This is a place for you to tell us about your experiences playing D&D, both positive and negative.*
This is a place for you to tell us about your experiences playing D&D, both positive and negative.*
About a year and a half after I started playing in my group, I sat down to do a session write-up. It had been a small session–only 3 players compared to our usual 5–but it was a fun game. And it touched on my own character’s backstory, so I really wanted to write something from her perspective.
Our DM (my boyfriend) has always encouraged players to do the session write-ups. In the year and a half I’d played with the group, I’d only written one (despite being a writer by trade). And that one that I wrote–man, did I have anxiety about doing it.
Not only did I wait for almost a month post-session to write it, I also asked the DM’s permission to post it, afraid that the rest of the group would hate me for it. I had him read it and approve it, and even then, I still thought they’d hate me.
But I never wrote another one. Then I sat down one day, and suddenly, I wanted to write about the team’s adventures. And I wasn’t scared anymore. A year and half later, I no longer considered myself just the DM’s girlfriend. Now I was a member of a team. Part of a group of friends.
Most of the time, good people don’t care if you’re the DM’s girlfriend or boyfriend or lover or spouse. But there is that stereotype–the one where the new girlfriend comes into a group, gets special treatment from the DM, and makes the whole campaign about them.
I didn’t want to be that person.
The first time I played D&D, my DM boyfriend of 2 months invited me to play in a Halloween one-shot with his established group. It was the first time I’d met anyone from the group, and I had no idea how to play D&D. But I loved it all the same. I loved that the DM had created this world for us, and that I could so clearly see it in my head as I played. I thought it was magic.
Flash forward two months, and I’m an official member of the group. The DM didn’t really ask his group if they wanted me to join, but he did invite me to join, and I did join, choosing to play the same gnome Sorcerer I built for the one-shot. And it wasn’t great at first.
Probably for the first 6 months I just tried to stay out of everyone’s way. I let them choose what we did; I let them make all the decisions; I never role-played, despite being a charisma build. No matter how many times my boyfriend told me I was welcome at the table, I never felt welcome at the table.
After only 3 months of playing, I started my own D&D group. One that was all women–and one that I DMed. One that made me feel totally safe and totally happy. At the time, it was a light in the darkness to my other, co-ed group.
In fairness to my boyfriend and his group, it wasn’t necessarily their fault I didn’t feel welcome. For the most part, they all welcomed me into the group. (The other lady in the group was one of the first people I asked to join my all lady group. She now plays in both games, and we’re great friends.) But there was tension between me and some members.
Some members bemoaned our party’s lack of a bard to do all our persuasion checks, or the fact that our party had three spellcasters. Sometimes complaints about the large party size were voiced, though never directed at me. But as the last person to join, these complaints (both about the lack of bard and the party size) often felt directed at me. Which made me feel guilty and anxious.
When I’d made my character, I didn’t know the make-up of my eventual party. The DM, wanting me to be happy, told me to play whatever I wanted for the one-shot. I didn’t know that I’d one day join an established group. I didn’t know that two of the five-member party were gnomes. I didn’t know that the party was made up of a Wizard, a Warlock, a Barbarian, a Monk, and a Rogue–or even what those classes meant. I didn’t know the party wanted a Bard.
I wanted to play a Sorcerer. (I still do, in fact.) But the complaints got so bad, I considered multiclassing. I even emailed the DM about it. A very long, sad, and pathetic email. We had a multi-day, multi-page conversation.
He told me to wait. He said I’d be happy with my character eventually. Just wait till I was level 5, he said. Everyone else in the group was already Level 5, but as a late addition to the game, I wasn’t. So I did wait. He was right. It did get better.
Here’s part of that conversation:
Me: I've never really known what Finley brings to the group or why they would ever possibly need her around. Because yeah, [two of the players] tend to take on all the RP and [two other players] tend to destroy the monsters.
And that’s where we left it. How the DM described my character only highlighted one thing for me: he thought I fit in the game. He wanted me there. That’s how he saw me, even if no one in the group saw me that way. So I decided to stick with it. I’d decided to give it 3 months—then I planned to quit. I just hadn’t decided how I’d break it to him.
