Growing up dyslexia leaves you ill-equipped for the world. Your education success is generally low, your poor short-term memory puts in you at a disadvantage in most situation and often poor social skills limit your ability to make friends. Add all the normal teenage problems of hormones, acne and trying to work out who you are, and the transition from child to adult can be very difficult. Fortunately I found an unlikely support group that gave me a chance to develop friendships, social skills and the concept of who I was. This group involved assassins, fighters, thieves and hoard of monsters. It was my local Dungeons & Dragons group.
The name Dungeons & Dragons (or D&D for short) will be familiar to most. A few years ago they made two films under the name and in the nineties it was a Saturday morning cartoon. But to me and millions of others around the world, it will always be a roleplaying game. A game of imagination, dice and arcane rules that is the haunt of intelligent but awkward teenage boys everywhere.
The premise of the game is simple. Each player has a character modeled after one the great heros of the Grey fantasy literature. e.g. a Barbarian like Conan, a noble fighter like Aragorn or a cunning thief in the mold of Mouser. The game is lead by a Dungeon Master (DM) who describes the action and controls the monsters. It’s he who plans the lost cities for the players to explore and interprets the hundreds of rules that make up D&D. Individual sessions of the game last many hours and completing a single adventure often takes weeks.
In this unlikely, fantasy setting I learnt skills that the real world had failed to teach me. In a group of similarly social inept teenagers, my lack of social skills did not impede me, allowing me to build friendships that have lasted 25 years. The D&D fantasy setting also taught me problem solving skills and teamwork as often a deadly trap or a fiendish puzzle would block the adventurers path and could only be overcome by cooperation. Even the mass of rule books with their pages and pages of dry text helped. Normally the requirement to read and remember so much would drive me away but with Dungeons & Dragons, I was motivated to learn. I spent many happy hours reading those books, expanding my vocabulary and pushing my literacy skills in a way that school never did.
Having mastered the basics of the game I was keen to be DM and create my own adventures. With this step, D&D opened new and previously unimagined doors for me. My imagination had always been highly active but I had never had an outlet. With my poor spelling & grammar, writing stories had never been an option, neither had art been an option with my cackhandedness. But in creating fantasy adventures and worlds for my players, I could exercise my creativity without being held back by my inability to express myself. Through this I learnt how to be creative and to turn those creative thoughts into something useful. Skills that have been a consistent benefit to me in designing software and web sites.
Over the years D&D has received some very bad press. Some right-wing nut jobs think its linked to satanic worship and black magic. Others have linked it to suicide and violence. All this is rubbish. Dungeons & Dragons gave me a safe environment to learn vital life skills that because of my dyslexia, the education system had singularly failed to provide me. For tens of thousands of bright teenagers with dyslexia, asperges, ADHD and other educational problems, this fantasy game has provided a safe haven in which to learn, explore and to grow.