D&D Saved My Soul

Roller derby saved my soul.

That’s what everyone said.  It was the title of every human interest article.  It was scrawled on the underneath of skate tracks, graffiti sprayed onto warehouse lockers.  It was the mantra of the derby girls.  I wanted so much to feel that.  To feel right.  To feel I’d found something that had been a part of me all along, waiting to be discovered.

Derby didn’t do that for me.  I loved it, despite being terrible at it.  I made friends, loved skating, nursed bruises and pushed myself harder than I thought possible.  I never, however, felt like it was the missing piece of myself.  I never felt like I truly belonged in the community.  It was fun, and then it was over.  I felt like I would never find “my thing,” because derby was the answer for so many people and yet it was not an answer for me.

Dungeons and Dragons, however — that saved my soul.

I’ve always been curious about the game, but have never had the opportunity to play.  I never knew anyone who played. Sometimes I’d see it mentioned on a TV show and think, “I wonder what that’s all about.  I’d like to try it someday.”

Come to find out my husband used to play!  He said he played in High School.

“Wait. We were dating in school.  I don’t remember you playing D&D.  I don’t remember anyone at our school playing D&D.”

“Well, yeah.  We didn’t tell any girls that we played.  And once I got a girlfriend, I stopped.”

“Do you think we can try now?”

“Nah, you need a group of people who play and you need to be able to play for like twenty hours at a time. ”

Then he died.  I mean, not immediately following that conversation, but at a later time.  And I struggled to find myself.

When you are widowed, especially if you spouse possessed a particularly strong personality, you spend quite a bit of time figuring out what it means to be you.  You as an individual.  You as a just you, not as half of a couple.

After he died, I though my life was over.  Jesus, that’s such a cliche.  I remember even saying those words out loud, “My life is over.”  All of the things we had done together seemed meaningless without anyone to share the memories with.  All of the things we would do together felt pointless and lonely without him.  I cleared the DVR of his favorite shows, to find there was nothing left.  Nothing left of us. Nothing left of me.  I needed to find my own things, my own life.

As part of that effort, my counselor said I had to go out from my home, to find people, to make FRIENDS.  I told her many counselors had tried to get me to make friends, and that I would become social around the time pigs started to fly.  I knew, however, that she was right.  I couldn’t let my kids see me alone all the time.  I had to show them that a person can have a life, a real life with activities and friends, even if they do not have a significant other.  I had to let them see that I am not pitiful or lonely.  I am more than a mom and a widow.

I started joining groups to meet friends.  Not like Tinder, but like groups where you meet with other women for coffee and chatting.  It just depressed me. I had nothing in common with any of these people except that we all had nowhere else to be on a Tuesday morning.  At this point my counselor told me I was being a nincompoop.  She said I needed to find an ACTIVITY that I liked, and would meet people doing that activity.

One of the groups I’d tried was a board game group, and it met at a local game cafe.  People there had been playing D&D, and it got me thinking about it again.

At some point I will tell the story of my first year foray into TTRPG.  It is not easy to break into as a new person, but I understand it is easier now than it ever has been.  It has been a little over a year.  I have participated in a handful of one-shots, and just started my first full campaigns a couple of months ago.

In that time, I have found myself.  I have found a part of me that was missing.  It turns out that when I am not a part of a couple, when I am not being a mom, when I am not being an architect,  I am a huge Nerdy McNerdface.

This is what I had been looking for.  Not all of my individual experiences have been positive.  Not every person I have met has been a treat.  Overall, however, I feel welcomed as part of this community.  I want more.  I want to be doing this all of the time, even though it means talking to other people.

Oh, I’m talking to other people.  Voluntarily.  I’m inviting people INTO MY HOME. (I have the big dining table.)  On a regular basis, people come into my home and I engage with them for like four hours.  Afterwards I fall into an exhausted heap on my sofa.  I am an introvert, and this game drains all of my batteries.  I’ve learned to plan hot dogs or frozen dinners on game days, because there is no way I’m cooking or washing dishes.  But I LOVE it.  I spend my free time watching people play D&D on YouTube or Twitch.  I study the rules and the lore.  I follow TTRPG based social media feeds.  I pore over my characters, tweaking backstories, creating mood boards, drawing portraits.

