Getting into Tabletop RPG play can be intimidating at first and many people are often hesitant to get into it. When enticing first time players to join a campaign, the most common responses I’ve received are all similar; math anxiety, shyness, lack of ability or understanding of rules, being overwhelmed by gaming mechanics etc. I held very similar anxious thoughts when I signed up to play my first campaigns as an adult. I had casually learned the core rules of DND when I was 12, in the safety and comfort of a rural basement with my close friends, who also hadn’t yet developed adult social anxieties around strict game rules and appearances just yet. You see, kids are inherently imaginative. They get collaborative storytelling to a T. Sticks become swords, stumps become fortresses, creeks to rivers, your friend group- a fellowship of adventurers. Immersing oneself in an imaginary world comes naturally. For many of us though, as we get older, we take on more baggage, social pressures and by the time we are teenagers we usually have become uncomfortable with expression and imagination in a group setting. We learn to shun, rather than embrace it, or we seek it in other places that feel safer- for me it was World of Warcraft and the Lord of the Rings fandom. In high-school and into adulthood, sharing a personal narrative, or creative story aloud without relying on a screen feels somehow cringe-worthy and far outside our comfort zones. This is because there’s a vulnerability tied to the part of our minds we create from, like a heart. It’s a deeply personal thing and it is precious; and as a result, it feels like it needs protecting and is often hidden out of harm’s way. We theater kids got off easy and were able to maintain somewhat of a healthy relationship with this vulnerability piece, but I think it safe to say we can thank the millennial High School experience for that loss of innocence.
As an adult getting re-acquainted with imaginative storytelling and getting re-acquainted with the theater of the mind has had surprising effects. Trust me when I say that one of the scariest but most important life-lessons in adulthood is learning to embrace feelings of vulnerability. Not to override them or denounce them, but to acknowledge them, and jump in anyway. I was full-on frightened when I first started. Then I realized that my anxiety is the biggest storyteller I’ve ever known, and that that same imaginative power could be harnessed for something that creates joy. This realization helped me take the leap into the realm of Tabletop Role Playing Games, which I now do for a living. Embracing this vulnerability and re-acquainting myself with the element of imaginative play did not save me from making mistakes with the rules or adding the wrong modifiers or confusing dice numbers. In fact, Ready to Roll was filmed LIVE so there were no do-overs or multiple takes and the knowledge that these mistakes now live on the internet forever increased my anxiety significantly. I was also severely concussed from a bike accident at the time (that’s another story), but this did, absolutely teach me to be at one with those mistakes and recognize that these things are inherent in TTRPG, has been met with unwavering good humor and grace. Getting to explore and re-learn this part of myself- the storyteller in such a safe and FUN environment has undeniably made me a more confident, curious, and happier person. It’s taught me to be braver and helped me realize that sharing my perspective and imagination adds to the creative collective and actually helps to enrich it. Take that, anxiety and negative self-talk!
And all I had to do was reluctantly agree to a game I promised I’d be no good at, but I ended up rediscovering a part of myself I didn’t realize I had lost. So I say unto you, next time you’re invited, say yes and see what happens.
Contributed by Bev Rapley