dwarf who seems to know me better than I do.