Tabletop Therapy is a new Rogues Portal series by Scout Schiro detailing the experiences of tabletop gamers with mental illness. This week we feature an interview with Rogues Portal Books Editor, Reed DeLuca.
Name, pronouns, and where you’re located?
I’m Reed! My pronouns are they/them/theirs and I’m from Rhode Island.
If you feel comfortable, can you tell me (and our readers) about your mental health situation?
Yeah! I have PTSD and borderline personality disorder. BPD is kind of weird because… there is scholarship and study on it, but the scholarship and study shows that while yes, there are genetic aspects of it, a lot of it comes from how you grow up and trauma and all this other stuff. So I like to joke that it’s like PTSD on steroids. [Laughs]
How did you get into Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) or other tabletop games? How long have you been playing and how frequently do you play?
My intro to tabletop gaming is kind of interesting because – I play D&D, obviously, but I also play My Little Pony’s competitive card game which is also kind of a tabletop game. I started playing the My Little Pony competitive card game first because my partner read… so you know how some fanfic writers will write highly specific AUs for things they know a lot about?
So someone who plays My Little Pony the competitive card game wrote a Bellamy and Clarke [from The 100] fic about them playing My Little Pony. So Sam was like, ‘I want to play this game’, and I was like, ‘OK, yeah, we’re gonna do that’.
So I started playing this game. We play sometimes in person with a whole bunch of people in Boston at a game shop, and the game shop also sells tabletop stuff. So I had started to see tabletop stuff, and I got into Critical Role, and then through Critical Role I got into The Adventure Zone.
Those were two cool and really unique games, and I was like: ‘I want to do this’. I’ve done roleplaying games online before, but nothing like tabletop gaming. So we did that. We started (and haven’t done a whole lot with) a D&D campaign with people in our wedding party to try to get everyone to know each other. I play more often with some folks from Rogues Portal. That’s like my regular – my ‘home game’. I want to get into other types of tabletop games, like Night Witches and Apocalypse World – which is gonna be really cool. I am working on a campaign for Apocalypse World.
What kinds of characters do you like to play? Tell me about your main player character.
In my main game – I call it the ‘Team SNAFU Campaign’, because we named our team ‘Snafu’, which is military jargon for ‘Situation Normal, All Fucked Up’. I play a young half-elf named Juno Svoboda.
All my favorite characters could be interpreted as ‘Paladins’. I really like how faith brings people to action – like, my favorite comic book character is Daredevil and he’s pretty known for being Catholic and… also a superhero? So I was researching gods on D&D’s little god list or whatever – because in older editions of D&D – and still in Fifth Edition, kind of – you have to be in the same alignment as your god.
So first I was looking for Chaotic Good alignments. I like Chaotic Good characters because… you can have other interesting characters, but why not just have a Chaotic Good character? Because, like, it’s the best alignment. I don’t really take a lot of stock in alignments, truth be told, but D&D relies on it, so if I have to pick one, it’s going to be Chaotic Good. Then I found this god Tritheron, who is the god of liberty and retribution, which basically means that I can create an anarcho-communist Paladin, so I was like, ‘cool, that’s it, we’re done here’.
Characters that I tend to typically be drawn to are people who have trauma in their past – or in their present – and tend to respond to that trauma by being very action-driven. There’s this quote from a Martin Scorcese movie – it’s from Mean Streets, which I think says a lot about me as a person.
I haven’t seen that film, because I have never seen a film. [EDITOR’S NOTE: this is a joke, Scout has seen at least one film.]
It’s – surprise – an Italian-American Mafia movie. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen Mean Streets. The quote is, “You don’t make up for your sins in church. You do it in the streets. You do it at home. The rest is bullshit, and you know it.” I like people that are deeply flawed but try really hard to do good. I also – personally, and also with characters that I’m drawn to – am more interested in people that will take direct action and don’t tend to rely on institutions to do that – to create justice for them.
I’m GMing the Apocalypse World game that we’re working on. My main squeeze NPC is going to be this dude named Alric who is kind of a mess. But – he’s a good egg who’s pretty traumatized and grew up in a pretty intense world of violence but he finds like, the one thing he cares about and he’ll do anything to protect that. So, like – [laughs] I’m about protective characters.
What kind of storyline(s) are you currently running?
The original D&D campaign I was going to run was our wedding party, and the idea that I had for that game was – it was basically going to be the plot of Halloweentown.
The film from the Disney Channel?
