My dad stood up sharply, his face was red: “It’s not fair. They shouldn’t all die!” My high school friends and I didn’t know how to react. It was several long beats before I decided what to do.
I began playing tabletop games long before they were called tabletop games. My first experience with Dungeons and Dragons was when I was ten. I think it was the first edition. My keenest memory is being stopped from entering a castle by a horde of goblins and then weeks later my mom putting her foot down that I couldn’t play anymore when I wigged out that my character might die if I missed a week. I got you beat, Stranger Things.
It didn’t stop me for long. A couple years later, I was back rolling dice, playing Cyberpunk, Earthdawn, and a few others, but always, always back to Dungeons and Dragons.
This game helped develop my creative mind, sharpening my storytelling abilities, enlivening my propensity for world building, and embracing things with epic scopes. I can’t shut my imagination off; ideas I have keep growing and growing and growing and growing… (I can hear Pee-Wee Herman’s mad cackle in the back of my mind between each repetition.)
That’s only part of the reason why I am so thankful for Dungeons and Dragons. For the past two years, I’ve met every week with the same four gentlemen to go on adventures. Not only have we gone up against great adversaries in-game, but we’ve been there for each other out of game, through some serious ups and down. Those are bonds that are hard to put aside. I have other various groups or friends I sometimes play regularly with, sometimes irregularly. These are friendships that either became friends due to roleplaying or have only grown stronger because of Dungeons and Dragons.
Even more than friendship, in my teens, my parents accepted that I wasn’t going to get away from gaming and instead of trying to talk me down from it, my dad joined a campaign I was DM’ing. I remember one afternoon playing in my grandmother’s basement. My dad was there with my friends. They were trying to save a large group of people who had been taken against their will, to mine deep below the Earth. Knowing that the band of adventurers were coming, the villains put their slaves under a net full of rocks, ready to cut the rocks at any second, crushing their hostages. My dad attacked the goblin in charge of cutting the rope, it wasn’t quite a good enough roll, and the goblin cut the rope before dying, crushing the hostages. My dad jumped to his feet: “It’s not fair. They shouldn’t all die!” It wasn’t that he raised his voice that quieted us, it was that there was such empathy and passion in his voice. It startled all of us. After a few moments, I backed down, realizing I had only let them die for the sake of misplaced drama. Instead, I backed down, and I let half of them die. A bittersweet victory as opposed to a complete loss. I learned a lot in that moment, about drama and about empathy. Cruelty isn’t necessarily drama, and empathy is a powerful tool for change. It might seem ridiculous, but it’s not. You can learn a lot from reading, but when you are a part of the story being told, moments like that stick with you to an even greater degree.
At the time, it wasn’t something I gave much credence to, but looking back on it, what an awesome and powerful way for a parent to actively take part in their child’s life. He later committed to starting a comic book store on a whim based on my suggestion. I helped him run the store during my high school years, when Magic the Gathering was first introduced, but that’s a whole other story.
I think this is a story that is shared by many gamers. The fact that it can exist across the spectrum of so many different types of people is incredible. It makes me think about the episode of The IT Crowd titled “Jen the Fredo” when Moss takes a group of crass, misogynistic Corporate Executives, only looking for a “good time” on a D&D adventure, and ends up bringing closure to Roy who was suffering from a recent breakup. It was hilarious, and even though exaggerated, it was surprisingly accurate. It brought tears to my eyes.
Through adventuring in fictional lands between fictional characters, I have built friendships that I’ll never forget. I developed a bond with my father that will always stay with me. My friends and I have laughed, argued, and survived some of the most intense nights of game play I’ve ever lived through; caught in the same daydream, parts of ourselves live in the wilderness of Faerun, the sewers of Waterdeep, the swamps of Shadowfell, or the chaos of astral plane, we journey together in our imaginations and in life. I’m not one to exclaim this without reason, but… Huzzah!