I’m about to tell you about the most important boy in my life.
No, it’s not my partner. (I’m a lesbian in a long-term relationship.)
It’s my Dungeons & Dragons character.
I started playing tabletop RPGs in April of last year. Jacob and I were doing a show together, and he’d got me listening to The Adventure Zone on my way to work and rides to the theater. One day, as we walked back to grab our stuff after rehearsal, he just asked me, “Do you want to play D&D with me?”
He asked my girlfriend and my roommate to play, too. About two weeks later, Prince Quinoa IV of New Ark (I mostly call him Quin) came into being. He started off based on Pippin, the lead character from my favorite musical, a dream role that I’ll probably never get to play. This was a chance for me to step into that space and make it my own.
Quin’s a half-elf prince from the island kingdom of New Ark. He’s recently run away from home after the death of his father, prior to which he was training at seminary. He’s a bright and sweet kid on a mission to find what he’s truly good at, something “completely fulfilling.”
He’s evolved a lot since his inception and has taken on a life of his own. I’ve placed him in a high school urban fantasy campaign with my longtime cosplay friends and a post-apocalyptic Mad Max story with some fellow writers. Each time I drop him into a new setting, I learn something new.
Quin’s become a part of me, ingrained fully into my mind. Playing with him and working through problems in a safe fictional fantasy space has been a real joy—but it’s also taught me useful skills and coping mechanisms.
That’s where tabletop gaming stops being just a hobby for me and starts becoming something more. I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and pretty frequent panic attacks. They’ve been around since I was a kid, but I was only diagnosed formally in high school. Prior to this, my episodes of panic had been described by others as “tantrums” or “being a drama queen,” which was something I never really appreciated, as I often felt I couldn’t control my behavior or the thoughts and feelings swirling through my mind and body. I still don’t feel I have a complete grasp over my own agency and the things that happen to me due to my struggle with GAD.
With Quin, though, there’s a little bit of a safe space to work through some of those emotions. He’s got anxiety, too, and it’s something that we work with often. When I’ve had a particularly tough time, it’s helpful to step into his shoes, move through a constructed world where I know I’m safe to explore the choices and what if’s that consistently run through my mind. Quin’s got a support system from his party in his stories, and watching him navigate that helps remind me even in my toughest moments that I have people who’ll help me along.
I often have difficulty in social situations, particularly ones where I’m unfamiliar with people or have to speak quickly and on my feet, like in meetings. I talk a lot about how the fighting part of D&D is really a necessary evil for me—I’ve never been great in a fight, even in video games. I’m simply not a combative person. What I play video games for is the cutscenes, little moments of filmic character interaction that move the plot along. The exciting thing about tabletop gaming is that you get to control what happens in these scenes. They’re good practice, and it helps me work on making choices in a timely manner with real stakes—and I can learn from what Quin experiences. I’m still not so great with conversation and meeting new people, but he’s helping me work on it.
I talk a lot about agency in my work. As someone with an anxiety disorder, feeling like I have control over my actions and reactions is something that’s really important to me. I can’t say I can control everything that happens to me, just like I’m still working to get a hold of my anxiety. But Quin’s helped me to discover a side of myself that’s strong enough to work through a situation, come out the other side, and remember that I can do it again. Thinking about him and his party members, even just in hypothetical situations, brings a big goofy smile to my face as I’m coming down from an episode. In a way, this fantasy world helps bring me back to reality and face my challenges head on.
I can’t wait to see what he does next.