Saving Throw Vs. Depression

OK so hear me out on this and it’s going to be a long read so buckle up buttercup. A lot of us have played pen and paper RPGs before and some of us currently do. Relax, this isn’t *just* about RPGs, keep reading. We’ve all played a few different characters. Sometimes you run into someone who has 18 stats across the board, other times a player can’t catch a break and it’s single digit strength and dexterity and low hit points to match. It’s the law of averages, some folks get the luck of the dice and some folks don’t. The interesting thing with characters that aren’t maxed out across the board is that they can be tons of fun to play if you know the game well. You get to be creative with how you handle things. I used to play a half-orc bard who had a low Charisma score: Throktar the Eloquent. I took a feat that let me use my Strength score in place of Charisma for Intimidation rolls and I would just intimidate everyone into liking my poetry. He was awesome and still one of my favorite characters. He died gloriously, yelling Orcish poetry from inside a Purple Worm.

There’s a separation between fantasy and reality that needs to exist, but there’s some ways I see where it can bleed over into real life in healthy ways. I saw someone talking about using Hit Points rather than spoons (look up spoons and therapy if you don’t know what I’m talking about) to define when you have the resources to tackle something and that’s honestly what started me thinking about this. So for instance, a lot of times we push ourselves further than is healthy. We know this to be the case but we do it anyway because we have commitments, jobs, friends, family. The thing is, you’re often not actually doing them any good by overcommitting yourself. If a player has a character whose HP are getting low, if they can withdraw without sacrificing the rest of the party, it’s in everyone’s best interest that they do so. Losing a party member is worse than having them sit a battle out, casting Cure Light Wounds on themselves.

It goes further than that though. We all know what our characters can handle because it’s right there in front of us in pencil on a character sheet. In real life we don’t have a character sheet, we just have our own internal DM. When you’re struggling with things like anxiety or depression, that DM becomes an unreliable narrator. This is a DM that is trying to lead you into a trap. The funny thing about therapy is that you learn to see those pitfalls, it’s meta-gaming. So the pitfalls are still there, you still might fail a saving throw, but a bit of meta can help you survive those traps.

One of the things that playing in a roleplay-heavy campaign can do for you is teach you that effort is worth a lot. Sometimes it’s cheesy, but everyone pretty much loves the DMs who try to do different voices and accents for NPCs. A player roleplaying a bantering bard even though they are shy and reserved outside the game is lovely and makes the game more fun. This is something you can do in real life as well. There are ways this can be done in a negative way by copying toxic traits you see in others, but it can be used positively too. The shy, bookish Wizard pretending to be confident when speaking with the village elder can be you faking confidence when your imposter complex kicks in. You can use this in a healthy way to change behaviors in yourself that have become harmful or are no longer of use.

Now the one thing I don’t want anyone to take away from this is the idea that I’m romanticizing disabilities be they invisible or visible. There are times where having a Strength score of 4 is just going to suck. The only thing I’m advocating here is the idea that you are allowed to be creative with your own character sheet. If you have a Strength of 3, maybe you’re not hefting a great sword but you can certainly still be a badass spellcaster. If you’re crippled with depression you can cast a few buffs on yourself in the way of antidepressants and therapy. These things help. Buffing a character with a Strength score of 4 might only get you to a 6 or an 8 but let me tell you, when you live with a stat so low all the time an 8 feels mighty.

If you don’t value yourself, you’re allowed to pretend that you do, that is legit. When you were little, every single thing you learned was done by trying until you got it. When we’re adults we call it faking it – fake it ’til you make it as the saying goes. Don’t relegate this to falseness, *you* are not a fake for doing this. You are learning a new feat or unlearning an old one. You’ve worn armor all your life because you’ve been an emotional tank and now you want to take it off so you can take a level in Sorcerer. Louder for the people in the back row: THAT. IS. OK. You are allowed to refine your character sheet at any time and the great thing is, you don’t need to wait until a level up to do so.

There are some folks who are struggling to kill kobolds and are still Level 1 while there’s epic groups who just took out the tarrasque and are off to the pub for a pint. My advice is to not get frustrated when you see that. Epic tier folks have built out their character sheet with feats, additional points in stats, and magic items and potions galore. You’re seeing a glowing paladin, not the literal years of work that went into getting them that glow. The thing is, some folks get stuck. Their DM is awful, the dice hate them, and they don’t know the game that well. Don’t ignore those players and their characters when you see them struggling. You can’t make them play the game but you can maybe help them clear some monsters out of the way and point out some feats they can take that might help them succeed. You can’t reach every player but for the experienced folks or the ones cruising through life with an 18 in every stat, it’s truly appreciated when you do reach someone. It feels a bit like that Deus Ex Machina the DM busted out to keep the table from a party wipe but I can’t stress enough how much it is appreciated.

We’re all in this game together and if we work as a team we get a pretty well-rounded party. And for that warlock that cast that curse on you so you’re sleepy and sad all the time? We will kill him together and search for someone who can dispel that curse. If we can’t find a high enough level caster than I promise you, we’ll find some potions to keep you in the game.

Grab your dice and sheet, let’s play.

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