Recently, one of our readers asked Jonathan on Twitter why I (Beth) kept playing D&D after we started our duet. He and his wife have been considering playing, but she still has some reservations after some negative experiences in the past, and he was hoping I might be able to help.
I thought this was a really interesting question, and I’m going to do my best to answer it, especially since it was just last week that I wrote about when I almost stopped playing. So instead, this is the story of when I fell in love with the world’s most popular rpg.
Put simply, there are three primary reasons I fell in love with D&D and playing in a duet: my character, creative writing, and quality time together.
Part of why I was hesitant to play D&D in the first place was that I thought the rules would be too restrictive and wouldn’t allow me creative freedom to move a character or a story in a way that felt interesting or organic. I’ve actually found the reality to be quite the opposite; I’m constantly inspired and amazed by the Wizards of the Coast writers and all of the homebrew content amassed across the internet, not to mention the gorgeous art made by so many creators or the way RPGs have morphed and developed over the years.
I’ve always thought of myself as a writer, and that has translated into several short stories and plans for novels along with countless journals. Fiction-wise, I’ve been working on one character since middle school, and I understand her pretty well, but none of that has come close to the attachment and level of depth and connection I feel to my player character in our game.
When Things Started to Change
After we’d been playing for a few weeks, I started novel-izing our campaign, reaching forward in time and developing the relationships between the various characters as I thought they might turn out several years down the line or towards the end of their adventures. This added a really special buy-in for me; the novel form is my most treasured art genre, and it was a natural way for me to explore depth and characterization. I was still working on my comfort level with RP then, which was in turn adversely affecting my ability to develop and understand my character in-game.
Just after the disastrous rat encounter that we wrote about a few ago, our main NPC started asking my character questions, and that was when the RP aspect of play really clicked for me. As the relationship between the two of them developed, my levels of investment and fun skyrocketed. My character was no longer an archetype stuck in a situation that she was trying to solve, but her life was full of vivid detail, memories, and meaning, and I had the exciting task of discovering what they were.
In one of Jonathan’s recent posts, he talks about our different DMing styles—he sticks with the big picture and I stay in the smaller details. Playing to our strengths in that way has been so beneficial for us, but this is another area where my feelings toward the game changed. Getting more of a say in the worldbuilding and character development increased my enjoyment in this shared storytelling pastime.
Building a World and Characters
I started the worldbuilding process in reverse of most DMs, moving from my character out to different countries and places. As I wrote and added to her backstory, that spilled over into other people she knew, to her family, and to the political and personal situations that had led to the circumstances of her personal and communal story.
I moved from writing her backstory to working on backstories for several other characters and their families. Then I created NPCs and their backstories and connected those individual narratives into larger global ones that joined with our game’s overarching storyline and situation.
This writing process translated out-of-game as well, so we were able to create and brainstorm together while having breakfast, driving, walking our dogs, etc.
On a more personal note, D&D has been amazing for my mental health. I’m in a PhD program, and my qualifying exams were last fall. I had already been dealing with anxiety and depression, but the emotional and mental stress of the exams was making both of those things worse.
One of the thought patterns of anxiety is getting stuck on something and turning it over and over again. Obsessing about my exams in that way was really damaging, and wondering if I would pass or fail didn’t do anything to help me study or make constructive progress.
D&D to the Rescue
But D&D was the perfect outlet. I could work on problem-solving in-game, develop characters’ stories and various narratives for us to try out, or create the history and geography of a particular place and culture instead of mulling over things I couldn’t control but couldn’t get my mind away from either.
And I don’t say any of this lightly. Writing and creating, for me, is part of who I am. D&D allows me to practice making sense of the world in the way that’s most natural to me, with my best friend.
Literature has served, throughout my life, as a way of making sense of others and the world, and writing has helped me to process and dig deeper. Even though there are so many things happening today that are much bigger than me, that are devastating and incomprehensible, writing for and playing our D&D game has opened up opportunities to try to wrap my mind around systemic evils, inhumane power structures, and unrelenting greed.
Concomitant with that imaginative work, I get to embody and act as a character who is doing all she can to stand up to those forces, who is seeking to find out how the world might be bettered and what she can do to make a new, more equitable reality. I know in the grand scheme of things, all of that is rather small, but I also believe that we have to be able to imagine a new and better world before we can create it in actuality.
Part of Something Bigger
This hobby, shared by millions, is really incredible in what it allows each of us to do and practice. I love engaging with texts and forms that people all over the world are exploring and playing with too. In a world that can feel so impersonal, so overwhelming, it’s a reminder of care, hope, and collaboration.
I believe that art allows us to experience beauty and attempt to understand someone else’s truth. To share that practice with the person who means the most to me in the world and millions of other people that I may never see or meet but am still connected to, that’s the kind of “staggering to the imagination” that, to me, life and wonder are all about.
Returning to the Question
I’m not sure if this answers our reader’s question or not. It probably doesn’t. But this answer is, to me, more honest than one that discusses strategy, or how cool druids are, or how much I love playing a beautiful redheaded half-elf.
On a less personal note, I would add briefly that playing D&D is fun and that the community is amazing. Our games constantly surprise me, and I appreciate the regular opportunities for us to create something for one another and to spend genuine, purposeful time together.
If you have any questions for me or want to share what you enjoy about your own duet, please feel free to leave a comment below.
If you like what you’re reading, please consider supporting the blog by purchasing our adventures and supplements in our shop or on DMsGuild or sponsoring us on Patreon. We’d also love for you to follow us on Twitter and Instagram. We appreciate you so much! Thank you for reading. – Beth and Jonathan