Dreeta Mood Board
Verdritia Krayenhoff, Tiefling Noble Fighter.  My first character death, taken down by an undead dinosaur.  RIP, Dreeta.

I’m DRAWING again.  In fact, I got out my paints and tried painting a miniature.

You don’t realize how much depression strips from you until you find motivation to do the things you had stopped doing.

I can’t explain what it is the game does for me.  I feel a part of a community.  I have a creative outlet. I can laugh and meet people with similar senses of humor.  I get to study and use sticky notes and binders.  Seriously.  I have a binder with slots for each of my campaigns and places for all of my character sheets.  I feel like Dungeons and Dragons was specifically made for me, to pull me out of my dark places and give me a reason to blink away the tears caused by the light.

D Portrait
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D – Half Elf Rogue Swashbuckler

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Ranyai, Dragonborn Sorcerer – my first character

I love my characters, and I love my teammate’s characters.  I love the stories and I love feeling like it matters if I get out of bed.

More than once I have been simply thinking of Dungeons & Dragons, and how happy I am that I finally have it in my life, and I have cried with gratitude.

It is a cheesy and predictable thing to say, but it is the depths of truth:

Dungeons and Dragons saved my soul.

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Graumach Earthstone, Dwarf Druid.  She will care for you, but she is sick of your crap.

 

 

What the Crap Does My D&D Character Want to Buy?

There are some drawbacks to starting your first ever Dungeons and Dragons campaign start pretty much the same weekend as your second ever campaign and the same week as your third ever campaign.

One drawback — Awesomeness Overload.  It’s a thing, people.

Another drawback is making the same mistake across all three campaigns.

Case in point:  Shopping.

Apparently in the beginning of a campaign it is super common for the party to go shopping.  In all of my campaigns, I sat and watched/listened as my fellow characters made beelines for items befitting their characters.  Some characters sought out books.  Others perused the herbs. Some sought out incense or gems.

Me?  I checked my inventory.  Short and long range weapons.  Appropriate armor.  Food.  Rope.  It looks like I’m good.

I think I would know a lot more about my characters if I knew what they would shop for.  I may have to visit that question when I’m building a character.

Let me consider my current ladies:

Dreeta, the Tiefling fighter.  She was noble born and is unlikely to be impressed by anything at the local bazaars.  She has armor and weaponry.  Maybe she is always on the lookout for higher quality armor?  Leaning towards understated quality, she is not hunting for flashy jewelry. I feel like she would enjoy alcohol.  Perhaps some high quality spirits.  Perhaps something that will help make her accommodations more comfortable or clean, since adventuring means sleeping in some unsavory conditions.

What else?  I’m at a loss.

48378776_10216265187495232_3850122496472776704_nUkryty, the Dimir Rogue Half-Elf.  She left her home voluntarily after legal troubles and learned how to survive by wits and a loose moral code.  Eventually she was hired by the Dimir as a courier.  What does she want from the shops in town?  She is not a scholar.  Perhaps disguises, items such as thieves, forgery and lockpicking kits?  Are there items that could increase stealth?  What about non-functional items, just as part of her personality?  She has high charisma.  Maybe she carries an assortment of games.  Maybe she collects fake/cheap jewels that she can try to pass as real ones when bargaining.

I also have a hill dwarf druid.  She is probably one that would appreciate books.  She prides herself on her intelligence.  She is older.  What would the books be about?  She has spent much of her life studying, so what topics are left for her to want to learn more about?

 

Too Much DnD!!

I’m kidding.  I’m starting to feel like there’s no such thing as too much Dungeons and Dragons.  I am involved in quite a lot right now, though.  That’s okay.  Who needs to spend time on things like work or parenting when there are quests to be embarked upon?

