Let me share my love of some people in my life, all of which don’t exist outside of my head or off paper, I suppose.
I’ll also share with you why Dungeons and Dragons, and table top role playing games like the ones below, seemed to have such a profound effect on me, the way it has and continues to, with so many other people. Especially those fucking theatre kids that won’t stop singing Les Mis at lunch.
“Do you have to be in an actual dungeon?”
The first time I heard of DND was in a high school chess club. I’m not good at chess and I don’t like chess. But my best friend and I are all up for trying things we’re not necessarily good at, and trying anything where we can sit while doing it.
You can probably imagine that at least one person in a chess club would know a bit about DND. I can’t remember how the conversation was initiated, but that kid came up to us and went DEEP into Dungeons and Dragons. (I’m pretty sure the topic was completely unprovoked and it more or less started like “I’M REALLY GOOD AT KILLING ALL OF MY PLAYERS”)
The one-person conversation was baffling and extremely bombarding. All I walked away with was there’s a board, usually, sometimes not, and best played in a dungeon, I think. It’s also seemed like a great way to swing some dick.
And then years later, after my theatre endeavors and love for telling stories, I gave DND a chance.
Before we dive in, some verbiage and disclaimers:
– DND: Dungeons and Dragons. A specific role playing game involving your typical goblins and wizards and shit.
– RPGs: Role playing game. Specifically, tabletop role playing game, as in like, not a video game RPG shooter thing. So not necessarily about just dungeons or dragons. Different worlds, with different rules and conflicts and stuff. Maybe aliens. There are many different types of RPGs.
–DM: Dungeon Master. For this specific blog, not the sex kind.
–GM: Game Master. Lots of masters. Maybe this is about sex, I don’t know.
–NPC: Non-player character. So your character that you play is like, the PC, character by a player. And then the GM’s characters are the NPCs.
I use DM and GM, DND and RPG almost interchangeably, which I know a lot of people would yell at me for. I’m just following my soul sometimes. So eat my ass.
This blog works best in tangent with my two other resourceful therapy blogs, one about the Catholic Church and the other about Theatre. However, no need to read them to understand this one. If you want to see me once again, though, take something and make it way too emotional than intended, go for it.
You’re about to read about aliens, vampires, and dice and shit and watch me cry over them, so get ready.
My final attempt at resourceful therapy.
vampire the requiem: brona
Finding a compelling and insightful GM is a struggle, and for my first campaign I was so fortunate enough that our GM not only encompassed all of that, but also chose a game that coincidentally jived with me so well: Vampire the Requiem. It was time for my untapped emo phase to truly shine.
Requiem offered themes of internal darkness- although I’m sure many DMs would’ve chosen to play the original version, Masquerade. I don’t know if Brona would be the same girl that I love so much if we didn’t go with Requiem.
Brona is the Gaelic word for “sad.” Not angry, not manipulative, not sexual, not destructive, though she was certainly all of these things. At the core of her actions, though, was sadness. She was raised in a cult and at 15 had an arranged and abusive marriage. She bore a child around that time, who she named Rosalie.
Before I knew about Attachment Theory, my diagnoses, or emotional core wounds, I knew Brona. It was as if I had the lights completely off in my subconscious, stumbling around inside for years, but I finally got to see this vision of her in the darkness of it.
Brona was quite the badass, if I can objectively attest to that (I can’t). I honestly loved her very much. She embraced her darkness, unapologetically. She would learn the hard way the effects this would have on her life, and with her daughter. Brona was a woman so broken, and yet so capable. I had an empathy for her most couldn’t understand, which made sense. But it didn’t matter, it was a real love.
Possibly more than being able to identify with Brona, though, I had Rosalie- the daughter NPC, who was abandoned by both of her parents, whether it was their fault or not.
