Your Stranger Comrades (a love letter to D&D)

Inspired by Critical Role Ep81

I love Dungeons & Dragons!

You think you know how much you

love this game, and then you play or watch one of those games that are so

freaking magical that you find a whole ‘nother level of love. I am a

salty, bitter, jaded cranky pants that usually hates the world. But this game

stirs up this immense well of love and joy that feels like it will never end

(it will, but it doesn’t feel like it will). I genuinely can’t imagine that the

strongest narcotic hijacking every pleasure center of my brain could make me

feel this good.

And it’s not because it’s pretty.

It’s because, at its finest, it’s fighting foes, and fighting serious emotional

issues, and so many forms of love, and terribly crass jokes, and awkwardness,

and dreams shattered, and gallows humor, and the best one liners of your life,

and friendships deeper than you knew could exist. Among the characters forged

in blood, among the players forged in the give and take of a tale so tall it

holds up a world. It’s everything, all of life, distilled into a few hours,

with the best friends you will ever have. They become your best friends in the


I moved a long way from home when

I was young. I didn’t know anyone. Two weeks later I started one of those

crunch-time jobs that are a flurry of action, knowledge, and camaraderie. One

of my new coworkers asked if I played D&D, and would I like to play with

her and another coworker. I said I’d only played games like Baldur’s Gate, but

I’d always wanted to learn. That was 11 years ago, and I’m still in that group.

When I said I was moving, they offered to help me move without me asking. When

one of them needed a safe place to live, I opened my door without question and

made every rent accommodation I could. She told me years later that had saved

her life. She saved mine, too, in a lot of ways. But we were strangers the

first time we played.

We picked up a few players from

that job over the years. Some of them stuck around a long time. One of our

players got sick, then sicker, then slipped into a coma for weeks. I still tear

up thinking about that empty chair. She was lucky; she came back. We sat around

the game table and made plans to visit her. The idea of visiting someone

slightly younger than me, in a hospital where she’d almost died, scared me. We

were too young for this. But hadn’t we fought through dire battles back to back

before? Together, we’d already laughed at death grasping at us. Our group

brought her food while she recovered, and made sure she had everything she

needed. Her parents remarked on what good friends she clearly had. But we were

strangers the first time we played.

My DM and I come from very

different backgrounds, different generations, and have very different beliefs. Without

D&D, we’d never have said a word to each other, certainly not a civil one. Political

debates were taboo for a long time, they were as futile as an internet

argument. But we learned to spar in subtler ways. Through the lives and stories

of characters in other worlds we lived our truths before the other. We asked

each other without words to hear the other out, and we both listened. We really

weren’t that different. We made each other just a bit less blind. We still challenge

each other on our bullshit, and we both sit at that table every week together. But

we were strangers the first time we played.

It’s the laughter that gets you

through it. You do stupid, crazy things. You live the lives of so many people

you’d never want to be. The board and the tragic. Sometimes you stab each other

in the back, and retell the tale of how your best friend enslaved your

character with powerful mental magic, cut out her tongue, and used her as a

throne. And you howl with laughter about it together while everyone who wasn’t

there looks at you like you’re deranged. So many times, you laugh and laugh at

horrible things, not in mockery, not at the thing, but you laugh at how

terrible it is. You laugh at how terrible everything is in life. Then a funny

thing happens. Your life falls apart, and everything you were reaching for

slips away. But you still sit at that game table and you laugh at how terrible

it is. Your friends still drag you along as far as they need to carry you. They

still fight every monster with you. Because you’ve been training for this

together. You chose your allies. You were strangers the first time you played,

but you became the closest comrades in life’s battle.

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