Why I never tried D&D before today

a jellyfish in very blue water

I got thoughts, and I got feelings. I’m currently coming down from the session, my first ever D&D session, and feeling all the nerves seeping back into me. Like during the session it was mostly fine, but after the session was over my body started to feel weird again. It’s all in all been a very strange day so it may be related to that, or it’s just my body relaxing.

I wanted to start by explaining a little bit about why I’ve never tried D&D before, because that feels relevant to a post like this. Over the past 10 years or so, I’ve noticed myself getting more and more uncomfortable with doing things where I have to improvise, I hate guessing (have for most of my life), and I just feel very very uncomfortable if I don’t know what I’m doing. I can’t join social games, like the Jackbox games that are super popular on Twitch, or like the normal “get to know each other” games with larger social gatherings, like say a guild meetup. I will often make other excuses for why I’m not participating, even if those excuses were true, I’d never tell anyone that I wasn’t participating because it makes me feel uncomfortable/sick to my stomach…

I also don’t actually know when this happened. I think I used to be quite keen to join games as a kid, at kids parties etc, but over the years that part of me just got mangled and kind of destroyed. I don’t know if it was because of my undiagnosed ADHD, or if it was because of other things, or you know a combination of it all.

I knew I was feeling this fear, indescribable fear, for joining anything like this. That’s why I never talked about it. So I just kept avoiding it instead, I’d just watch and observe. And I kept hating that I couldn’t join, because sometimes I wanted to but I just couldn’t get over that fear. I’m sure at times it would seem like I would think I was “too good” for these social games, but that was never the case. I just couldn’t cross that threshold, an no one saw or knew that I needed that extra help to join and feel safe.

About a month ago I wrote a flash fiction (that’s not been published anywhere) about the invisible social rules, and getting judged by a metric I didn’t have access to. And I feel like around that time did I begin to realize that I had over time cut back on things that I used to enjoy, because of how the world around me would often react to things I’d do, because I didn’t understand the normal rules of the game we call life. That did however help me realize that this is what I’ve been doing to myself, and that I’ve stopped doing so many things that I love to do, because I’m afraid. Things that I either already knew I’d love to do, or that I knew I used to love.

So now, about a month later, a friend called for participants for the last spot or so, to a one-shot D&D session, with a group of people they regularly have sessions with, and I dared to say the words “I’d like to join”. I kind of feel like a combination of that introspection, and reading Non-Player Character by Victoria Corva, a book about a group of friends playing a tabletop rpg together, helped me dare cross that line. Because like, yeah I’m a bit weird and stupid, and I might get hung up on stuff, but this is an environment where we’ll be guided through a story, so I don’t have to have all the answers, and I’m allowed to tumble and fall, and we’ll get a good laugh about it together because I wont be the only one falling (yes it’s a reference to the session, I’ll get to that).

I didn’t only ask to join, but I also was able to articulate my needs, like taking a break to get up and move around and drink water or whatever. And say that it was my first game, and that made me nervous. Luckily for me this was the kind of game designed to onboard new players.

When I told Loa that I had signed up for not just a D&D session, but my very first D&D session (and that it was a one-shot) he was like legit excited and happy for me. And I told him about why I haven’t in the past. And I went on to explain why I was able to now, in a much more abbreviate form than this:

I now take medicine for my ADHD, so some of my overwhelming fears of rejection, rejection sensitive dysphoria being an example of that, has lessened. When I regularly take my meds, and there’s nothing else screwing with it (like hormones and stuff), my RSD is a lot milder. Like I’ve had triggers of it with Loa, and just did a 1min cry about something and then able to move on. Instead of it taking 3-4 hrs to come down from just crying inconsolably. So yeah, not having that big of a fear of rejection, made it a lot easier to say yes.

I wasn’t fearing rejection in the sense of them telling me no to join, but rather it’s just a lot of social gatherings through my life where I’m just incompetent I guess. Everyone else is playing according to some other rules that I don’t understand. The normal ADHD / Autism feeling. The worst part is that I most of the time didn’t realize. I just would be very drained afterwards, and feel dejected over time I guess. Or recognize that something was wrong but not understand why. I’ve had more friends than I can count that just kind of turned on a dime for me, from friendship to not friendship, and it’s probably because I did something that didn’t work well with those rules, that I couldn’t see or understand, and that no one told me went wrong. And this fear kept leaking into other aspects of my life.

I’ve spent a lot of years watching streams with D&D, but actually not Critical Role (figured I’d preempt that one), I’ve just found other groups that have interested me and told interesting stories. I used to play a lot of RPG games on the computer too, like Neverwinter Nights and such, so I was familiar with the fighting, and I do love me some turn based fighting.

The thing that scared me was the story and improvising part. Which it turned out was a lot easier to do once I sat down with this group, than I thought it could ever be. Occasionally my mind would freeze and I couldn’t quite get my thoughts out, but the story could move on fine without my input, and that was okay.

I had a very enjoyable evening, and now I’ll probably still be nervous as I keep doing it in the future, and we’ll have to see how drained it’ll have me tomorrow, because this was a lot more social energy than I’ve spent in months. But I do hope to be able to do it again.

And in the meanwhile I’m just going to enjoy my other friend’s book about a group of friends playing a game together.

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