Just over a year ago, I decided to pursue an activity that has always sparked my curiosity: DnD. I’d never played, never watched a campaign, never talked to anyone about playing.  I think I’ve written posts before about the difficulties involved with being an adult with responsibilities and no D&D experience trying to find a group.

Over the past year, I have played three one-shots.  Three.  One. Shot. Games.  I threw out feelers everywhere — meetup, twitter, Roll20, the local game shops.  I trudged through an RPG desert, in which the only oases were campaigns that met too often or on the wrong days, or were not prepared to cater to a noob.

One day, I found a game on Roll20.  The DM was looking for a group to play a long term campaign on a day that fit with my schedule and welcomed new players.  First, he held some one shot games to help him select a group of players that he felt would mesh into a good company.  I signed up for the one-shot.  It would be over the phone.  The DM lives in England (I’m in America.)  Nervous and feeling out of my element, I pulled up Roll20 and called into the Discord audio channel.

Oooof!  I had loaded up my dragonborn sorcerer with mind control and charisma spells.  The campaign involved fighting mechs exclusively.  My magic was useless, and I somehow did not have a long range weapon.  The battles were painful.  I used my electric breath inside of a closed room, injuring two of my own party.  “I am not being invited back for the full campaign,” was all I could think.  I did strike the final blow that killed one of the larger monsters, at which time the DM requested I describe the death.  I was way too excited about that.

“As I shoot him with electricity, you don’t even see anything come out, just electric bolts shooting between his skin and armor as you hear the crackling and then he EXPLODES FROM THE INSIDE OUT!”

“Oh, God.  Too far, Racheal.  Reign it in,” was all I could think. It was, however, too late.  I had already gone pretty far overboard with that description.  Oh, well. I was never getting invited back anyway.

I got invited back!

For the first time I would embark on a long term campaign.  It would have a goal of meeting once per week with a probable reality of meeting every other week.  The game is played online and over the phone.  Two of us are Americans, two are Scottish, and one is British.  I am a Tiefling noble-born fighter.

MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE RANCH . . .

My kids’ Cub Scout troop has a few kids who play/would like to play.  One of the den leaders volunteered to DM.  I volunteered to host at my huge dining room table, and we began a campaign at the exact same time as my online game.  Two players plus the DM are adults.  We are mainly there to steer the game back on course.  The other players are 9-11 years old.  I am a dwarven druid.

MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE . . . OTHER RANCH . . .

I played a one-shot at the local game shop.  It was the most fun I had had in ages.  After the game, I promptly looked up the other players on Facebook and embraced my inner creep as I friended them all in hopes of getting a lead on a future game.  It worked!  One of the players was looking to start up a game.  She had a DM and another player.  The exact same weekend my other two campaigns started, I embarked on an adventure with these folks.  Again we used my house, because my dining room table is ridiculous with the leaves in.  I am a half-elf rogue.

All three games run pretty much parallel.  They seem to get cancelled on the same weeks.  We have made it to level two in all three games. Usually I have one campaign Sunday morning, the other Sunday afternoon, and my online game on Monday.

I have no clue what I am doing, but I am having fun doing it.

I can’t believe I waited until the age of 42 to try this.  It is amazing.  When the DM showed up at my house, unpacked his gear, and said, “I have several colors of sticky notes if you need them,” I knew I’d found my people.

My First Dungeons and Dragons

I arrive at the game store. Sporting a shiny new Player’s Handbook in my arms and a set of dice from the Starter Kit in my pocket, I ignore my humming nerves, enter, and observe.

This establishment had advertised something called “D&D Encounters” on Wednesday nights.  I had done my research, and learned that “Encounters” is something promoted by the creators of DnD in order to make it more accessible to new players and to those without time to dedicate to a full campaign.  It is, as I understand it, a one-shot game every week, for level one characters.  This sounded perfect for me.  I had no desire to commit to a campaign I would not be able to maintain, and I especially did not want to saddle a Dungeon Master with a brand new player against his/her expectations.  Just to be sure, I had emailed the establishment to confirm this meetup was for newbies and people with limited availability.  I was told that there were Wednesday night games that had open slots available, and that people pop in and out all of the time.  It wasn’t exactly what I was asking, but it was close.  I was told to arrive early so I could meet the DM and roll up a character if need be.  I was terrified, but I need external interaction so badly right now.  I have always ALWAYS wanted to try tabletop RPGs.  I had to jump in somewhere, and this sounded promising.  So I had decided to go, had my mom watch the kids, and wound up here.

