This post arose out of a period of loss in our immediate family. It is…sadder than what we normally share, and it deals with death. It’s not all sad, and most of the post is a meditation on what’s so particularly special about duet D&D. But I wanted you to have fair warning for the reflection that follows.
I know I’m not the first to write about D&D serving as an outlet during a time of stress, depression, or loss. I think that this version of storytelling and the solace it brings is actually something a lot of us have in common.
I found my way to playing duet D&D because of my partner Jonathan’s invitation and persistence. He had put so much work into setting up the world of our campaign and helping me with my character that I couldn’t refuse. (Read more about that here.)
But I found my way much deeper into D&D, and I uncovered the true depth-potential of this storytelling form because of stress and depression, primarily surrounding my PhD examinations at the time. But if you know the angst of not being where you’re supposed to be while a) knowing the thing you want is out there, you just don’t know what it is and b) immersing yourself in a load of stress because you couldn’t find the other intended path, then you understand how I was feeling.
D&D helped me learn to cope with my anxiety by providing me with an outlet. Instead of stressing about things beyond my control, I would think about which spells I should pick up for my PC or interesting problem solving tactics for her to try during diplomatic negotiations.
I think this would have worked for any form of D&D, but I have been trying to put my finger, lately, on what is particularly special about duet gaming. Is it the intimacy and focus on a single character’s story that makes it so wonderful and helpful? Is it particularly helpful for those of us who are introverts and might struggle to RP in the same way in a group setting? Is it the connection to my partner and the stories, worlds, and characters we’ve shared together?
Of course it’s all of this and more.
In November of last year, my dad was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. Though we’d kept a close eye out for something along these lines, before his diagnosis, he was doing great. And after that trip to the hospital, he went downhill so fast.
I got to see him twice at the end of last year, just after Thanksgiving, right before he started chemo, and a few weeks after, when they brought him home on hospice. By then he couldn’t speak very well. On January 1st of this year, after a week at my parents’ house, I told him goodbye, and Jonathan and I returned home.
We were playing our first D&D session of the new year when my little sister called to say that they couldn’t detect a heartbeat anymore.
During that time, our games were one of the only places where I could get enough space from my grief to be able to process through any of it, to make sense of the world around me.
I saw all of this from an outside perspective a few short months later when Jonathan’s dad died after a few weeks of being sick at the end of April this year. We’ve played D&D with his dad before, so the sense of removal wasn’t quite the same, and it interrupted our being able to play for a while.
Death has been a relatively common theme in our game for several months. But if I hadn’t had the chance to role-play saying goodbye to a loved one as my PC, I don’t know that I would have been able to say goodbye to my dad. And I cannot tell you how grateful I am that I had the chance to do that.
For another part of our family and a close family friend this year, that wasn’t an option, because the deaths were too sudden. And I know that’s been true for far too many families during this ongoing pandemic period.
We started this blog in 2018 (launched January 1st 2019) because we wanted to help other people tell stories with their loved ones. And since then, this blog, you, our amazing community, have turned into so much more.
Inspired by how much writing I was doing both here on the blog and in our adventures, I embarked on fulfilling a lifelong dream of writing and publishing a novel. My third novel will come out in August of this year.
So many of you have reached out to say how much fun you’ve had with a spouse, friend, partner, or child playing in a duet D&D game. That means the world to us! Thank you for your kind messages and continued support!
Because of our work on the blog, I was able to leave my teaching job last summer and start writing full time. It’s been even better than I had imagined it would be.
Through our D&D game, Jonathan and I have deepened our relationship. We get to flirt like we’ve just started dating and express love and commitment through trial. We use stories to explore the power imbalances in the world that we don’t understand. During the pandemic when we were on lockdown, our characters had a festival every other week.
Experiencing so much loss, one after the next, especially of both our fathers in the span of four months, Jonathan and I keep circling back to memento mori, remembering that our lives are short, and one day, we will die. There are few things that bring me as much joy and happiness as well as the richness and depth that I find in duet D&D. I’m so thankful that I get to share these reflections and experiences with you.
I recognize that this post isn’t as sunny as most of what we write for you, but I think it’s important to acknowledge the deeper side of what we’re all doing together, at our separate duet tables. It’s not just escape. There’s a therapeutic power to this form of storytelling, to embodying a heroic (or otherwise notable!) version of ourselves, and to sharing that side, these narratives, with those we’re closest to.
I wish you well, during the wonderful and the difficult times and everything in between.
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