It’s 2 in the morning so I’m going to ramble for a little bit about this fun little game called Dungeons & Dragons and why it matters so dearly to me. You might have already heard this from me before (especially if you follow me on twitter) but bear with me.

I’ve been playing DnD for a over decade now, though I’ve been familiar with it since I was kid growing up outside Lake Geneva, WI (it’s hard to avoid when that’s where the whole thing originated from). I had cousins who loved it but most of them were older boys who didn’t really care for a whiny girl to join (I can’t really argue against that – I was a pretty whiny brat).

When I was in college, I had a pretty rough time. Depression, anxiety, suicide attempts, rehab, the works – I was a mess. I was 20 years old when I was invited to join my first game (I’m 31 now for those counting). I didn’t care so much for the other players, nor did I really understand the rules, but I definitely understood the element of escapism. It was exactly what I needed at the time in my life. I loved being someone else. Someone stronger. Faster. Taller. Magical. Someone with much higher charisma than the awkward and insecure woman-child I felt like in real life. My relationship with DnD has changed a lot, but that feeling hasn’t. It’s still true.

I’ve grown a lot over the past ten years. My play style has definitely evolved. I try to push myself to be different types of people that I wouldn’t normally be: sexy, shy, ill-mannered, confident, nervous, loud, anything. It’s hard but I love that part of the challenge. (I had never played a barbarian until my husband suggested it to me a few years ago and now I’ve found it’s by far my favorite class – and the one most requested for me to play by friends.)

After playing this game for so long I’ve come to understand the technical aspects of it pretty well, but it’s the emotional elements of the game – the journey of the storytelling – that keep me at the table. The emotions from me, my characters, my friends – it brings us closer together. More real. The people I play DnD with have become the people I trust the most in my life. There’s something about RPGs that enable people to leave their walls behind and open up to each other. I find myself to be the most real version of me when I’m playing my fictional character.

January will mark 2 years since I became sick and have had to watch my own body begin to deteriorate around me. I lost my job, I lost some friends, I’ve lost most of my ability to walk. My day to day life has drastically changed from what it used to be. It has been the most trying time of my life. But every week I play this silly game with those I love and it keeps me going. I get to be someone who can run and jump and save people and hunt and protect and I get to be myself – silly and hopeful and relaxed – with my traveling companions in a made-up world all our own. This game has helped motivate me. Has kept me from giving up on my worst days.

I never expected 10 years ago to be so indebted to a tabletop game. But Dungeons & Dragons has saved my life on more than one account and I will forever be grateful. I play in 2-3 campaigns a week now and between doctor appointments and hospital visits, it’s what keeps me sane. Escapism isn’t always the healthiest coping mechanism but let me tell you, my therapist very much approves of it because it gets me to socialize, have fun, and reminds me of my own inner strength. She’s so into it that she’s even started doing her own research about the game and how it helps in psychology, especially with kids. One of the first things she always asks me in our sessions is “So how did DnD go this week?” She knows that’s the best way to get me to start talking. It’s a whole other world to her but she recognizes the mental care it gives me and encourages it.

Sometimes, like now, I just get really really emotional over DnD especially seeing how incredibly popular it’s gotten in the last few years. It’s wonderful. I’m thankful Jake got me back into Critical Role too because I’ve met so many new friends through it. This community has grown so much in the past decade it’s overwhelming but in a good sense. Almost all of my friends have at least heard of or seen a DnD campaign in progress or tried their hand at an RPG game, and it blows me away how inclusive and welcoming the world has become since I first began my DnD journey.

All of this is really just to say, thank you to all my friends and to the good folks at Wizards of the Coast for working so hard to make this little tabletop game the best thing in my life. I wouldn’t be the same person without it. Hell, I might not even be here at all. So thank you.