The Sad Author's Guide to Roleplaying Games

Content Warning: Mental illness

I don’t really write anymore. Not like I used to, anyway. I used to spin novels out of nothing without breaking a sweat, used to throw short stories together as easy as breathing, because once upon a time, I was a writer. Nothing made me happier than building a world brick by brick, populating it with people, and flooding my mind with their scenes, their conversations, the countless directions their stories could take. It was invisible to me, but completely essential, as if half of my heart was always in a world of my own creation.

I miss it. A lot happened, but mostly I just lost my grip on the reins thanks to a deep bout of depression. Anxiety didn’t help. It never does. I went through a long period where I didn’t care about anything anymore, and the half of my heart that I always spent writing just…dried up, I guess. Maybe picturing it as an overgrown garden is less sad. I tried to write, but couldn’t care deeply enough to carry on more than a couple days in a row, a far cry from the marathons I used to run so thoughtlessly back when my heart worked.

A lot of other things fell by the wayside too. If I could feel right, I think writing would be what I missed the most during this time, but it’s hard to say. I wasn’t even aware anything was missing. 

I was listening to my favourite podcasts at the time, and slowly, with the help of my doctor, I got to a place where I wasn’t just listening to people playing roleplaying games anymore. Without even noticing it, I had reached a place where I wanted to play again. I wanted something! That in and of itself was special. My attention span and anxiety were too shot to read or even to pick up a new show or movie, but podcasts? Podcasts I could do. Actual Play is about taking it one roll at a time, about watching the story unfold as it unfolds, and there was something about it that failed to set off my brain. None of the cast knew what was about to happen any more than I did, there was no overriding force controlling the dice falls to ratchet up drama. The future would happen when it happened, and that was weirdly soothing.

Then, a friend approached me about starting up a D&D campaign. Slowly, games started to flood into all the places that had been left to atrophy when I stopped writing. I was daydreaming again. I was picturing scenes, conversations, and people. I cared about something, too – I tried to always make it to D&D, no matter how tired or overwhelmed or depressed I was. At first, it was because I promised my friends I’d be part of the game, but eventually, it was because I cared about my character. I wanted to see what happened to that actual idiot, especially vis-à-vis kissing the party assassin. 

Slowly, while I started to care about other things as well, that abandoned garden (or wasteland if you don’t mind a less sad metaphor) came back to life. I still don’t write, but I started work on designing my own roleplaying game in earnest, building a world like I had always done so effortlessly. Somehow, I managed to put out enough words to put a manual together, managed to get my friends together for playtests. I started the podcast Sword of Symphonies so that everyone out there could not only have that cozy little life raft that I had, but also to show off some of the most beautiful people in my life.

And you know what? When I get depressed or anxious, I still listen to our podcast. Not just to hear my friends’ voices, but to remind myself how far I’ve come. And it makes me happy. I hope it makes you happy too.


Cat is the Game Master for Sword of Symphonies, an Actual Play podcast where she makes her friends playtest her latest game, Heroic Chord. You can also hear her on the Invisible Sun podcast Truth Hidden Among Hearts as Only Rachel.

CATH MCDONALD (THEY/THEM OR SHE/HER), SWORD OF SYMPHONIES

Follow Cat on Twitter: @Catlinggun
Follow Sword of Symphonies (Peach Garden Games) on Twitter: @PeachgardenRPGs
Find Sword of Symphonies (Peach Garden Games) online at: https://www.peachgardengames.com/episodes

SOS Album Art - Cat McDonald.jpg