D&D and Life

I am in control of my actions and reactions, not how they turn out, not the things around me, not the problems I face. Only my actions and reactions.

Turns out, the system for D&D combat is a really good tool to help navigate life.

Hear me out.

In D&D (5e), when you’re in combat, your character has only three things they can do on your turn; an action, a bonus action, and movement.

An action is usually something like making an attack or casting a spell, or even holding an action until something else happens (other actions include hiding, dashing, interacting with objects, and so on). A bonus action might be to take a potion or even another attack if you’re one of those classes.

Here’s the thing though. I can choose to attack, but my dice roll determines how I do. If I roll low, no go. If I roll high, hurray! I succeed. I choose what to do, but I can’t control what happens (not until someone develops a wrist technique for rolling dice how you want – I’ll keep you posted on that).

So in life as in D&D.

In life, I can only choose my actions and movements. I can choose whether to pursue this relationship, take that job, move away, move home, write this book, start that blog, exercise, etc. It’s all up to me. What I can’t choose is what happens with it. Maybe I move to a new city and it doesn’t work out. Maybe the relationship doesn’t pay off. Maybe the book is a glorious flop. Or maybe not. I have no way of knowing.

However, also as in D&D, I can stack the odds slightly in my favor. In D&D you use a d20, or 20-sided die, for most ability checks and attack rolls. You roll the dice and add your modifier. A fighter class, for instance, will have a higher chance of doing something strength-based so they will have a higher modifier, and a likelier chance of success. Say they have a +4 modifier, on a d20 that increases the chances of meeting the target number by 20%. Not bad. Magic weapons, spell effects, and other items can also increase the chance of success.

How can I do the same in real life?

Education is one step, and I don’t necessarily mean organized education, although that can help in certain circumstances. But if you want to succeed on your taxes this year, doing some research and learning how to prepare your taxes is essential. Or learning that you can afford someone to prepare your taxes for you.

You might learn a new language, which helps your chances of getting a coveted job posting abroad.

You might get a certificate in the area of your choice, vastly increasing the odds of getting a job in that field.

Health is another way to stack the odds in your favor. Having more energy, both mental and physical, will help you in any endeavor, whether it’s personal or professional. Being emotionally stable is another huge benefit in work and in life, and though that might require some investment (hey, training in D&D ain’t cheap), it’s well worth it.

How far can this metaphor go?

Well, D&D is a cooperative game, designed to run best for groups of 4-6. A solo player won’t be able to handle much, as their skills aren’t going to be balanced. That’s just how the game works. You can’t be a rogue and a wizard and a barbarian and a cleric. You will have your strong points offset by weaknesses. Everyone does. But in a party (support group of friends/family) everyone is made stronger. You can tackle higher level puzzles, traps and monsters because you all work together.

As in D&D, as in life.

I think this is one reason why people love D&D so much. I’ve even heard (through rumors), that some psychologists treat it as a great place to work through personal issues. Home-therapy, anyone? At the very least, it can teach a receptive player how to cooperate in the face of danger (and believe me, the stress of a combat situation feels very real), how to have interpersonal conflicts in a healthy way, creative problem-solving and a lot more.

D&D is a great metaphor for life and a great tool for how to live it.

Or maybe I’m just looking for any excuse to repackage my problems as dragons.



A Response to Mark Manson’s Life Purpose Questions

I first came across Mark Manson’s article on life purpose a few years ago. At the time, I answered the questions quickly in my head without giving it much thought.

I stumbled across it again recently and was surprised how much my answers had changed. Between my first reading and the present, I’ve moved abroad twice, finished college, been through a health breakdown, and am currently sort of floundering for what my life purpose is.

Firstly, I love the opening story of Manson’s brother, who, at the age of 18, knew he wanted to be a Senator and went on to do everything in his power to become one. Manson rightly says his brother is a freak – although as a multipotentialite, I would just call him a specialist.

Secondly, Manson gave me a big wake-up call when he says;

Here’s the truth. We exist on this earth for some undetermined period of time. During that time we do things. Some of these things are important. Some of them are unimportant. And those important things give our lives meaning and happiness. The unimportant ones basically just kill time. – Mark Manson

Of course that’s what life is, but as someone who was intent on finding her purpose in life and how to best use her life for the earth and so on and so forth, it was both jarring and refreshing to realize that my life is just a series of some things.