Several tables are occupied by people playing games, but unfortunately none feature a sign stating, “Dungeons and Dragons Noobs over Here!” I take an eternity in front of the cold case, taking deep breaths and selecting a fruity soda.  As I pay, I ask the bartender about the “Encounters” group for newcomers. She sees this listed on their chart, but doesn’t know which group it is.  She asks a man I figure is the owner.  He points toward the back room and says he’s pretty sure those tables have room for new players.  Neither DM has arrived.  He tells me to pick a table and see how it goes.

Ummm, okay.  That’s not my worst nightmare or anything.  I have flashbacks to finding a seat in the school cafeteria.  I almost run away.

Almost.

I stay.

The current clues do not bode well. My fear had been that I would show up and find myself in the middle of someone’s campaign, that a DM would have to try to teach me how to play while running an ongoing game. It now seems like this was exactly what I am about to do.

I peek into the back room. Seated at one table are a couple of kids who tell me that they will be playing an original game one of them has made up.  They say the other table will be playing DnD.  They don’t exactly invite me to play with them, but hint that new players are always welcome. I, however, know that I won’t be able to attend regular Wednesday game sessions, so I don’t want to impose on their game for just one evening.  Plus I am still hoping the DnD table will be single shot games I can play once a month. Besides, these kids are all a good two decades younger than me and sport multicolored hair. Obviously that iss the cool kids’ table. I have never belonged at the cool kids’ table.

I sit at the other table, the one that will be playing DnD and is occupied by a guy closer to my own age. At first I hope his is the GM and I introduce myself.  He tells me the GM hasn’t arrived yet and we chat about general nonsense. A couple of other guys show up, all of us as awkward as one would expect, and finally the GM gets there as well. He welcomes me as a new player and seems nice enough.

He asks if I have a character. I do!. I built one on an online generator, and admittedly don’t know what a bunch of the attributes mean. He looks over my character. Apparently it is all wrong.  My stats don’t match up with my personality traits, etc.

Also, my character is a level one.

I need to be a level three.
Because they are in the middle of an ongoing campaign.

Crap.

At this point I know I probably won’t be able to play with these guys regularly – unless we can make my character hibernate at regular intervals. Like Brigadoon.  I am otherwise engaged three Wednesdays a month.  My dreams of joining a one-shot game once a month to learn the ropes are pretty much dashed all to hell at this point.  I have made it this far, however, so I may as well finish out the evening.

There is no time to roll up a new character for me, as the GM was a bit late to begin with.  He doctors my character up to a level 3 and corrects some of the things that were wrong with her.  He asks some questions, and gives the deep sigh when I don’t know the answers.  The other players are extremely patient, counting out their dice and looking up things in their books.  I apologize for taking up the time, but they all respond with a general, “Hey, we were all new at some point” thing which is super nice.

Finally my character is less atrocious and the game starts. Immediately the GM turns to me and says, “I can’t keep poofing players in and out of the game whenever someone new shows up, so you’ll have to wait while I figure out a way to work you in to the story.” Okay, fine. I completely understand. I didn’t mean to intrude on an ongoing game, but here I am and I am aware that makes things more difficult for the GM. I am certainly not trying to trash him here, because I do know I put him in a bad spot.

It does feel a bit less welcome-y though.  Especially when two of the guys next to me point out that they are in a forest and I’m a rogue thief, so it would make sense for me to kind of appear out of the woods.

“I’m not doing that.” the GM replies.

