Playing Dungeons & Dragons with Social Anxiety
I have diagnosed social anxiety. This means that in social settings, I get flustered, I stutter, my stomach starts to hurt, and I dread upcoming social situations. For a social game like Dungeons & Dragons, that involves talking and interacting with the other players and the gamemaster and roleplaying a character in social settings, my anxiety makes it challenging to get started in tabletop roleplaying games (TTRPGs). I find it difficult to have regular social interactions, even with people I know, so thinking about playing a game where social interactions are required is daunting to say the least.
However, my fiancé and I recently got an account for CollegeHumor’s Dropout streaming service and quickly found ourselves watching hours and hours of Dimension 20. This actual-play show features Dungeons & Dragons campaigns led by gamemaster Brennan Lee Mulligan. These campaigns are well worth a watch, even if you do not play Dungeons & Dragons, but we found ourselves inspired to try it out. Luckily, we have a friend, Karla, who is a lifelong TTRPG fan. Both Karla and her boyfriend Aaron are well-versed in Dungeons & Dragons, including running campaigns as gamemasters. Their willingness to introduce us to the world of Dungeons & Dragons has been a huge help.
I have been wanting to play Dungeons & Dragons for a while, of course. As a huge fan of fantasy, magic, and games with heavy character customization, Dungeons & Dragons is completely up my alley. The range of playable races (well beyond the standard high fantasy groupings of elves, dwarves, and humans), the customization options in the different classes, and the openness to homebrewing helps me tailor my experience to exactly what I want to play. Even beyond the mechanical features of the game, the roleplaying itself is solely up to the players’ and gamemaster’s discretion.
During the first session of the campaign we played, I found myself at a bit of a loss. I was nervous about messing up both for myself (as your character can fully die during a campaign) and for others (as most campaigns are collaborative). Interacting with the other characters in your party, as well as non-playable characters roleplayed by the gamemaster, was a bit overwhelming. It is also important to note that I was not doing these interactions as myself, but rather as “Erathyl”, my soft spoken kenku shadow sorcerer. I was playing as a member of a race of birds (cursed to no longer have wings) who was interacting and fighting in bars, dungeons, sewers, and city streets. I was outside of my comfort zone. But the mechanics of the game, where I’m casting spells, engaging in combat, and interacting with any number of magical creatures (and rolling dice to determine the outcomes for all of it), was so much fun! There is something so satisfying about finishing off an enemy with an eldritch blast after a great attack and damage roll.
Despite my hesitation and discomfort around the roleplaying side of the game, I was hooked. I wanted to play more. I kept thinking about what other characters I could create for future campaigns (did I want to play a lizardfolk, a harengon, or a grung? Would they be a druid, a wizard, or a rogue?). By the time the next weekend came around and it was time for our next session, I was ready to go! I was playing with my friends after all, and no one was being dismissive or rude about my character not talking a lot. As we have continued playing through the campaign over the next few weeks, I found myself becoming more and more comfortable, both as my character and in the interactions with the other players and gamemaster.
Eventually, I was no longer just going with the flow and following the lead from the other players. Instead, I realized I was taking the lead at different points, which led to a lot of fun shenanigans. We stole a plush of a beholder and befriended the local neighborhood street urchins. I received a cute trinket from a kobold youngster, and hired a ghost to work at the tavern I am now proprietor of. I regularly use my mind sliver cantrip to give headaches to NPCs that are bothering me. By the end of last weekend’s session, I began to feel like I was interacting and talking so much that I began to worry I was dominating the session. I was growing more and more comfortable with how I was interacting with my fellow players and the world we were playing in.
As someone with social anxiety, there are some important things to keep in mind while playing Dungeons & Dragons. The character creation process is an important part of any campaign, but one that you can use to your advantage if you are worried about not speaking or interacting enough. There are a number of places where you can incorporate your playstyle or roleplaying style into your character, but the personality traits, ideals, and flaws sections are a great place to create a character that talks and acts like you would in these situations. This can mean you put “shy and quiet” as a personality trait, “only believes in speaking when it is absolutely necessary” in ideals, or “gets flustered in social situations” in flaws, for example. You can also use the background section to include information that would suggest or directly say that this character does not talk a lot. Even if you don’t want to identify it on your character sheet, you can always mention to your gamemaster that you are not sure how often you will be speaking up; that way, they can be ready to prompt you if needed or maybe include some chattier NPCs to help fill in some roleplaying.
Of course, having a good group to play with is important. If you have friends who play TTRPGs, that can be a great way to get started. The friends who I am playing our campaign with made it easier for me to jump into roleplaying. However, if you do not have friends who play already, you could always try giving it a shot together. There are also many places, such as game stores, who have weekly Dungeons & Dragons nights that are welcoming to beginners. The key is to find a situation where you feel comfortable enough to play.
Due to the Omicron variant, we started playing our campaign online through the Roll20 website (roll20.net). This system, which is free to use, is a great resource that allows campaigns to be conducted remotely. This has allowed us to stay safe over the past few months while still having an exciting opportunity to play a game together. It has also allowed us to play Dungeons & Dragons with our friends located here in Georgia, as well as with friends we have in New Jersey. But what is most helpful about this app is that it allows everyone to play in the environment that makes them comfortable. By being at your own home, you’re in a comfortable setting that could take away some of the stress that could come from being at someone else’s home. If you are finding yourself becoming a bit uncomfortable, you can turn off your camera and work through any anxiety privately. This virtual option has been a great help in easing my way into the world of TTRPGs, all while remaining safe during the pandemic.
Tabletop Roleplaying Games like Dungeons & Dragons are a great way to come out of your comfort zone in a controlled way. You can try out different techniques and ideas in social settings without any real-life consequences. After all, if your spell fails and your character is injured from an attack, you’re okay in real life. Getting into Dungeons & Dragons has challenged my social anxiety, but I am finding that I am becoming more comfortable in my interactions. Jumping into a campaign might be scary, but you might just find that playing Dungeons & Dragons is exactly the kind of fun you have been hoping for. Getting involved in a campaign could open a multiverse of possibilities and might just help you feel more comfortable in social settings along the way.
If you want to learn more about D&D, check out our past article here.