In recent years, the OG tabletop roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons has taken off into mainstream success. With much of today’s pop culture surrounding what was once reserved for nerds in the past, the cult classic game was bound to become a mainstream hit. For many college students, playing Dungeons & Dragons is part of a student’s first sense of freedom. The game is something many have always wanted to try, but never had enough interested friends to play.
That’s basically how my story started: I was an eager freshman looking to do something creative and fun with my pals. I was in the second semester of my freshman year when my teacher took our class to the school library to do some research. Near where I was looking, I happened to come across the player’s handbook for Dungeons & Dragons, and the rest was history.
I always thought the game would be complicated to play, but within an hour or two of reading, I was already prepared to make my first character. Soon I was excitedly beginning to write my first campaign, not knowing it would be the only campaign I’d ever write.
I showed my friends how to make their own characters and I even bought dice for everyone. My friends were super excited to play and experience a fantasy world where they could be anyone but themselves for a few hours.
Our first session was spectacular. There was action, drama, humor and banter. My friends loved the campaign I was writing and were dying to play a second session. After a few long nights of playing with just friends, I formed a Dungeons & Dragons club on campus.
Everything was looking up. We had over 50 students cram into the small club room to learn how to play Dungeons & Dragons. I was excited, my friends were excited and the 50 or so new club members were ready to embark on their own thrilling adventures.
This is around when my fantasy world turned into a hellish nightmare. My workload became too heavy to keep up with writing a new session every week, so one of my friends wound up taking over as “dungeon master” for me. This overture lead to everyone in the group not wanting to play at the club anymore, even though I specifically set the meetings at a time where everyone in my group was free.
Since I was still the club moderator, I would have to go to every club meeting even though I didn’t have anyone to play with. I would sit with my computer for three hours doing nothing while the other established groups who came every week played away. Sitting alone every week at my very own club slowly made me feel like I was being ostracized by my friends, which wasn’t good for my mental health. My time didn’t seem to matter to them.
The semester then ended and summer began, but my friends and I didn’t play much Dungeons & Dragons over the break. We played once or twice and it was fun, but not as much fun as it was when we were together in person.
Our sophomore year came quicker than expected, and of course my friend, the dungeon master, had a new session planned for when we returned to school. This time, the session felt different.
Anytime I — or rather, Hone Olwulf, the half-moon elf bard — would fight an enemy or suggest a course of action, I’d get dirty looks. It would be as if I cast fireball on myself, setting Hone and all the party members on fire. In reality, all I did was take my turn during battle or flirt with a villager in town to learn where to go next.
I started to feel unwanted the longer the night went on, but I didn’t say anything about it. The next session came around and Hone was treated worse and worse. He would succeed on rolls, but the outcome the dungeon master would make never turned out in his favor. Anytime I would say something, or have Hone do anything at all, I would be met with glares from my “friends” and side comments about how unwanted my character was in the party.
As the year went by and we played more and more, Hone became less and less a part of the group. It got to the point where I stopped playing. I would go to the sessions, dice in hand, but not say or do anything unless prompted (which was never).
Soon after, I discovered one of the players in our group disliked me because of my character. Sure, Hone wasn’t the sweetest of guys, but he wasn’t an a—hole. But, once he flirted with a character this other player wanted her character to flirt with, a target was put on my back. I wish I was joking.
From that moment on, everything Hone did was an excuse to berate him. Soon, those excuses for harassment left the fantasy world and climbed into real life. Everything I did from chewing too loud to asking questions in class became the gravest sins one could commit. I was even made fun of for asking to hang out, when these were my closest friends for two years.
During sessions, my friends soon forgot I was there, so I eventually stopped going. Even just being there made me feel disliked and invisible.
Eventually, I confronted my friends because I’d had enough. Many apologized, whereas others didn’t see the fault in their actions. I was able to weed out the good friends from the bad, and now I have stronger bonds with the people around me.
What I’m getting at is that Dungeons & Dragons can be a wonderful experience. I’ve had my fair share of daring adventures full of fun and excitement. In the end, though, you have to remember that Dungeons & Dragons is just a game. The actions players take in the game aren’t real, and shouldn’t be treated as such. Once a player’s sense of reality is blurred between fiction and reality, friendships begin to be lost in the dungeons.
I’ve had to take a long break from playing Dungeons & Dragons in order to rebuild my friendships with some people. Even now, two years later, I still can’t play the game consistently without breaking down and having an anxiety attack. Luckily I have friends now who are understanding of my situation, but in the end, this struggle made me a strong adventurer because I kept pushing to fight another day.