Dungeons and Dragons Helps Me Live Without Duchenne for a Moment

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by Hawken Miller |

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traveling with disabilities, discomfort, overwhelmed, transitions, writing, imagining, constipation, Dungeons & Dragons, COVID-19 vaccine

Kriki Cragwalker, a redheaded dwarf from the mountain city of Jagarz Dauk, grasps her enchanted, two-handed greataxe and is circled by a host of ancient green spirits with allegiance to the god Jani. She charges forward toward a horrified hobgoblin. 

Flanked on either side of her are a human wizard, an ancient halfling, a tall, muscular elf, and a man carrying some dangerous-looking colored vials. The minions go down easily, first to Kriki’s blade, then to the rest of the party’s potions, spells, and weapons. But the pit fiend ahead of them poses the greatest threat they’ve ever seen.

Welcome to a typical night of Dungeons and Dragons (D&D), the classic role-playing, tabletop game the protagonists in the popular Netflix series Stranger Things are addicted to. I began playing the game for the first time last summer and have grown to love letting my imagination go wild and strategizing about how to save the world with my friends. 

The adventures we’ve already had in our imaginations rival most fantasy books I’ve read. D&D has helped me escape from the real world, expand my creativity, improve my strategy and problem-solving skills, and stay connected with friends. And it’s not even a video game.

With Duchenne muscular dystrophy, I’m barely able to walk unassisted. I need help getting up from chairs and into the shower, and any physical activity is a recipe for a fall, which could lead to disaster. But Kriki, my character in D&D, on the other hand, is the most muscular female dwarf in all of Inathra. Her only drawback is her small stature, but if you mess with Kriki, you’ll probably end up with your head departing from your shoulders.

During D&D we stay as true to our characters as possible in our mannerisms, personalities, and actions. We control our characters’ actions by speaking them into existence; however, we are bound by the level of our spells, abilities, a set amount of movement per turn, how lucky we are with our dice rolls, and physics (for the most part).

When we start up the online version of D&D, Roll20.net, and begin the video chat, I become Kriki, and she becomes me. Whatever I couldn’t do before, I most definitely can with this badass dwarf. It’s freeing. 

In D&D, the Dungeon Master controls the setting, story, and monsters that you fight. But players also have to make use of their backstory, character personality, and environment to figure out what to do and how to win dicey (pun intended) battles. For example, to close the distance between a retreating enemy, Kriki could hop on a nearby horse to run them down, or one of my allies could have set a trap beforehand.

In D&D, the world is your oyster, and those who think creatively on their feet usually stay alive (you can’t forget about the element of luck on dice rolls). Whether you make it out dead or alive, attempting to get out of dangerous fictional situations in an imagined environment flexes my creative muscles. Plus, if I ever wanted to write a book myself, I have plenty of material to use.

You can’t forget about strategy, either. Kriki can’t heal herself, and she is only a badass to a certain extent. That’s where my other teammates, who can cast spells and make sure I don’t die, come in. I have to position myself where I can do damage, take the tougher blows for the healers, and am in range of healing spells.

I’ve learned a lot about how to play in the past months the hard way. One of my friend’s characters died in a recent fight, and there unfortunately isn’t a respawn feature. It’s definitely made me a more strategic thinker. 

Sheltering at home because of COVID-19 has made it hard for me to see friends from high school, and playing D&D has been a consistent way to bond with them (even though we are role-playing different characters). I have to be very careful because my lungs are weaker than the average person thanks to Duchenne. But no matter the distance, I can count on seeing them for D&D nights and having experiences in another world, literally.  

I can be whomever I want and make my character’s body do what it wants because Duchenne muscular dystrophy doesn’t exist in the world of D&D. Neither do the everyday struggles I have to face because of it. It’s one of the best escapes from reality I’ve found during the difficult time of the pandemic.

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Note: Muscular Dystrophy News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Muscular Dystrophy News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to muscular dystrophy.

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