The group is in a forest, having just rested.  They are immediately attacked by some sort of fire monster whose name I didn’t catch.  It takes me a bit to realize that the little cardboard circles on the table represent the fire monsters.  It doesn’t matter, however, because I’m not in play.  I watch the game play, and the guy next to me whispers, “I’m sure he’ll get you in the game soon.”  I reply, “It’s okay.  It’s helpful just to watch what’s happening.”  I can tell he’s annoyed on my behalf, though, which helps to diminish my own annoyance.

During the battle, a couple of other guys show up — first timers who are friends of one of the other guys.  Now the GM has to deal with three of us.  They borrow characters from their friend, so they don’t need to develop anything.

The GM winds up more or less “poofing” us all into the game.  “You are drawn to the sounds of the battle.”

During the battles I learn the difference between “open to new/beginning players,” and “geared towards beginning players.” While everyone is friendly and patient with me, the game moves so quickly I can’t keep track. We are still under attack by a swarm of . . . those fire related monsters. I can’t tell who is rolling to attack and who is rolling some sort of reaction. When it is my turn, the GM hands me additional dice and tells me what to roll and adds up the numbers, and I spend the next couple of turns scouring my character sheet to find out where all of those numbers came from. (After my second turn at battle, I find that I have been doing a ‘sneak attack,’ which is why I’ve been needing to roll a second d6.  I still have no idea, however, why I had the sneak attack, or when it applied.)

What I had hoped for – what I still hope to find – is a DM who will narrate the game the way I do for the kids. “The monster is attacking that player and the roll comes up with this number which is a hit, so I will roll this and the damage done is that.” Yes, I am saying I need to be treated like a child.

That is not what is happening here.  It feels like dice are rolling and damage is happening and I have no idea what is going on or whose turn it is. I roll when I am told to roll, and attack when my name comes up.  I don’t feel like I’m learning how to play.  I am just perpetually confused.  And stressed.  Every turn I get, I try to figure out quickly what I’m to do, but the GM just keeps pressing dice into my hand like they don’t have time to sit and wait for me to catch up.  (It is only later at home that I realize the other players all had to take a few minutes to check their sheets or their spell cards or whatever during their turns.  It is only me who is being rushed.  Even the other two new guys are given time.)

The battle ends, one of the characters heals us all, we are dealt experience points.   Our group decides to press on instead of resting, and we are attacked by . . . some sort of water creature.  We are still in the forest.

During these battles, I do realize quickly that having your numbers leveled up is not the same as actually playing a character until she levels up organically. Everyone else has developed spells and armor and abilities, while my character is pretty basically equipped.  I have a dagger and a shortsword, and some light armor.  I deliberately have no magic, because I knew I’d be struggling to keep up and didn’t want to complicate things further.

This is how every round of battle goes:
Other Player – throws up a wall of fire or some such. Damages all of the monsters on the north end.
Another Player – blows a gale force wind knocking back all of the monsters 20 feet.
Me – walks up to the closest monster and pokes it with my dagger.

It gets a bit embarrassing and futile feeling before too long.

I think the DM may be skipping me, but I can’t tell for sure and I don’t really care.
By the end of the game, I know that this particular group is not mine. I have learned quite a bit, however, and would say I had a good time. I believe I will find my group eventually, I just don’t click with the dynamics of this one.

Lessons Learned:
I learned that there are SO MANY kinds of dice. Some people come to the table with boxes full of of a kaleidoscope of dice. Others bring out only one or two sets of fancy and obviously expensive dice.
I learned that you need more than one set of dice to play.
I learned that a d8 and a d10 look remarkably similar to each other.
I learned that I should use pregenerated characters until I know what I’m doing.
I learned that it takes about 20 seconds, in a room of the right people, for a heated discussion about Firefly to begin.
I learned that if you (I) roll a one during an attack, you miss the target and wind up shooting your own paladin with your arrow. I also learned the Paladin will not get mad about it.
I learned that a new player (or at least me) should either find a group of friends who play and join them, or find an event that is geared specifically to new players so the GM can plan on teaching while playing.
I learned that maybe next time I should give the cool kids’ table a try.