Because the pressure to multiclass wasn’t the end of my problems in the group. There was also an ongoing undercurrent of “the DM’s girlfriend doesn’t know how to play.” Part of that is on me. I was too afraid to let everyone know that I did indeed know how to play—that I, in fact, DMed my own group and was well aware of how spells worked. I never spoke up in the group, afraid that I’d be shot down just for being the DM’s girlfriend.
And when I finally did speak up, I was shot down. But looking back, it’s hard to tell if I was shot down because I was the DM’s girlfriend or because I’d spent so long not speaking up.
I remember the first time it happened. We were trying to decide what quest to take on next, and I suggested that fighting the dragon would be fun because I’d finally leveled up to 5 and had taken Lightning Bolt (a high damage spell). The response? One of the guys questioned why I’d take lightning bolt, when I was going for a “trickster” build. He told me between the other two spellcasters we already had enough damage spells. He ended with:
Take what ever you want of course, but I think Finley has been super cool in that Loki type role.
It sounds innocent, and I’m sure he meant it innocently. But I was crushed. I had been so excited about Lightning Bolt—about finally being able to cast a spell that could help my team. I’d struggled so much with feeling not useful and wanting to catch up to everyone else at Level 5. To have the thing I’d been waiting for get brushed away so casually was heartbreaking.
It also showed that he didn’t understand my character at all. I wasn’t going for a Loki type. I was trying to lean into chaos. Unpredictability. None of my spells were from the same school of magic, and Lightning Bolt fit perfectly. Also, he was wrong. The other two spell casters didn’t have any area of effect damage spells.
He later told me why I needed to keep Magic Missile. Because it was just too good. Because it was the best spell in the game. Again, he was wrong. Magic Missile is a fine spell, but it didn’t work for the character I was building.
The whole encounter made me want to quit even sooner. I didn’t want to be told how to play my character—I just wanted to be allowed to play. Allowed to have my character and play her as I wanted to.
I probably would have quit after the next game. I was so miserable—had so much anxiety over playing in front of a person I didn’t trust. But a mere week later, he and the DM got in a fight about an unrelated issue. That player ended up quitting, and I stayed.
And the player who quit is a good person. I don’t mean to tell this story out of anger or frustration—it’s just what happened. Would he have told me how to play my character if I hadn’t been a woman? Would things have been different if I wasn’t the DM’s girlfriend and was instead just a member of the group? Would it have made a difference if I’d been more assertive? I don’t know, but those are still questions I ask myself.
And to be clear, everyone in the group was/is a good person. They’re people who I don’t think meant to make me feel unwelcome. Had they been mean, hateful people, it would have been so much worse. I was lucky.
I’ve been playing in the same game for almost two years now. We lost two members to growing families, and I found the group a new member. We’re now a party of 5 instead of 6, and we even have the bard everyone always wanted. And the best part? It’s not me. I still play a Wild Magic Sorcerer, just like I wanted to from the start.
When I sat down to do that session write-up a couple of months ago, I was happy. So happy. Everything had changed with the group. I was a member of it—not just there because my boyfriend wanted me to be. I’d worked with my team. I’d even been critical during the big fight, blocking the doorway and protecting the other members of my party. Most importantly, I’d played Finley exactly as I imagined her: worrying about the other party members; doing creative things during combat, not just attacking everything she saw; fearing she’s not good at magic, but trying her hardest anyways; having fun during the midst of the drama.
My story has a very happy ending. I became a DM of an all lady group, and I found my place within my other group. But it so easily could have gone the other way. I don’t know what would’ve happened if the one player hadn’t quit. I don’t know if I ever would’ve found my voice. I hope I would’ve—I hope I would’ve played the character I wanted to play, the way I wanted to play it. But I don’t know if I would’ve found the strength.
I want other people to find the strength I didn’t have. The strength to believe in their character. The strength to trust their instincts. The strength to say no when people tell you to not be yourself. Because it’s worth it. Having your ideas valued? Being a member of a group? Seeing yourself as a hero? It’s worth it.
Written by Rachel Paxton. She writes other things around the site, but figured she should be brave enough to share her personal D&D journey if she wanted other people to do the same. Find her on Twiter @rachpax.
And if you have a D&D story--something that made you want to quit or a time your character shined or even just why you love the game--send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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