Manson goes on to say that instead of asking what we should do with our lives, we should be asking, “What can I do with my time that’s important?”

So here are Manson’s 7 strange questions and my answers.


Right now, my answer is writing. Writing, as all writers know, isn’t really about the writing. It’s about the psych-up and coming around to it. It’s the notecards and weird midnight text messages you leave yourself with ideas. It’s the getting up for coffee and then more coffee and the wondering if you have carpal tunnel. It’s searching for the perfect notebook to take notes in, and the guilt knowing you’re wasting all this time NOT writing.

The writing takes about 10%, I would guess, of a writer’s actual writing time. We deal with it. It’s the shit sandwich. But the olive (or bacon, in my case, I hate olives) is so, so good.


I don’t wear what I want. My style is dictated by comfort, budget, and my perceived body shape failures, not by what I like.

Four months ago I would have said being a teacher though, so it’s some improvement.


Such a delicate question, Mark. Well, for me, right now, it’s D&D. I’m working on campaign prep for my first ever full DM experience, and when I’m in the midst of planning, time just evaporates.

Another big one is, as Mark mentions, getting lost in a fantasy world. Good stories just capture me, and I’ll read four hours straight in a good book (or play four hours in a game or watch four hours of a show – wherever I find a good story).

I wish I had written writing, but it’s not true. I spend a lot of my writing time thinking about lunch.


One, in D&D, I’m going to be the DM for a group of 6 players, of whom I know 1. So I will need to be gregarious, extroverted, attentive, and goofy to make it all work. I’m so, so willing to do that.

Two, in writing, I’m embarrassing myself weekly with the flash fiction Friday things. I know they aren’t great, but I still keep putting them out there. Poetry too. Oh man do I embarrass myself. Let me do more.


Realistically, Mark? I have no idea. But I’d like to start volunteering. I have this great idea to take my two great passions, writing and D&D, and bring them to kids or the elderly. I wish the 826 Organization had a chapter near me, but they don’t. Hey, maybe I could start-


Barring having to make money doing something, I’d pick something like foraging in the forest in Romania, or learning to sail in the Hebrides, or writing in a cabin on the cliffs of Scotland. Something tame, you know.

Really, at this moment, I’d just like to play and DM D&D forever. But I’m in one of my obsessive moods, so ask me in a week.


I’d definitely start a local chapter of 826, and then I’d write a letter to each one of my friends and family, and then I’d write a journal detailing my year waiting for death to be published posthumously.

I’ll end with a quote from the article, which sums it up nicely.

Discovering one’s “purpose” in life essentially boils down to finding those one or two things that are bigger than yourself, and bigger than those around you. It’s not about some great achievement, but merely finding a way to spend your limited amount of time well. And to do that you must get off your couch and act, and take the time to think beyond yourself, to think greater than yourself, and paradoxically, to imagine a world without yourself. – Mark Manson






Duet Session: Game Master Series

Duet D&D: A game where there is one PC (player character) and one DM (dungeon master).

Duets are not common in D&D. D&D is above all a social game, and it’s designed for around 4-6 players. Any less and it can be difficult to tackle bigger challenges, any larger and it starts taking an hour just for each person to have a turn in combat.

So why do it? As I trawled the nets looking for information on how to run one, I found a lot of people who had a lot to say (hello, internet comments). Most people wanted to introduce their spouses or kids to it. Some had only one other friend who was interested in playing.

In my case, I did a duet session with a friend who wasn’t sure if she would be interested in D&D and wanted a kind of introduction to it.


I found a few modules designed for duet sessions on DMS Guild and other places, but I knew the session would need to be simple. As it happened, I was watching Matt Colville‘s Running the Game series on Youtube and the very first few videos were about running a dungeon he created on the fly.

It was simple, it was fun, and it included everything a dungeon needed; traps, hidden rooms, a riddle, and the reason for being in the dungeon in the first place.

I promptly printed the map and got underway.

I decided to run two other characters alongside my friend who would be her guides and also buff up the party, since a one-person D&D party can pretty much handle a pack of rats and little else.

My friend had chosen to play as an elf wizard, so I added a dwarf cleric and a human fighter (you might recognize these as the pre-generated characters offered on the Wizards of the Coast website for new players).

