Does Zinnia play D&D?

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Have you ever played Dungeons & Dragons? What's your opinion of the game and subculture surrounding it? If you could be any fantasy character, what race and/or class would you choose?

Ooh, I have such Feelings about D&D. Starting around age nine, I got really into online forum roleplaying, which was a lot like D&D minus any of the stats, numbers, etc. I was huge into this hobby and by the time I was in middle school I would spend hours and hours on the family computer writing these elaborate characters and stories.

My parents hated this, and were always on me to “get out of the house” and “make friends,” two things I found quite difficult to do. There was, however, a board game and tabletop roleplaying store within walking distance of my house, and I very much wanted to be allowed to go hang out there and play Dungeons & Dragons. I was also a huge fan of the comic Something*Positive, which includes a lot of D&D stuff. Unfortunately for both me and my parents, my mom believed in the absurd urban legend that D&D made kids kill themselves. (Hilariously, this bizarre fear mongering stemmed from Evangelical Christianity, a community and an ideology my mom hated with a passion - but she somehow caught wind of their nonsense, stripped of the context that would have led her to reject it, and she fully believed that letting me play D&D would have been dangerous.)

I still have some resentment about this, because kid-me would have absolutely loved D&D, and would have been amazing at it. I have a knack for character improv and worldbuilding, and I would have likely “found my community.” I was a sad and lonely kid, and it would have been amazing for me. I also would have gotten into it when my brain was more malleable and I was better able to internalize the complicated structure and rules of the game. I’d be absolutely kick-ass at it as an adult now that the milieu is very pro-D&D. But, alas, I was dealt different cards.

As an adult, I decided to finally get into it. I’ve played Pathfinder, D&D, and VTM systems. I love the narrative and character and worldbuilding parts, but I still can’t get a good grip on all the fiddly bits. I frequently end up with complete ‘weenie’ characters because I don’t care enough to actually make use of the skills and powers I could have. I find combat in D&D excruciatingly boring and I’m not interested in maximizing my ability to do anything combat related. I like the idea of magic but playing a spellcasting character overwhelms me with all the crap to keep track of. I spend far more time writing out an elaborate backstory and personality for my character than fussing about the character sheet. This is probably because of the forum roleplaying I cut my teeth on, and because I don’t have years of practice or a nostalgic connection to the actual D&D system. Playing with hardcore or experienced D&D players is usually frustrating for me and for them.

But I still love everything else - the maps, the characters, the dice, the mini figurines, the art. I actually like DMing more than being a PC, because I get to make up towns and shops and stories and NPCs, and I can decline to fuss about things I don’t find interesting. I’ve been slowly working on my own tabletop RP system with its own world, its own character creation and its own magic system. The goals are to be narrative-driven, heavy on character and light on combat, and to give the players incentive to explore the world and flexibility to be creative with their magic. I’m lucky enough to have a partner who’s also interested in game design, so it’s been a fun project to do with him.

I do have to state for the record that I still love and adore forum RPing, though the community/culture of the hobby has gone through some changes in the last few years that are leaving me feeling a bit Eternal-September-ed. I also strongly recommend simpler, “one-page” style RPGs like Lasers and Feelings and related ‘hacks’ thereof. These sorts of games have a much lower barrier to entry and can be amazing for people who might otherwise feel overwhelmed or left out by more complex systems (like the youth I work with!) I have written some pre-made ‘modules’ and ‘kits’ for L&F and really love running games with it. Tabletop roleplaying can be amazingly powerful as a therapeutic tool. It’s being used to help young people develop confidence and social skills, it’s popular in prisons, it’s just awesome.

As for the “subculture surrounding” the game, I feel kind of the same way a lot of us ‘older nerds’ feel seeing this renaissance. It’s awesome seeing this cool, fun thing get more respect and recognition, but it’s also bittersweet to see something that had always been for “outsiders” suddenly be taken up by people who have never been on the outside. I got bullied mercilessly for loving high fantasy books and movies by the same types of people who go nuts for Game of Thrones these days, and this feels a bit similar. There’s an “in crowd” for D&D now, with the famous podcasters and all that, and while I don’t begrudge anyone their entertainment or success, it feels complicated for me personally, especially since part of me feels robbed of an early “in.” But, it does mean lots of Etsy sellers and other folks making super cool custom dice, minifigs, and other cool stuff, so that’s neat. In all, I’d say that although I might have some complicated personal feelings about D&D and its culture, in general, it’s pretty great.

If I could be any fantasy character, I would be a Halfling Druid. Even before I got into D&D, I was a huge Lord of the Rings fan, and I’ve always known I was meant to be a Hobbit. I’m a homebody who loves cozy spaces, good food, running around barefoot, and chillin with my friends near a creek, maybe hitting that pipeweed. I love animals and nature and it would be awesome to have an animal companion, be able to communicate with them, or shift into an animal shape that would let me scamper, swim, or fly. I can’t imagine a more perfect life for me.