How D&D Improved My Mental Health
Like many others, D&D has been a great escape for me over the past two years. It’s old news to talk about Covid, but lockdown has affected a lot of people’s mental health, and it definitely took a toll on my own sanity.
Now, this isn’t just another ‘Covid is bad, socialising is good’ article. Instead, I want this to be a resource to get your buddies (who might be having a tough time) to try D&D or as a reminder to yourself to keep playing in any way you can.
I mean “in any way you can”, as I know some players are strictly ‘in-person’ only, but with lockdowns, or like for my own reasons, health and being bed-bound, that isn’t always an option.
To cut a long story short, due to health reasons, I was near enough bed-bound for a year in the lead up to covid. With covid came restrictions, and, being in the vulnerable category, I was inside for nearly two years straight.
This isn’t a pity party but rather a way of enhancing how much I needed escapism and how D&D became that outlet.
For escapism, many people turn to watching TV or a movie, reading books and playing games. But with lockdown lasting that long it wasn’t as easy to scratch that itch. Movies became repetitive, shows predictable and only so many games of CS:GO can be had. I needed something different.
I was playing D&D before, so it wasn’t exactly different, but it was definitely working in different ways.
Although stuck inside, my party used the wonderful Roll20 (other virtual tabletops are available) in combination with Discord/Zoom. We all had webcams from the Zoom pub quiz days, so the elevated social interaction was there.
At first, I found myself being more engrossed in my D&D sessions where I was a player. Of course, you should always be paying attention, but this time around, I was gripped.
I wanted the sessions to be longer and more frequent. I was counting down the days until I could play again.
Nothing beats the mundane work from home life (if you were even lucky to be employed during that time) and constant covid news and lack of social interaction like D&D.
Here are some real examples as to why I think D&D is perfect for escapism:
- When a made-up character, whether it is an NPC or player, cracks a witty joke in your made-up universe that only makes sense to you and your party, you feel so immersed in the magic of your made-up world.
- Getting together and discussing the politics of a town and how your decisions may impact your characters can instantly take you away from real-world politics. Saving ‘X’ town is all you care about right now.
- Solving problems and getting through tricky combat as a team is intense but fun. It isn’t your average puzzle or team-building exercise; it’s solving a made-up puzzle in a fantasy universe which, if you fail, one of the players might die. Although stressful, it’s escapism for sure.
Now I will say some of this could be down to having a great DM. Fellow Daily Dice writer and DM, Rich, is great at immersion which helped with escapism. He set the scene with music playlists and detailed descriptions and created convincing characters through the art of engaging dialogue and expression.
I was counting down the days until I could play again
If you don’t have a great DM, it doesn’t mean you won’t be able to use D&D for escapism; it just means you may need to focus on what you can do instead of your DM.
Think about what your character would do in said situations. What are they thinking, feeling, doing? Just being in the mindset of your persona or being empathetic towards NPCs will take you out of the real world quicker than a bonus action.
I mentioned how D&D now had this grip on me. I needed to fit more sessions in, but only so much can be done by a DM and only so much free time can be had by the players.
That’s when I started a new party with school buddies who had never played before. As they were all new, I saw this as an opportunity to try DMing for the first time.
The creative process that comes from creating a D&D campaign is like no other. You still have so much creative control, even when following a pre-made campaign/module. Modules are just a blueprint, a plan, a segue into that final finished piece of art.
Even if you stick to the module by the book, you still need to work out voices for characters, their incentives, maps, battle mats, tokens or even minis – all a creative process in and of itself.
The same goes for players too. Making up a character with traits, skills, flaws and a meaningful backstory needs some element of creative writing. My new players loved bringing their characters to life in HeroForge (even though they didn’t buy the mini in the end).
There’s a reason why hobbies like painting, music, photography, dancing, drawing, cooking, acting and more are popular. They allow you to be creative, a very human, and I believe, instinctual need.
The creative fire that D&D lit under my ass was fully ablaze. I’d sink hours into worldbuilding, finding the perfect battle map or silly image for my mad-hatter wizard, creating a story and plot hooks, character ideas and voices, descriptions for places, making magic items, it goes on and on.
As you can see, you jump around a lot in the creative sphere that D&D provides, you get to dabble here and there in all sorts and see your players enjoy the fruits of your labour – the joy and happiness that brings, through the whole process is why D&D is perfect for improving your mental health.
I tend to hop from interest to interest. Although that keeps things fresh and allows me to absorb different stuff that life has to offer, it can be quite disheartening when nothing sticks.
D&D was different. Whether it is what I’ve listed above or having more sessions, paying closer attention, immersing myself in my characters or even D&D actual play shows like Dimension 20, I’m not quite sure.
What I was sure about was that I felt passionate about it. Passionate enough to even want to set up a website with like-minded buddies who just wanna kick back and talk D&D.
Feeling passionate about something will help you feel fulfilled and give you a sense of accomplishment. It keeps me thinking positively and does wonders for improving my mental health.
I believe that almost anyone can uncover some creative interest in D&D, whether it’s writing, voice acting, drawing characters etc. So here are some ways I found my passion.
- DMing from modules wasn’t enough. I wanted something original, something from my own head. As much as I tried, I didn’t care about Phandalin or Waterdeep nor had the zest to learn it. But in my homebrew town, everything was thought out and was enjoyable.
- I co-created a homebrew world with races, factions, landmass, gods, ages and history. An excellent guide by Rich can be found here: Worldbuilding 101 – Getting The Players To Work For You.
- Went above and beyond what was needed. Modules usually come with specific handouts that you can’t really use in other campaigns. I thoroughly enjoyed making them, and it gave them a personal touch, from creating basic Avenger style movie posters to maps to memorable moments and quotes.
A Blank Canvas
Being involved in a campaign can be time-consuming. There’s always something to do, regardless of whether you’ve got a session planned that week or not.
There have been countless times when I’ve been in the shower or walking somewhere, and ideas for D&D pop up and take my mind off of things.
It could be new character ideas, a story or a campaign idea for my players. A new town or location to add to my map. A weird magic item I can give my players. It’s something simple, but it scratches that itch in between your sessions.
I should also note that the other points and experiences I have listed throughout this article do not need to be forced when playing. They should come naturally, and if they don’t, that’s ok too. It doesn’t mean it’s not helping you or your players if ‘X’ isn’t occurring.
Creating a homebrew campaign was great for improving my personal mental health, but it might be too stressful for you. Writing an in-depth goblin language could be your idea of heaven but hell to me. D&D is a blank canvas, and you choose what to paint on it. You decide what benefits you and what helps keep you sane.
I hope this little article has perhaps inspired you somewhat. If you are a new player, get out there and try some D&D. If you are an avid player, keep on playing in any way you can. If you are a veteran player, spread the word and get as many people as possible playing. The benefits of playing such a pure and simple game are too good to miss.