It’s no secret that Dungeons & Dragons is a driving force behind my life. The game has changed so much of my personality and lifestyle, all of which for the better. It is the reason I’m here now, sharing the game and using it to improve other people’s lives. It is the reason I’m here now, just living. Dungeons & Dragons has not only changed my life, it has given me life. This is the story of how I found Dungeons & Dragons, and how the game saved me from ending my life.
Let’s rewind back to the later half of my high school days, circa 2009. Everyone was starting to find their niche, whether it be socially with their friends or professionally with their career paths. I was doing neither. I was not the most social of butterflies, and the friends I did make were few and far between. As far as my career direction, I had no clue. Everything I had tried until then was failing; my acting turned out to be terrible, my drawings were worse than my peers’, and the same seemed to be happening to my writing. Everything I thought I was good at, everything I wanted to be good at, was falling flat. And I was falling apart. With nothing to look forward to, nothing to work towards, I fell into an ever deepening spiral of depression.
Now depression is a hell of a thing. It eats away at your life, consuming the happy bits. And I don’t want to give off the wrong impression, I didn’t have the worst life by any means. My wonderful parents made sure I was well off, and the few friends I did have at the time were great. But still there was this nagging feeling at the base of my soul. It was always there tugging downwards, telling me everything good was fleeting, that my existence was a burden on others, that everything was going to come crashing down soon enough and to do everyone a favor and do it myself. I thought I wasn’t going to achieve anything and make the world better, so I must be a waste of resources. While I never had the knife in my hand or the pills in my mouth, suicide was an option I considered almost every day for quite a number of days.
It was at this time, when the darkness was at its worst, that my friend invited me to come with him to learn Dungeons & Dragons. At this point I figured why not. Even if it ended up being as silly as people thought it was back then (this was before the cultural rebirth that fifth edition and Critical Role inspired) I couldn’t lose anything other than my time, which wasn’t important to me anyway. So we went to the dungeon master’s house, rolled up our characters, and learned the rules of the game. I was set to be Oshi Oreg, a cyborg (homebrew) fighter. I didn’t know it at the time, but Oshi was going to be the vehicle with which I turned my life around.
We returned a few days later to play our first session. I started in the game like most players do, bumbling about social encounters and slowly realizing the true depth to the game. This was not like the video games I had played; it was so much more. I was able to make my own choices, be my own person, and forge my own path. It dawned on me that I could be Oshi, if only for a little while. The idea of being anybody but myself sounded fantastic at the time.
It was around the time of that realization in game when our party was sneaking into a castle through the barracks, filled with guards that outnumbered us 3 to 1. Elsewhere on the grounds was our party’s wizard, who split off to take care of the guard watch. He accomplished this with the least grace known to any wizard by chucking a fireball into the watchtower. The resulting explosion woke up the guards in the barracks. A head on fight would surely spell our doom, so we ran. As we turned to a hallway, we found it filled with guards ready to strike. I was at the head of our group so I made my move. Gripping my greatsword, I made a passing attack. The attack let me move and hit another target with each successful blow. I rolled my dice, and I hit. The first guard went down. I repeated my attack, successfully slicing through the next guard. I repeated a third time, and another guard fell. The whole group was on the edge of their seats. I made an attack against the last guard blocking our escape, hit, and cut him down. Everyone cheered and cried out the name Oshi!
That’s what got me hooked on Dungeons & Dragons; the idea that you could be someone you couldn’t normally be, someone better. When I was at that table I was no longer Andrew, some guy who wasn’t good at anything; I was Oshi, the man who could right wrongs and protect his friends. As more and more sessions passed, Oshi grew as a character. But as a side effect, so did I. By playing out these situations as someone I wanted to be, I learned how to incorporate aspects of Oshi’s personality into my own. I grew as a person, and the confidence that brought inspired me to drag myself out of the hole that was my depression. I was able to build myself into someone I wanted to be, an Oshi of my own accord.
That is the true magic of Dungeons & Dragons to me. The absolute freedom to be whoever you want to be, and the ability to grow as a hero. With the help of Oshi, the game, and my gaming group, I was able to push the darkness back. I’ve grown up so much as a person since then, and a lot of that I can attribute to Dungeons & Dragons. That’s why I’m here now, telling you this story, writing advice for running the game, and running games myself. I want to share the game that has done so much for me. If I can extend a hand to help pull even one person out of that black pit of depression, then all of this will be worth it to me.
All of that being said, depression is a many headed hydra. Dungeons & Dragons may not be the answer to all mental illness. It is a monster many of us have to face, and we need all the weapons we can get. So please, if you feel yourself suffering that same darkness then reach out. I will always be here to help. As will many others. There is a multitude of resources to help treat illnesses. The National Alliance on Mental Illness has plenty of tools to help, as does your local doctor. All you need to do is reach out. You’re not a burden, and we are all here to help.