We Try Things. Occasionally they even work.

So, I’ve once more been struggling with my depression. Big surprise there. Kinda snuck up on the back of some of the stuff I was writing last week and just overwhelmed me when I wasn’t paying attention. Luckily, with my renewed focus on watching for it and the help of my friends, I was able to notice it quickly and come up with a few plans to circumvent it.

Historically, working out every day has been a good way to deal with my depression for a few reasons. There’s the health reasons, studies that suggest that regular exercise can have a significant positive impact on one’s mental well-being. There’s the easy reasons, that I’m generally too tired after a heavy workout (and those are the only kind I do) to be anything. Then there’s the mental reasons, that I’m finally making progress on one of my big goals by losing weight. All of that together leaves me at least neutral for as long as I can keep it up (usually 3-5 weeks) though I get almost nothing else done.

Another, more mentally productive, way to deal with my depression is by creating something. Writing is often a good way for me to take a step away from everything and let my mind work out my problems through my stories. When I was in college, working on building a set for a show or helping put together some internal improvement project for the theater was always very relaxing, letting my focus and keep busy while leaving my mind free enough to work through things in the background. Unfortunately, I’m not very good with music or visual arts, but I’m certain those would be just as helpful. Anything that gets me focused on and engaged in the act of creation always helps.

Sometimes, even working a lot (at my job) can help, if I’ve got the right kind of projects. Put in some overtime, rake in that delicious OT pay, and start making even more progress toward being debt free. A good amount of rewarding work (people recognize what I’m doing as being useful and I can contribute to the good of my team/company) is just the right kind of mentally exhausting. I get so wrapped up in what I’m doing to let my problems in and then I’m too tired to make myself fret about anything.

All three have worked individually in the past. Unfortunately, none of them would last for long. I wear myself out to the point of not being capable of working out again, or I get finish a project and can’t figure out the next steps, or I finish whatever work project had me so focused and I’m unable to find a new one to fill that hole. Eventually, they all come to an end.

Which is why, this time, I’m trying all three at once. Work 10 hours days and try to get super invested in an interesting work project. Workout immediately after work. Come home, eat something, have a cup of tea to help me stay awake, and then write/try-to-write until 11 or 12. The idea being that, when one of the three fails, I should still have the other two continuing on to prop me up until I manage to get the third one going again. So far, it’s working out pretty well.*

First, I pushed myself too-hard in my workouts initially and had to really dial it down, but that means I’ve just got a little more time and energy for writing. Then I picked my workouts back up again, full-force, and was too tired to write for a couple of nights, but since I workout after work I was able to continue investing in my latest work project.

Unfortunately, there are still some flaws. After an entire week of this, I hit Friday and couldn’t do anything after 1:30. I had to run a meeting about my project which taught me a lot and forced me to herd cats for an hour and a half. Senior Coworker Cats. Some of whom had been at the company longer than I’ve been alive. I went home pretty much immediately afterward and decided to take all the pictures off my phone as my day’s project. 800 pictures later, I played a few rounds of video games with friends and went to bed.

All-in-All, it seems to be working aside from a few quiet moments here or there were I just kinda feel sad, but those are growing shorter and less frequent after only a week. Maybe, if I can keep this up long enough, they’ll disappear entirely.

 

 

*Side-effects of the pursuit of three major goals may include drowsiness, irritability, a zombie-like demeanor, and a severe allergic reaction to social interaction. But hey! At least you’re not a depressed sack of sad!

Dungeons and Dragons: What’s the Story?

As you might be able to infer from other parts of my blog (or perhaps just remember from a previous post), my favorite part of playing Dungeons and Dragons is the storytelling. DMs developing worlds and spooling out stories in every direction. Players and their characters taking the reins of the DMs stories and telling smaller ones through the way their characters develop. The stories we see at the end of a campaign as we look back and admire all we’ve done since we started. I love them all.

The stories I prefer most are the ones I can tell as a DM. Unfortunately, telling a story as a DM can be a bit of tricky business. If the DM is too forceful in their storytelling, the players can wind up feeling railroaded–which means that they feel like their characters have been placed on a track and they have no options or choices that really make a difference. Sometimes, with certain players, a bit of railroading is necessary if you want them to actually be doing anything. Sometimes, the players don’t mind a little firm direction, if you’ve set it up correctly. If a DM tells the story right, it’s possible the players won’t even notice that it’s happening.

Different DMs come at storytelling from different angles, but most fall into one of a few categories. There’s the adversarial DM, who is trying their best to kill the players’ characters and the players need to use all their wiles and skills to escape the DM’s traps and narrative sticky spots. There’s the supportive DM who just wants to ensure their players are having fun, bending the rules so they don’t get in the way of the players reaching their goals. Finally, there’s the DM who just lets the dice decide, setting up situations that they players can get through with luck and/or skill but could still include lethal consequences if they’re foolish or really unlucky. Personally, I tend to flip-flop between the last two categories.

I like the supportive style for fun-oriented campaigns. It is generally more fun if the players are successful (and death isn’t NEARLY as funny as some kind of persistent negative consequence), and I’m not one to let a mere rule get in the way of a good joke. Plus, one of the keys to good humor is subversion of the expected. If a player opens a chest expecting a monster, trap, or treasure, one of the best things to put inside it is a series of slightly smaller chests. Top the whole thing off with a “goblin punch” aimed at someone’s vulnerables and you’ve got yourself a hilarious setup for humor.

For my more narrative campaigns, I prefer the “let the dice decide” style. The best way to involve the players, to get them to suspend their disbelief and emotionally invest in the campaign, is to make them feel like their actions matter, like their decisions have consequences. You have to balance risk and reward so that they have the opportunity to fail and succeed on a smaller scale on a regular basis, so they never develop a god complex. Then mix in opportunities for them to fail or succeed beyond the scope of the situation and you can really hook them. Reward them when they’re clever and punish them when they’re making poor decisions. The exact nuances of how to do exactly that are a blog post of their own.

Situational railroading has a place in the narrative campaigns. Sometimes, because of the past choices a player has made, the entire party winds up in a situation they can’t escape from. Sometimes you need to move them from one city to another, so you “railroad” them by provide a reason they would NEED to move. On the flip side, that level of guidance can absolutely kill the fun in a more relaxed campaign. The whole point of the relaxed style is to let the humor and feel of the room guide your choices as a DM, so you can keep people laughing and the funny moments rolling out. Dictating anything at that point can sour someone’s fun.

So far, in my narrative campaign, I’d like to think I’ve only engaged in the permissible kind of railroading. The only time I think that it could have been a little too heavy-handed was in order to help my players remake their characters. One wanted to change pretty much everything and another needed a way to be introduced to a prestige class, along with make a few changes to the way his current class worked. So I laid out the path for them, knowing they’d take the bait, and then forced them to keeping walking down it.

In my opinion, the key to building ANY kind of narrative structure in a D&D campaign (and this includes permissible railroading), is to make sure the players never feel like their choices don’t matter or that they don’t have any choices. They should always have the option to just turn around and walk away. They should always be able to make decisions about how their character acts in a situation or how their character plays it all out, even if they don’t have a choice about what that situation is. In short, never take away ALL of their agency. Unless they’re being mind-controlled. That’s a whole different story, though.

I’m writing all of this up as I’m preparing for a D&D session with my narrative campaign. I hope none of them see this and read too deeply into it. Today, I just want to gather my friends around a table and help them tell the story we’ve been working on for almost a year and a half. No railroading, no narrative traps, just a lot of fun with my friends.