With a Roll of the Dice...

Story and Photography by Elyse Clayton

Models: Erica Crist and Basil

Dungeon Master (DM): So you take a sip of this special spirit wine, is how it’s advertised at the bar. I want you to roll a constitution saving throw. Alright, a natural one. Um, oh boy, this will be interesting. So Hush, you start to feel a little giggly. You’ve been drunk before, but it's not the drunk giggly that you’re used to. It's kind of more like the giggling of a little girl. You feel the overwhelming urge to get a teddy bear that you lost in the river. What do you do?

Hush: I stand up, pick up my pet cat Binks and start going to the river.

DM: Are you going quickly? Slowly?

Hush: Oh, I’m sprinting. I want this teddy bear.

DM: Okay. You reach the riverfront. There’s a bit of a drop down from the bank into the roaring water below. You have a feeling that the teddy bear should be right below you, just below the water’s surface. What do you do?

Hush: I set down my cat, for one. I pet him and say (in a very unnatural little girl voice), “I’ll be right back, Binks.” And then I dive into the running river.

DM: And now we’re switching back to the rest of the party in the tavern, who just saw Hush leave with her cat for apparently no reason. What are you guys doing?

Player 1: I… Well, I continue drinking. I haven’t really noticed anything, and I’m a bit too intoxicated to figure it out.

Player 2: I’m upstairs; I’m not even in the same room. I’m not dealing with this.

Player 3: I look at Hush leave, and then think that it’s probably a better idea to have deniability when the rogue goes off by herself. I don’t want to be able to answer any of the guards.

Theophania: Hush is my friend. And she doesn’t normally laugh like that. I’m going to go after her and see if I can catch up.

DM: So, Theophania, you run through the town, trying to catch up to your friend. You see her, but she’s just a little too fast for you to be able to get to her in time. You see her dive into the running river and disappear below the water’s surface. What do you do?

Theophania: Well, for one, I freak the fuck out, because my friend just dove into the water. I quickly try to look for any sign of life or any sign of Hush.

DM: Roll a perception check. Natural 20. You see the purple figure of Hush below the water, and then you see her break the water’s surface and take a gasp of air before disappearing below once again.

Theophania: I call out to her, “Hush, what are you doing? Come on, Hush!”

DM: Nothing happens, as Hush is already below the water and cannot hear. Hush, while you’re under the water, roll me a perception check. 15. Not the best, but not the worst. You see the slightly waterlogged, brown figure of a teddy bear. Your teddy bear. What do you do?

Hush: Well obviously I go over and grab it.

DM: Alright. You grab the teddy bear, and you push up off of the river bottom. You break the surface, a gasp of air filling your lungs. You see Theophania, your friend, looking down at you, and waving her hands.

Hush: I swim back and try to get out of the water. Of course, I take her hand because she’s helping me up.

DM: You’re on the edge of the riverbank, Theophania right next to you. What do you do?

Hush: I pick up Binks and start skipping back to the tavern.

Theophania: “Uh, Hush? That’s not normal. Hush, are you alright?”

DM: No response. Hush just keeps going. Both of you manage to get back to the tavern. Hush, you walk in, soaking wet, Binks in one arm and this waterlogged, algae-covered teddy bear in the other. You see your parents, but they’re not your parents, they’re someone else’s, but you feel like they’re your parents. They’re sitting at a table. Both human. You’re a tiefling. Definitely not your parents, but you feel like it. What do you do?

Hush: Well, I go up to them and say, “Hi Mama! Hi Dad! Look, I didn’t lose it!” And I hold the teddy bear out to them.

DM: The mother and father look at you, very confused, as you, a purple tiefling woman talking like a child, hold out their daughter’s teddy bear.

Hush: “I mean, I found it. See? You guys won’t get mad at me for losing it.”

DM: There seems to be some sort of recognition in the mother’s eyes, as she starts to tear up a bit. She reaches out to the teddy bear and gently takes its paw in her hand. “This used to be Angela’s,” she says. The father then figures out what’s going on and starts to cry. He’s a human, looks like a burly blacksmith, and he starts to weep as he realizes that you are possessed by the spirit of his deceased daughter, who drowned in the river just a few months ago. Hush, they both stand up and hug you, hug you tight. What do you do?