Other than that, I had my books (DMG, PHB, MM) and I was ready. I printed the maps, one unmarked for her and marked for me, wrote up a quick opening hook to get the scene underway, and was ready to go.

The Duet

I was nervous. I shouldn’t have been, by any means; after all, I was playing with a dear friend I’d known for years and had a very simple map to play through. But I knew I would get stuck on a description or confuse her by saying the wrong thing or forget some vital mechanic…and all those things did happen, but it was okay.

It took longer than I had anticipated too. I had expected it to be an hour at most, but we played for nearly three (very typical of D&D, by the way). I had a lot of fun being two characters myself, and she got through the dungeon and found the secret room and completed all the objectives.

What Went Well

I can say that I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I loved running her through the dungeon and building the mood with music and words.

(I can’t give her impressions, of course. She said she had fun, but as to the particulars, I have no idea.)

The map itself was really good for a first time player or DM. It was simple enough that I didn’t get confused about where I was or where the bad guys were, and there weren’t too many areas or monsters to worry about. The Knightly flavor included in it was a nice touch as well since it took it from basic dungeon to something with a bit of history.

What Didn’t Go Well

As I said before, I was nervous. I forgot to give players and monsters advantage at certain points, and it was a lot harder to track monster HP than I’d realized. I mean, like, stupidly hard for me for some reason. I didn’t have minis, so I had to try and remember where each monster was along with who had struck them, and I didn’t give them names, just numbers, so I had to kind of guess when each one went down.

I realize now I should have created the most basic of charts for that beforehand. I was also way more worried about her experience than I should have been. I wanted to make sure she knew all her options and didn’t feel lost, so I focused on her more than the dungeon. Another difficulty I had was having the characters I was running alongside hers be just companions, not guides. I didn’t want to tell her what to do through them.

In Conclusion…

I don’t think duet sessions are that bad, but I wouldn’t recommend them for new DMs unless you do a much better job of preparing than me (and I thought I had done). Especially since I was running two NPCs alongside my friend, it was simply too much to remember and juggle all at once.

But I did enjoy it, and my friend said she did too, so I’m calling this a success!


Final Note: this is really not how D&D is meant to be played! It was fun, and I think if you have an experienced player who can run several characters it could be fantastic, but the fun for most people lies in the team experience, the social aspect, and in a duet session you just can’t get that. I made sure to tell my friend that this wasn’t how a usual D&D session felt, and if you introduce a friend to the game this way, I’d make sure to tell them that as well.


Starting Out: Game Master Series


The art from the Dungeon Master’s screen for Dungeons and Dragons. Image cred.


It’s theater/radio/improv/imagination/story-telling in an oral tradition that goes back millennia. It’s D&D y’all.

I’ve decided to become a DM (Dungeon Master). This is not an altogether well-thought-out decision, as being a good DM or GM (Game Master) means an awful lot of time alone spent creating and planning and memorizing rules for a few hours of fun that WILL be derailed and will NOT go as planned and MAY make friends hate each other afterward…or not.

I’m still going to do it. It’s a bit like saying you’ve decided to be a poisonous frog catcher in the Amazon or a tornado-chaser in Oklahoma. Everyone’s like, “yeah, that’s super cool, you should totally do that!” and everyone is also thinking “that’s cool yeah, but also insane, and I’m so glad I have a normal hell like customer service or nursing. I’m definitely the smart one here.”

I’m not bitter. I’m insane. Probably.

My brother put down world-building as one of his skills. He’s also a DM. A far better one than I will ever be, also being a voice actor. I can put world-building down as one of my skills as well because apparently, that’s the kind of thing to run through families, or over them, and I’m a writer, so there’s….that. Which may or may not make me a good DM. It may mean I wax eloquent in my descriptions and my NPCs will say “er…um…great!” a lot because I’m not so good at the improv or actual real life conversations.

