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How Dungeons and Dragons Got Me Through a Time I Felt Completely Helpless

Lucas Maxwell


Lucas Maxwell has been working with youth in libraries for over fifteen years. Originally from Nova Scotia, Canada, he's been a high school librarian in London, UK for over a decade. In 2017 he won the UK's School Librarian of the Year award and in 2022 he was named the UK Literacy Association's Reading For Pleasure Teacher Champion. He loves Dungeons & Dragons and is the author of Let's Roll: A Guide for Setting up Tabletop Roleplaying Games in Your School or Public Library. You can follow him on Twitter and on his blog.

In early June my family went through a very tough time. Wildfires in my home province of Nova Scotia, Canada forced my parents and grandmother to evacuate. They spent nearly three weeks not knowing if their house was still standing while they watched the fire burn completely out of control on the news.

While they were very lucky that they did not lose their homes, many people were not so lucky. During this period of limbo, I was in the UK, ready to fly out if I needed to, especially if they found out that their homes had burned down. I can’t imagine what was going through the minds of the people who lost their homes; all I know is that sitting here in the UK, I could not feel more useless or helpless.

This is where Dungeons and Dragons comes in.

I have been playing Dungeons and Dragons avidly for the past five years, which is a very short amount of time, relatively. However, in that short time, I have found some amazing people and have found a lot of comfort in this weird and wonderful game.

There are a few reasons for this, and I will try to put them into succinct points:

The Writing

I truly enjoy writing stuff in Dungeons and Dragons while imagining the players’ reactions to it. It really does give me a huge amount of joy to think that someone else will gasp or laugh or react in a positive way in real time to something that I’ve thought of adding to a D&D campaign. Yes, it is selfish but if I know someone else is getting joy from it maybe it isn’t, and sometimes I can be pretty good at it. 

Dungeons and Dragons set up on a table in a libary
Photo Courtesy of Lucas Maxwell

It’s Scheduled Fun

It’s a commitment, and, as a DM, you’ve got to honour the commitment. You can sometimes get away with it if one player can’t make it but if the DM isn’t there it can fall apart fast. I need things like this because I need that structure and knowledge that I’m going to be at this place at this time doing this thing. 

I’ve talked about this before but just knowing that for four or five hours I’m going to be laughing almost continuously or I’m going to be having people listening to a story I’ve had a hand in writing and it’s going to be silly and weird and interactive is a huge thing. It’s your brain saying “At this time, you are going to be experiencing happiness.” It will sound very, very corny but I try hard to just listen to what the players are saying to each other and to try and remember it as that moment, especially in D&D, as it will only happen once and it won’t come back again, so I try to remember it.

DM’ing is Also Playing!

As a Dungeon Master, I am also a player; I am not there to kill the players; I am there to set up challenges and cheer them on. There is something very therapeutic about being around a table, or virtual table and saying, even if it’s not out loud, “We are here and we are going to get through this thing by working together.” Even if the “thing” is creating an illusionary portal to hell on the floor of a pub in order to create a distraction so you can steal a singing fish that is mounted on a plaque on the wall.

The situations that the players create, the ones I do not expect, are the best. They do more than just keep me on my toes. They force me to think differently and divert my brain from whatever garbage is filling it because sometimes I need to think very fast in order to keep up with what has just happened, like when they decide to feed magic chocolate to a baby yeti in an ice cave “just to see what happens.”

This stuff saves my sanity, I cannot explain it fully but it is truly a unique experience. I think it’s something to do with telling a story as a group, being completely immersed in creativity. What I mean is that it’s a safe space.

Through Dungeons and Dragons and the creativity it pulls out of everyone who gets involved, I have found something that heals and is not just “filler,” like TV or food. It is something that connects me to others. I do not have a lot of friends, I have struggled with employment my entire life, I feel like a burden to people around me a lot of the time, but with D&D, I can see past that in a weird way. People don’t like to discuss mental health and wellbeing, especially in the UK, but for me, D&D is taking an active part in wellbeing. 

You can relive these moments, these memories, over and over again with amazing people; you can write them down and keep them forever; you can record them on a podcast and listen to them. You can always have them, those moments where you laughed so hard you almost lost your breath; they can be tucked away safe and warm behind a little door in your brain. These memories matter in my opinion because they are unique and they are special and they make you feel less alone.