[Laughs] Yeah, the Disney film. Because I have this one really strong, well rounded character of Juno, I tend to import her into other games to be the main instigator of action. So in the Wedding Party Campaign that I’m going to run, she is this one Paladin that is trying to keep this evil magic from taking away all of the magic in this one town. There’s basically an evil Wizard who is trying to combine the town that our characters are in and the normal people world on the Ethereal Plane. So like – it’s Halloweentown. It’s literally Halloweentown. Juno is the one that gathers the party and then sends them out to do shit – the implication being that she’s fighting the forces of evil in the meantime while they do their basic gather quests before they can fight the big boss! [Laughs]
Apocalypse World is a little different because Apocalypse World is one of the first really strong and well crafted independent tabletop games that takes the D&D system and completely runs away with it and breaks down all the ‘crunchy’ rules of D&D. It’s now been used as a system that people create other indie games off of.
So I’ve been trying to run a game of Night Witches for literally like a year? And Night Witches is actually the plot of World War II. It takes place in Soviet Russia, and you’re part of the Night Witches, which were a group of female Soviet bombers that flew out of date, broken crop dusting planes to do bombing runs on the Germans. The plot of that literally just follows World War II.
But Apocalypse World is really interesting because the first session, you actually create the world together. As a GM in Apocalypse World games your job is to moreso ask questions than make hard moves such as forcing your characters to interact with the big bad. So in Apocalypse World, when we get together, we’re going to talk about what kind of threats we want to make – but I’m basically kind of envisioning a world that’s kind of Mad Max-y, or like Danger Days [The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys] inspired where they’re in the desert.
Every time you talk about it [the setting of Apocalypse World], I’m like, ‘Ah, yes, The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys.’
That’s where I’m coming from, because – I watched Mad Max [Fury Road] with my girlfriend, and I didn’t really understand what was going on, like, 99% of the time. But like – everyone is always saying ‘Danger Days is like Mad Max’, so like, I understand that. Like, I cosplay from it.
Oh my god! [Laughs] I love that. Mad Max is weird because – you could watch the earlier movies, but there’s no real point? I think Fury Road was a really interesting film because it does really just drop you in and not really explain anything, ever. It kind of relies on your knowledge of how terrible capitalism is and how terrible men are to like, function, and work, which is really cool? But – I’m kind of picturing there being these different desert outposts and outcroppings and there being rival gangs that control different things. Juno, being one of the gang members, basically hires out our Player Characters to get things that they would need to survive in the desert.
How does playing Dungeons & Dragons/tabletop games help you?
What I like about tabletop games is the same thing that I like about writing fanfiction or writing original fiction. I like creating worlds where characters can process things. I like narrative and characters as catharsis, but I find a lot of TV shows or books or movies aren’t really good at creating solid recovery narratives. Giving people a platform to do that is really interesting. I also like fiction that breaks shit down.
So like – Juno, when I first started playing Dungeons & Dragons, I didn’t know what Elf race Juno was half-elf for. But I knew that I wanted to play a half-elf character because I wanted to have a character that can bring racial issues into the fantasy world that we’re in. So Juno’s origin story is that her birth parents abandoned her to this temple to Tritheron because they don’t want to deal with the shame of having a half-elf child. She’s raised by these anarcho-communists. [Laughs]
And then when we started to play, my DM was explaining to the party what a Drow was, and talking about how Drow are… The D&D text reads Drow as evil, and that’s so fucked up, because – it’s just bad fantasy? Because any time we associate darkness with evil, that’s just white supremacy talking for us. So I was just kind of like – ‘Yeah, no, Juno’s absolutely a half-Drow.’ She’s this Chaotic Good, anarcho-communist, half-Drow woman, like, 100% – that’s who she is.
I’m going to talk about this in my own piece, because I picked a half-elf also, but I picked a half-elf for my campaign because my Dungeon Master’s usual Player Character is a half-elf, and I was like, ‘That sounds cool!’ But we also agree that the positioning of Drow by Wizards of the Coast is super racist, and really bad? So all Drow in my home campaign are Lawful Good or Neutral Good – and they’re just – good? Drow are my favorite. I love Drow!
That’s really good! Have you ever listened to Friends at the Table?
No, but my sibling really wants me to!
You really would like it, I think. Friends at the Table is kind of weird because they’ll do seasons. So they’ll do one arc in one game and then do another completely different thing in a different game. So their fantasy campaign is a post-post-apocalyptic fantasy. There’s been an apocalypse – no one really remembers what classical fantasy world is like. So Orcs are archivists and they’re trying to preserve and keep everything from before safe. Magic is considered evil and bad and scary because people don’t understand it anymore. Elves and Wizards have no power because it doesn’t matter anymore. It’s really really cool. And it’s also a really great introduction to Apocalypse World based roleplaying!
I like fantasy and media that inverts tropes that are considered ‘classical’ for fantasy. When I play, I try my best to kind of play with those elements. And also I just think that the ‘nerd community’ is woefully bereft of actual political commentary, even though a lot of media that we consume is super political, and we just don’t think about it or acknowledge it.
