Gather round, folks, because I bring you a tale that begins on the very precipice of the pandemic, extends through a year of extreme burnout, and involves a fantastical land full of dragons, dungeons, and indecisive half-elves.
Picture it: February 2020, AKA the last normal month on Earth. We were all reading COVID-19 articles with a sense of bemusement that grew into dread as they crept from the international news section forward to the front page, but most of our lives hadn’t been changed by it at all.
Three big things happened in my life in February 2020. First, I started what seemed like it was my dream job (spoilers: it was not).
Second, I started playing D&D remotely with my college friends back on the East Coast.
And, third, we were almost deported!
Of these three events, it seemed like starting the D&D campaign with friends would prove to be the least significant. It was the 18th anniversary of when we assembled to play together in college. That campaign ran for just a few months, but it gained an appropriately mythical status in our collective hindsight. When our beloved friend Dante passed away in 2014 we reformed for a one-off night, but none of us ever expected to play together again – certainly not with me halfway around the world!
During a catch-up with Lindsay about my new gig, she mentioned that some of the old gang would be assembling physically for a new campaign. We joked about how funny it would be to have me projected on a screen playing remotely – imagine that! But, the more we joked about it, the more the idea took hold. After making arrangements with our longtime DM, I appeared in that first session live from New Zealand!
I cleared off a desk in our spare bedroom, still packed with boxes from our recent move, and pointed it out the window so I could enjoy the sunny day while I played with friends who were up past midnight back in the US. It was ridiculous fun. We had forgotten all the rules and were all playing newly-invented characters and classes we had never played before. I inadvertently vaporized an entire alleyway of assailants with my first Thunderwave. Even though the session was meant to be a one-off, we agreed to reconvene two weeks later.
Two days later, the New Zealand government informed us we were 40 days away from deportation.
(This is too big a story to explain in full here, but in short: The NZ government told us repeatedly in writing that we absolutely should not renew our visas while we waited on a decision on our residency application. When we (as a pair assiduous rule-followers) did not renew our visas while waiting on said decision, the Ministry promptly informed us that our visas had expired, we were in the country illegally, we had to quit our jobs, and we should make plans to depart immediately.)
The weeks that followed our deportation notice were one of the most stressful periods I’ve experienced in my entire life. We lived every day wondering if we should put our newly-moved-into household into storage and look for a place to stay back in the states even as a global pandemic began unfolding. It was one of the many times in our lives as recent immigrants when we realized how powerless we were and how arbitrary the rules of borders and residency are in every country around the world.
Truly, I don’t know if I would’ve had the emotional fortitude to survive our tense process of getting emergency visas without the fresh connection with my best friends from the states and the knowledge that I’d see them all again in two weeks. We played that second session with all of us remote from each other as the early days of the pandemic reached into all of our cities. I certainly had a thrilling story to share in our “what’s been going on with you in the past two weeks!”
Then, between our second and third session, New Zealand began its first two-month COVID lockdown. That meant no leaving the house, other than for groceries, gas, banking, medical care, or a short walk around the neighborhood.
Even if the states wasn’t in an official lockdown, all of my party members were similarly shut in their houses. It was the perfect opportunity for us to set a regular date to play – none of us were going anywhere! Each session before playing we would catch up, sharing our stories of hunting for scarce groceries or finding the perfect pattern for sewing masks.
As our initial campaign drew to a close, I asked if I could take a turn at being Dungeon Master for a session or two while our regular DM prepped his next adventure. I had always been fascinated by DM-ing as a mash-up of carefully planned math and improvisational storytelling, but I never had the guts to try to convince people to play with me as a first-time DM. [Read more…] about My Dungeons and Dragons Lifeline