Fast forward three years later in my real life, and I’m in therapy. Audrey didn’t always feel like her own person, she didn’t even know who Audrey was most of her life. All she really knew was her surroundings, how to walk on eggshells, her mother, and both of their trauma. I felt like an NPC of my own life, only able to fixate entirely on my mom and everyone else, while also feeling so far away from everyone I was expected to be close to.
I even have vivid memories of me running away with my mother as a child, being kidnapped back and forth by my parents, but crying profusely over her whenever I was away from her. But still, even so entangled in her, she felt so distant. When I had the chance to play Brona, I realized how both of them could not be the parents they wanted to be- or couldn’t be there when needed. How for a while, Rosalie had to come to terms with that somehow.
masks, a new generation: aqirra
My cute lil, well-meaning, dumb but kind, alien girl.
I had a very difficult time when creating her. I was so certain that I didn’t want to create a character that essentially just, was me, because how egotistical is that? Of course, she ended up being the character who was solely me, all-encompassing. It’s very strange how that happens.
“Masks” is a light-hearted game, all around teenage superheroes who are so naturally influenced by everyone at this age. It makes for great narrative play, and a story driven by how ridiculous and loveable G-Rated villains and superheroes can be.
Also: I used MSN Paint to touch in some color and have no drawing skill. So THATS why the pic below is like that. I really thought I could pull together a whole graphic reimagination of Aqirra and then I got tired seven minutes in.
Aqirra belonged to a planet that was “happy,” and constantly was in total sunlight. There was one side of the planet that was forever in darkness because of that. The society of this planet learned to hate the dark, and only function on 100% happiness, blissful and ignorant happiness, all of the time.
On a mission, she crash-landed on Earth, and found the world to be completely different and terrifying. She was scared of the dark, she was confused seeing people with so many emotions, having so many differences.
As she stayed on Earth, she began to physically develop into her own being. Her skin became more pink, her hair became more blue. She learned about sadness and anger, and couldn’t really figure out what the point of these emotions were at first. And then at this time, she started developing powers that she had never seen of her kind back on her home planet.
Her journey was one that taught her self-awareness, empathy, and the power of understanding not just those around you, but herself. That was certainly a journey I needed that was long overdue.
Oh Shit, that’s ME?
So when do people who play DND realize they’re actually playing extensions of themselves?
I guess it depends on if they’re emotionally able to or not. I didn’t realize for a bit, until, I definitely realized.
When we starting creating stories, we either we aim to portray a part of ourselves or we don’t. We always do though, to some degree.
Movies and video games and all the many things are spectacles and purely captivating when they feature dark magic, or talking robots, vampires or hero’s that fly or whatever. Super cool stuff. But it’s important to know what takes these stories to the next level. Regardless of whether the character is evil, or is an Orc, or has lava shooting out of their nose, if they aren’t something relatable in some way, the story dies. It collapses into something we don’t care much about.
Whatever extension of yourself you decide to add to DND, consciously or not, it lives and it breathes and becomes an entity of sorts that you are able to look into for once. Deceivingly, it’s a whole different person you get to know in such a personal way.
Dungeons and Dragons
IcewinD dale Campaign: Twiggy
Now HERE’S some DND.
Though I’ve played a few Dungeons and Dragons campaigns before this one, Twiggy stands out to me as the benchmark for when I realized the impact DND was having on me in a very conscious way.
I was able to dig deep into characters before, and understand that in some ways they were extensions of myself. But before Twiggy, I played a set of characters so scared to fail, to be seen for their real selves, to make mistakes, and to be looked at as the outcast. That was a part of me. It seemed like with Twiggy, I was actually letting go of that.
The first way I did that was by making a Tiefling trying to survive in the artic.
Twiggy, taken directly from Emily Axford’s character “Fig” Faeth in Dimension 20, was such a not-at-all subtle nod. I figured that I tried too hard for too long to create someone completely out of thin air and always ended up creating someone just like me- so let’s try just giving in to who I love the most.
