Meet Sheldon Willowbough, also called “Shelly” to his close friends and his normal friends… also his acquaintances, and don’t forget those random strangers on the street. I would even say that one bug on the pavement knows his name too.
Shelly is a Tortle Druid who has been wandering the wilds in search of friendship and adventure. Having come from a cloistered home on a small island Shelly knows very little about the outside world and is almost childlike in his excitement in the search for the new. He’s easily distracted and spends an inappropriate amount of time talking to random animals he finds on the street/that come across his path and I LOVE HIM.
And even though Shelly can use his overt friendliness as a coping mechanism in uncomfortable situations, he cares deeply for those he considers close friends and wants to help those in need. You see Shelly is me and I am him and he reminds me of myself and what parts of me that can and do become expressed whilst playing as him. He is a character I have created and through him, I express my own love for making people feel noticed and accepted. How do you picture him Dear, Reader? He looks and feels like this to me.
Recently I have plunged headfirst into the world that is D&D. For those who have never heard or have only heard whispers behind closed basement dungeon doors as your mom shouts down if anyone needs “snacks” of D&D, it’s a tabletop simulator that lets people create their own characters with which they act through, determined by different dice rolls as they adventure through campaigns created by DM’s, no not those DMs, Dungeon Masters people get it right!
And so far I AM HOOKED! D&D is such a unique experience in how multifaceted it is. From character creation to alignment you control everything about your character. And as I’ve learned through my experiences so far D&D is an act of creation in the purest and richest sense. And what’s wonderful is how you grow with your character, it’s not static, you imagine and play how this person would choose and act and learn about how your character feels and thinks as you progress through the story. As a lover of stories D&D is incredibly addictive, I constantly find myself enthralled by the decisions I make as a character and how much that is the character’s decision and how much that is my own decision and it’s pure bliss for me to dissect the line between the two.
I love D&D because it’s intricate and rewards imagination. If you want a dragon to ride on or have a goat to be your warrior mount a la Brixashulty -yes a character I created absolutely rode one of these in all their Princess Mononoke glory- you can. The possibilities are endless.
The great thing is how you can put as little or as much effort as you want into the character you create. As a player, I’ve had people around the table say they have amnesia and make up their character on the fly, to players whose life goal was to spread the word of Iesous Christos whilst riding a noble steed -a donkey- in a world where this deity did not exist, nor was known by anyone else but themselves, and it was AMAZING.
D&D also gives you a sense of power, your actions as adventurers have weight and consequence in a very real and concrete way affecting the world around you in ways you can’t see straight away. Granted this is very much dependent on the DM and how they want to create and approach their world. But as an example to illustrate just how wonderful the moments you can create are, in our last session the party ended up infiltrating an orc encampment, after drinking orc disguising potions, of around 145 occupants made up of orcs and various other Sauron-esque monsters in the hopes of finding useful information to help the nation of Noftia -the city we were hired to help- thwart the orcs attempts to invade them.
And what started as a basic infiltration mission literally ended up in a climax of destruction, followed by a daring escape as our party used a mind-controlling spell to charm an orc, then with that orc’s help, we fired the orc encampment’s own war machine trebuchet into the center of the entire encampment as they were in the middle of a blood sacrifice ceremony. And just before we managed to fire the trebuchet our wizard created a dense fog which we then used as cover to burn down said war machine watching as the entire war camp descended into chaos and madness followed by us escaping across a half-built bridge that was connected by a tower connector as Noftia’s esteemed cavalry crested the top of the bridge full charge reminiscent of the legendary scene in the Lord of the Rings where Gandalf and the Rohirrim overrun the orcs in Helms Deep sweeping them away entirely. A complete victory. Flawless you could even say.
And that’s the beauty of D&D, it lets you imagine, it lets you create, and finally, it lets you experience and simulates what this character you have created will go through. Recently we had literature week at my school and I asked my students why they think literature is important? Why should we read and use our imagination? And most weren’t sure at first but we discussed it and slowly, after a handy YouTube video, we considered how literature has the ability to make people nicer.
Literature allows you to see life through other characters’ perspectives. You can experience their successes and heartbreaks. You can see the consequences of their actions made, not only understand but also empathize and feel how these characters feel as well as those around them when they make mistakes. Literature teaches us kindness, we are characters who give back to the community, it teaches us lessons we could never learn in our own lifetime, we are the mother who looks after her kids when she has nothing left for herself, we are the good, the bad, and the weird of society when we read literature. And much-like literature, this is the experience I have been gifted with playing D&D.
I’ll never forget my first time playing. I was nervous and unsure and had no idea what I was doing and as I was explaining what my character would say, one of the guys at the table said to me, “Don’t talk and explain, just play.” And it’s a sentiment that looking back I now realize is a really excellent way of encompassing the nature and beauty of D&D and it’s something I really appreciate.
For those who have never experienced D&D and consider it nerdy and childish, you’re right it can be that. It is a game that is fundamentally driven by the players surrounding its table. But it’s in those silly and silent moments outside of the epic battles and the looting of slain enemies for EXP and gold as esteemed “Murder Hobos” that the real story takes place. Much like our favorite stories that we grew up with and love, it’s what’s unsaid that gives us the most out of the experience. It’s the reading between the lines of the characters and the people playing them. It’s laughter around a table of friends as we plan, blast, and loot our way through an epic adventure.
It’s in the understanding of who our characters are as well as and finally, in the lessons, we learn about ourselves as we progress through our own stories alongside the friends we have made along the way.