I don’t know yet. I’m just starting out. I haven’t even finished reading the Dungeon Master’s Guide. I think I need to sleep with it. Okay, not with it, obviously, but like, under my pillow so I can memorize rules by osmosis. Dream about it. Some people put pictures of loved ones under their pillows to dream of them. Ha, amateurs. I’ll be over here dreaming of monsters and people staring at me waiting for me to deliver an awesome story. Wayyyy less embarrassing/awful. Play me a tiny violin. *tears*

I’m not a complete noob at this point though, if I have to be honest (and everyone’s honest on the internet). I did run my aforementioned amazing DM brother through the opening of Curse of Strahd, which took like eight hours. It gave me a pounding headache and a sore throat for a few days, but it was so awesome. He was in America and I was in Korea, so we had to Skype, and I called him when I was ready wearing a black paper raven mask and playing creepy vampire music. Oh yeah, it was epic. I even lit a candle labeled “Dark Woods” or something, but of course, the smell was only metaphoric for him.

I decided to blog about this because I think it would be cool to see how it was starting out after I’m a very good DM who is semi-famous somehow. I will definitely have my own website with a picture of me holding the tips of my fingers together and one eyebrow up as I look over my DM screen.

Step 1: Learn to raise one eyebrow.

I’m going to be so great at this.


Excerpts from my journal; Late June 2017

June 26

It’s been nearly a week. I’m home on vacation now, trying not to think about the fact that my week is nearly taken up by meetings with friends and appointments and how much that stresses me out. One day I will plan a vacation with actually nothing. But I suppose it’s good to be doing all this. I did need the chiropractor, and I’m sure I’ll have fun. I just…enjoy not having a schedule sometimes.

The flight was good. I’m getting so used to it now the dread is abating for the most part. Even the prospect of a twenty-one hour flight to NZ isn’t daunting. It’ll be long and boring but it will end. I’m glad I’m to the point where flying isn’t a big deal.

There’s a lot to do, and I keep not doing things. I keep putting off contacting people because I don’t actually want to do anything. I just want to sit here and sleep and walk around and look out the window and think about nothing.

It’s odd though, because as soon as I landed I felt like I’d never left, like the six months since I was here last didn’t even go by.

The best part so far has been the D&D playing and planning I did with my brother. I got off the plane, he took me to eat, and then we went to his friend’s place to play. My brother is the Dungeon Master for his friends, and he brought me in as a surprise villain – a white dragon. It was beautiful. I was an excellent liar and an excellent villain. They were so indignant. It made me want to move home just so I could join their games.

I’m here this coming Saturday night too, so I get to play again. That’s about the only thing I actually want to go out and do. I am such a nerd.

July 29

While I’ve been home I went on a road trip with my best friend. It was amazing in a lot of ways, kind of painful in others. For instance, staying in a five-star hotel convinced me that staying in five-star hotels is not something I enjoy. Particularly the valet part. I don’t understand how valets work, so I kept opening my own door as they were reaching for it. Awkward. And I kept getting to the hotel door before them too. Awkward. I also got my own luggage out. Not even in some display of female power; I just didn’t realize they were going to do it. Other hotels don’t. Ha ha ha ouch.

And the room itself was just a room. Granted, a very clean room, and one with impressively massive pillows, but, in the end, just a room. We didn’t use the facilities, so I’m guessing a lot of the fancy was down there.

We walked around the downtown area. That I enjoyed. I like pretending I’m urban and cool and walk around downtowns all the time. Which I do, in Korea, so I’m not sure why I felt so falsely pretentious. It might have had to do with the fact that I had to hold my dress down the entire time. Curse the wind.

So we walked and had lavender coffee and went to a scratch kitchen (where they make everything from scratch. Shame, as I was hoping for one of those scratching sticks) and had amazing burgers and then to a bar to meet her friend and I had two gin drinks with strange names that were pretty good, experienced DIY s’mores, which seems dangerous with open flames and alcohol so abundant but okay, and went back to the hotel room early for such urban walkers and instead watched TV and did at-home pedicure treatments. Ah yeah. My kind of night.

July 1

It’s been several days again. My time in America has almost ended, but not my vacation. Tomorrow night I will leave for New Zealand. I keep putting off mentally thinking about it since I’m pretty nervous, I guess. I wouldn’t have thought so. I think I’m just worried it won’t be as good as I want it to be. I want it to be the best thing in my life, but that’s a pretty high expectation. The memories will be good. The experience might have a lot of discomfort and stress. That’s okay.

Tonight I’m going back to DnD. Tomorrow I leave for Middle Earth.