My little tiefling teenager, wrestles with trying to find the deity she’s connected with. She grew up worshipping Aureil, a frosty ice bitch, and her father was just pure chaotic evil.
Finding her own path has been particularly hard for her. Yet, her fire and sass kept her unapologetic and alive, while also every so often getting her into pretty horrible predicaments. Though she may be wrong time and time again in her bold and outlandish choices, she still manages to stick to her gut without faltering. This is her way of finding who she really is and who she wants to be, and places intense pressure all the time on her crew to parent her as she is truly a baby sometimes.
Am I’m learning that it’s okay, to need help and ask for it. And it’s okay to not know the way sometimes. That’s the thing about Twiggy that has surprised me the most.
(Shout out to Troy, who totally let me pull this character, even though she doesn’t fit in with the module whatsoever, and was quite an extremely sketchy build from the start. Troy’s a professional voice actor and here’s his website: troyallanvo.com boom )
The Venn Diagram of Nerd shit, and how you too, can benefit
So I guess the big question here is: are all nerds, theatre kids, the gays, and DND players emotionally damaged, and unable afford therapy?
When we grow up without feeling secure in who we are, and we don’t have any guidance from our caregivers or from someone who we can at least pay to cry to, where is our outlet when we know somethings wrong?
At first for me, it was church. In some ways, it still is. Particularly the stained glass, I always thought that was pretty.
And then, thank God and the Holy Spirit and Patti Lupone, that I found theater. Where I played characters who for some reason, resonated with me in some profound way, and helped me find a way out of the things I couldn’t see past.
So when I finally developed the confidence to create and step into the lives of my own characters with DND- what a literal game changer.
The End of the Story
and in the distance, 200 mg of zoloft
Theatre nerds and DND nerds cross over in the best way because of this. All it comes down to is telling a beautiful, gripping story, featuring parts of you that have just been explored in a new light. Suddenly, a world you used to live in got a little bigger, and what you didn’t know before doesn’t matter anymore, because you got that beautiful opportunity to look inside yourself and the people around you, and change your own story. Now you realize you’re severely depressed. And those times you thought you were dramatic because you couldn’t breathe? That was a panic attack.
A whole new level of insight, wisdom, perception, and a plus 1 on your initiative- welcome to the party.
The dice and the stage lights, the singing and the combats completely take you in and make you think you’re in a totally different world. With dragons and mindflayers, witches that become roommates and inappropriately placed tap dance numbers. All of that makes you feel alive, and excited again for something, a get-away from your 9 to 5 or maybe the trauma you can’t seem to escape from. Then there’s a greater root that takes hold under the surface.
Maybe there are some people out there who only go on stage just to be on stage, or DMs who aren’t story-driven. And that’s totally okay, more than okay.
But for those of us that have found that second layer and that deeper purpose, we are very, very lucky. We learned lessons that we were never taught otherwise, we’ve seen parts of ourselves in others- both in a script or character sheet. Some never get to see those parts of themselves, for the good and the bad, and learn to love it all. So fucking cool, right?
I loved Brona and Rosalie, and for the first time ever I had compassion for parts of me that were sad, angry, and numb, and I learned the parts of me that were selfish, controlling, judgmental. I learned to love those parts too. I loved my mom, I loved Rosalie and Aqirra, those weird and quiet, invisible girls, and I loved myself. They learned about themselves, they learned to trust their emotions, and they love themselves and the people around them better because of it. I continue to love them and the new characters I play, like Twiggy and Pebbles and my NPCs, all while continuing to explore myself and love new parts of myself I’m still getting to know.
And if we got to know the parts of ourselves that we were once ashamed of, we would show ourselves compassion in a way we didn’t think we were allowed to, and let go of the hateful parts we kept alive out of survival. There’s a reason you love your weird, annoying, sometimes out-of-line characters. They were made out of love, after all, whether you know it or not.
And love deserves love, we all simply do.