Dungeons & Drama
I have the honor of being a dramaturge for this fall’s theatre production at our school. My dear friend Tyler (who is participating in the campaign I’m DMing) chose one of my favorite scripts (that makes it sound like it was my idea— it was not. He is much cooler and more informed than I am). It’s called She Kills Monsters and it’s about a sister who processes the grief of her sister’s death through a specially home-brewed one-off for her.
It takes place in the 90’s, so Tyler has had them research the best of all the decades (including watching 10 Things I Hate About You as a cast). In order to better inform them about Dungeons & Dragons, he invited me and I brought Josh.
I’m sure it was all a bit overwhelming, but when you think about it, D&D should come naturally to theatre students. After all, it is glorified collaborative storytelling. They are acting and role-playing as someone else.
Was I talking about theatre or D&D with those last two sentences? Trick question. BOTH sentences apply to BOTH activities.
Some of the students know my background and why I’m “qualified” to teach them about D&D, but I gave a brief overview for those who were unfamiliar.
I thought it was weird. My boyfriend (Josh) started playing it while we were dating. I told him it was weird and I didn’t want him to talk to me about it. After we got married, I sat and watched them play a game. I realized it was just a really fun storytelling game, with acting and improv aplenty. I started playing. We made a podcast. The rest is history.
So I then addressed the history of D&D with the students, and the stigma attached to it. I specifically mentioned the James Dallas Egbert III case from the 1980s, and how many claim the game is dangerous, satanic, and will lead to suicide, furthered by Patricia Pulling after her son completed suicide in the 80s. She then took the initiative to start the organization BADD (Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons), which worked to spread the word of the menacing, demonic nature of this game. The kicker is that D&D is often a respite or an escape for people who are suffering from a mental illness or struggle with suicide ideation. Having a tight-knight community, like a D&D group, provides something to look forward to, people to cling to, and an activity to preoccupy your mind with. I'm not saying it's a fix-all and it by no means is a magical solution, but many teenagers are lonely. And the demographic that D&D tends to attract are teenagers who society has not welcomed in open arms. There is an understanding, or at least an element of empathy, with most of the D&D groups I have witnessed.
EDIT: In no way do I think that being a part of a D&D group should replace visiting a mental health professional. Seeking help and addressing whatever may be going on is the most valuable step in taking care of yourself. This experience of a supportive community is just that— a support system.
The tone of a D&D game is totally set upon the Dungeon Master. If the DM is someone who enjoys satanic and/or demonic elements, that's what the game is going to focus on. I, personally, as a DM, enjoy socio-political drama (like a fantastical House of Cards situation, obviously with Claire in power). Other DM's really enjoy combat and don't rely much on exposition or storytelling. In the same way that a teacher dictates the content of their classroom, a DM is going to dictate the content of their game. Play with someone you trust. Someone you jive with. They’ll immerse you in a world you are bound to fall in love with.
The facet of D&D that we focused on the most with the theatre students was character creation. Tyler specifically asked me to walk them through the process so they could see the amount of work that is put into characters, and the amount of creativity and knowledge it takes to complete one. After all, fleshing out a character in a play is just another way of building a character. You should know what your character’s flaws, bonds, ideals, and even what they eat for breakfast every day. You should know them as if they were a real person.
The best part of this experience was the amount of students who have come to find me at school since then to talk. Word of the podcast is trickling out. A few new D&D groups have been formed, sparked by the theatre kids’ interest in the game. Several theatre students have tried to schedule appointments during the day to create their own D&D character. In fact, there’s been enough of a demand that I’m going to host a character creation session in the next few weeks. I’m excited about their excitement, their passion, and I hope that through this experience, they can find a respite.
Because being a teenager is hard. These students are battling depression, anxiety. Some of them have PTSD from traumatic experiences like abuse. Some of them just went through break-ups and are nursing broken hearts. They deserve to be who they want to be in a world of their own creation. I cannot wait to hear of their adventures and see the bonds formed through their experiences.
And if you need a community like that too, I bet you will be welcomed with open arms.