Hush: Well, I say, “Mom, Dad, why are you crying? I’m right here. Why are you crying? I’m sorry if I made you upset…”

DM: They cut you off: “No need to apologize. Just, you’re here. You’re here.” And at that point, you’ve made a pretty decent scene in the tavern, so pretty much all eyes are on you. Except for that one table in the corner that we’ve already established is pretty questionable, to say the least. Everyone sees the image of a sopping wet little girl in a little pinafore dress, hair braided in two braids that go down her back. She’s smiling and hugging a teddy bear. The parents look up from you, Hush, and see this. They both reach out to the ghostly image. The ghost seems to giggle before disappearing into nothingness. Hush, your conscience is your own. You’re hugging these two random strangers who are crying. You’re also crying for whatever reason. What do you do?

Hush: It’s been a while since I was embraced by someone’s parents. I haven’t seen my own in probably eight years. I just start crying and crying and crying.

Erica Crist, a freshman majoring in Costume Design, recalled this event from one of her Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) games, where she played the tiefling rogue Hush Infurnum. “This was all online,” she said, “but the feelings were real, and by the end of it we were all crying. I’ve had multiple other roleplay moments with her [Hush] that are just as touching and just as tear-jerking.”

D&D, a fantasy tabletop roleplaying game first released in 1974, has gained massive popularity over the years, letting players explore new worlds and escape reality for a few hours. “I’ve kind of always been into the make-believe stuff,” Crist said, “and I remember I was watching a Youtuber named Mo Mo O’Brien. She did a lot of LARP stuff, which is live action roleplaying, and I just saw that and was like, this person is the coolest person in the world. She’s a huge nerd. I also dissociate into my own head a lot, and a lot of that is into a fantasy world. So when I learned about Dungeons and Dragons, a lot of people are like, ‘Oh, that’s so nerdy,’ but I was like, ‘No, this shit seems really cool.’”

While it may be just a game for some, D&D means much more to Crist and others like her. “My mental health is a mess, to say the least,” she explained. “I have severe anxiety, especially when it comes to school. Even to the point where I was like, oh my gosh, I’m never gonna make it to college, but, obviously, here I am. During the onset of the pandemic, I was so depressed, so anxious. I hated hearing everything that was in the news, because that was the whole George Floyd situation, and everything was just one big wave of shit in the world.” Prior to the pandemic, Crist had a full schedule, pulling 18 hour days. She woke up at six in the morning for high school and then went to theatre and color guard right after classes. Most nights she went to sleep at midnight after finishing homework. “But that all stopped,” she said. “So my mind had time to pay attention to the real world. And I didn’t like it. So I retreated, and I was depressed, and I wouldn’t get out of bed. I was so close to the point of thinking of killing myself. I was thinking, ‘I don’t want to be in this world anymore,’ it was so awful.” Then D&D became her saving grace.

One day, when listening to a D&D podcast in bed, she realized that she actually had time to play. She found a website called Roll20 and joined a few games. “That became my reason for literally waking up in the morning,” Crist explained. “I would have a dungeons and dragons game at like eight at night, and I would wake up and just go, okay, I need to set up my laptop and I should probably take a shower before my game. So I would try and get those two things done within an eight-hour period before my game started.” After a while, D&D even helped Crist come out of hiding. She explained that she started talking to her mother about the party’s adventures and her characters. “Dungeons and dragons basically saved my life and helped me pull out of that whole depression thing.”

Whether it’s just a game or something more, millions of players around the world embrace their “nerdiness” and reap the benefits of D&D. As Dave LeClair wrote for whatnerd.com, the game can let players create new friendships, improve listening skills, practice problem solving, learn to cooperate with others, develop empathy and even sharpen math skills. “It might feel like investing so much of your life into a game like D&D is a waste of time,” he writes. “However, there are some genuine benefits that you can get from playing.”

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