How Dungeons and Dragons may have saved my life

That’s a pretty big statement – actually, it’s a massive statement.

But in some ways, I think it is true.

When I came to China, most of my friendship groups developed from people I taught with or the agencies I worked through. After that, there were disparate groups of people that didn’t really form strong communities. It’s not to say that some of these people are good friends – I went to a great 38th birthday on Monday night.

However, it is the Dungeons and Dragons/tabletop roleplaying games community that has been incredibly welcoming. Even on Twitter, searching the hashtag #dnd #dnd5e #ttrpg #ttrpgfamily and #ttrpgsolidarity will see communities of people discussing their campaigns, brainstorming ideas and generally supporting each other.

What got me hooked?

I have to thank a Colombian friend of mine that I met here in Shenzhen. He said that he ran some games in the past, and was looking to join a new campaign. I admitted that I was interested in playing, but had never done so before. I am convinced that it must be like a drug – once you start rolling the dice in your story, it’s easy to get hooked.

Before long, I was in a weekly campaign playing the Elemental Evil module, better known as the Princes of the Apocalypse. To be honest, our DM (a Roman – literally, he was from Rome) was a bit strict in terms of the races we could play, but our group seemed determined to play against type. I started off as a wood elf bard disguised as a human. I was joined by my Colombian friend, a guy who moved to Alaska, an Indian-Australia, a white American man and a Black American woman. We had a collection of people join us for the odd session here and there. We had some amazing events, including thorn-whipping a unicorn (the result of a roll on the Wild Magic Surge table) through the window of a tower while we were riding griffons, running a bath house, getting killed by a joke book, swapping bodies, and dealing with the undead.

Unfortunately, I had to leave that campaign due to the need to pick up on my Chinese language skills. Even then, the stress of life and COVID kicked in, and I bailed out of those lessons. My Colombian friend, Aris, reached out to me and asked if I wanted to join an online campaign. I jumped at the chance. We were mostly at home, and couldn’t travel to each other’s homes for games, so this was going to be the next best option. Firing up Roll20 and WeChat, we would battle across medieval Russia, as our DM required us to tell a tale of the fantasy sacking of St Petersburg.

Right now, I’m about to finish an online campaign (I think) that details the expansion of the Mongolian empire after the death of Genghis Khan, while a face-to-face campaign is starting up soon that will take place in a fantasy land.

What else helped you?

There are a few streams that I follow closely.

For many people, Critical Role has played a vital role in explaining Dungeons and Dragons, tabletop roleplaying and generally supporting each other. I’ve also enjoyed the silliness of the Oxventurers Guild, who were profiled as part of a piece in the Guardian a couple of years ago. Dimension 20 and their wide range of short campaigns has been amazing too, even though I’ve nearly really watched any of them through.

On top of that, I now listen to a LOT of podcasts that include D&D campaigns. Those campaign podcasts include:

As you can see, I listen to a lot of campaigns – and the love and support they give each other is immense.

Why has it helped me?

During periods when I have been struggling with my mental and emotional health, there were days when I wasn’t keen to play. Those that have played with me a lot will have spent a lot of time with me – potentially hundreds of hours. When you think about it like that, you might spend more time with some of these people than you will with some of your family members or other close friends.

It was some of the these players that clued in to me, and checked in on a regular basis. When I said that I wasn’t feeling good and wasn’t in the right frame of mind to play, the entire group of men (at the time, the group was all men) all supported the decision. We postponed our session for the next week, and continued on as normal. As it was, this were little blips on my path, but I think it’s important that these friends or people you play with are there for you.

In some ways, it’s like the people in your sports club, the people you work with, the people you socialize with. You might not show your emotional side to your closest family members because you feel like you need to show a certain side of yourself to them. However, as you spend more time with other groups, they get a radar into who you are – it’s why things like RUOK Day, when done right, has enormous potential to support those struggling with their mental and emotional health.

Who to thank

Well… I want to thank my friends for looking out for me. There are people here in Shenzhen and now around the world who check in with each other because we roll dice and tell a story together. Equally, the D&D and TTRPG community online that continues to support each other through the toughest of times.

What do you think about this? What group has helped you with your mental and emotional health? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.


2 thoughts on “How Dungeons and Dragons may have saved my life

  1. It’s super interesting to read about your life in China. And as someone who never had D&D here (wasn’t popular in Malaysia growing up), it’s interesting to read about that too. Thanks so much for sharing!


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