Over the past couple of years, I’ve begun to get really into Dungeons and Dragons (or D&D for short). Those are my dice in the picture.
For anyone who doesn’t know what that is, here is my favourite introductory video to the game. However, this blog post is mostly for people who already know D&D and if I tried to explain it to the point where a complete novice could understand the concepts I’m going to expand on, this blog would probably be 15,000 words long. I hope I can explain myself well enough that you won’t necessarily have to know the game, but it would probably help. Just a heads up.
As I’ve had the concepts involved sink into my head and become second nature, I’ve begun to draw some similarities to my job and life. This is probably natural considering that this game has spent decades trying to create, as closely as possible, a framework of rules and mechanisms around which any conceivable situation can be played out. The aspects of fifth edition that encourage and enable players to expand games beyond fantasy and into any genre or setting is proof of this, in my opinion.
The simplest explanation I’ve got for D&D is the following:
“It’s basically all about the storytelling. And when you do something physical, or magical, within the game, you have rules to tell you how well you did.”
In real life, we all have things we’re good at and things we suck at. And when it comes to ADHD, some things we are really, really good at, and some things we really, really suck at. For me, it was like starting a character sheet with minuses in a bunch of ability stats where everyone else has bonuses, but are needed all the time, like strength and perception. I also had bonuses to ability scores, but only the ones that come up every seven sessions (like when was the last time a DM asked for animal handling?)
Then, when I finally figured out where the weaknesses were, and I added buffs like organizers and smartphone apps, I found out 90% of those add a massive bonus to my rolls, but only for a short period of time, until the novelty wears off. Like a magic item that runs out of charges. After that I go back to having to roll 18 to 20 to have a chance succeeding at a DC of 12. And everyone around me keeps telling me to “Just roll higher.” It’s easy for them to say, when they only have to roll an 8 to succeed on a DC of 12 because of the bonuses they get.
For some people, meds can be like a magic item that removes negative ability scores. Great! Now, for the first time at least there’s no penalty. Rolling a 12 will succeed on a DC of 12. However, other players say that magic item gives an unfair advantage. They don’t understand, no matter what explanation is offered, that there was a negative to that ability score to begin with, and all the meds do is bring it up to even.
And even when the apps and organizers work, there’s a key element that comprises both motivation and interest. It doesn’t matter what bonuses I get to my rolls (as a result of strategies) if I’m disinterested in a task. It’s like a level of exhaustion. I’m at disadvantage on all my rolls, no matter how many times I roll. And the worst part is, unless I’m lucky enough to roll 2 twenties in a row (a 1 in 400 chance), I’ll never get a critical hit. I’ll never get that awesome feeling when everybody at the table cheers for that 20 on the die. I’ll never have a chance to be really good at something.
Then there’s exhaustion! Because trying over and over again at something I know has a negative to the ability check, is extremely demoralizing. After a while, I can get levels of exhaustion not only after taking a long rest, but without even realizing it. It’s like the DM had some homebrew rules nobody ever told me, and just subtracted from my rolls behind the screen. And I’m left wondering why I’m not succeeding on attack rolls.
It’s not all bad, however. There are some things that I have massive bonuses to, because of my ADHD. Performance, for instance. I had stage fright all of once in the decade I performed in theatre. That was the first time.
I can get up and talk in front of a bunch of people without breaking a sweat. It’s just... Easy. Others see that DC of 25 and quake in their boots. Sure, because they’ve got a +1 to performance. I’ve got a +10. And even if I roll a 10, I’ve got a reroll ability known as a brain that thrives under crisis. The minute everything is falling apart, that’s when I get an automatic re-roll of any failed roll. And I don’t even have to think about it. There’s no magic item. It’s a class ability, baby.
So that’s ADHD, as seen through a D&D filter. It’s a struggle, every day. And it’s also occasionally super awesome. All I have to do is make sure I’ve got a few magic items, maybe a spell or two, and other players who understand where I have penalties to rolls, and I’m good to go.