I always push that agenda when I write or create or even talk to other people. Like – I created an anarcho-communist character because I’m an anarchist and wanted to see how that would be interpreted in a fantasy realm! Which has gotten her in a little bit of trouble, maybe, with her party members more than once, because she doesn’t really care about what other people have to say. Two of our regular people in our campaign – one plays a Lawful Good Dragonborn and the other plays a Chaotic Neutral Elf. She tends to butt heads with them a lot. But I like that? I’m interested in seeing how things shake out in our campaign with her. It’s just going to be fun. So – yeah. I like fantasy that fucks shit up.
I feel like that’s helpful for me and my brain because – first of all, the world is really scary and I don’t have a lot of control in the actual world. In Dungeons & Dragons, I can create a space that’s safe. It’s about my characters being able to navigate that world and being able to act in places that I can’t act.
So we usually play Dungeons & Dragons on Sundays, and after Charlottesville, it was really nice to be able to go and play my glaive-wielding badass paladin ancom and set free a whole bunch of slaves.That was really cool. It’s very cathartic in that kind of sense. Also, I’m just kind of a generally angry person, so having an opportunity for structured violence is cool. So I think that’s how Dungeons & Dragons helps my brain. It gives me a space to explore and process trauma but also have control over this one thing.
Have you learned any coping strategies from Dungeons & Dragons? What has Dungeons & Dragons taught you about yourself?
I don’t necessarily know if it’s helped me create coping strategies because I’ve had them in place already. I’ve grown up reading and writing fic, so it’s just an extension of that. I think what’s more beneficial to me is that it allows me to create with other people. I’m really excited to run Apocalypse World because it’s going to be me and my friends getting to build this together. I like collaboration – as kind of a lonely person, it’s nice to do that all together. And – some weeks, I’m not good at talking to other humans, so it forces me to interact with other humans.
I don’t know if it’s taught me stuff that I haven’t already known but didn’t want to admit to myself. It’s definitely taught me that I am a bit of a control freak and that I’m really bossy. It’s forced me to confront the fact that I will pretty readily talk over other people, which is not super nice when you’re playing D&D with other people. (Laughing) It’s forced me to confront a lot of ugly truths about myself. So D&D is teaching me listening skills.
It’s also teaching me creative problem solving, though. One of our characters is not very good at fighting, and it’s just me and this other person.
Who is it?
That’s exactly just what it’s like being a Cleric.
I mean, you could be a Paladin and have the bonus of Cleric and badassery – except you have to have a good Charisma score, and I didn’t know that, so Juno has a shit Charisma score. Which I deal with in fiction by the fact that she can’t remember anyone’s name.
So we decided that we were going to build Molotov cocktails by buying little vials of oil and rags and taking our torches and lighting them on fire. There was also the time that we convinced a king that Christoph’s character, Theodin, was the wrath of the gods personified. I really like when shit is kind of weird and not how it’s supposed to be. So creative problem solving is a skill I think that anyone can learn from D&D. The other stuff like being bossy and learning how to listen to people is me-specific. But anyone can learn creative problem solving, because it’s important. And it makes good teamwork.
Do you prefer to play/create characters similar to yourself, or unlike yourself? Does this help you at all?
I think that there are characters I’ve written that are not exactly similar to myself, and it’s weird. But I try to put different pieces of myself in different characters so it’s not just – not one is all me.
Alric, my main squeeze for Apocalypse World, is definitely not a whole lot like me because I don’t know what I would be like in an apocalypse and I also wouldn’t be this super sexy dude. I definitely would not just sleep with anyone ever. I think there are certain parts of him like his willingness to fight for the things he cares about is lifted from myself.
Honestly, when I make characters I tend to work off of other characters that I’ve already loved and then add and subtract different parts. So my Dragon Age OC was originally going to be just Bellamy Blake [from The 100], but then she became something else entirely. I like the metamorphosis that character creation can result in. D&D’s really cool about that because you are in control of what happens, and the decisions of the people around you also affect how your character is formed.
So who’s Alric?
[Laughs] Alric is a little bit of Bellamy Blake, he’s a little bit of Ronan Lynch from The Raven Cycle. I think he’s also a little bit of Frank Castle from The Punisher just because he’s not really good at talking to people, but that’s my dissociative ass also. He’s going to be interesting to play, because Apocalypse World tends to do things that Dungeons & Dragons doesn’t do. Like – Apocalypse World has built in sex moves, so it’ll be weird and awesome. But I would definitely say his main inspirations are Bellamy Blake and Ronan Lynch.
Where can we find you online?
So I’m on Twitter at @armustdie. I’m on Instagram at @armustdie. Pretty much anything that says @armustdie is me? I also do the Tumblr thing at academicpunk.tumblr.com. I’m all around – not hard to find, usually crying about Daredevil.
Want to share your story with Tabletop Therapy? Connect with Scout on Twitter at @alderaani.