Why We Choose to Bleed
Anthony Zeppetella

Anthony Zeppetella

Jun 12, 2023

Why We Choose to Bleed

There is a strange dichotomy in a D&D or TTRPG campaign. While on the one hand we play the games to escape the real world, its problems, and trials. On the other, we self impose traumas and emotional tribulations onto our characters as we make them? Everyone knows this story all too well. We have all seen the edgy rogue who is a loner is because they’ve had to fend for themselves their whole life or the barbarian who had their village burned down by a group of raiders; their parents lost in the chaos. So, why impose such traumatic events onto our characters, knowing that if we see the campaign through, we will have to face the sad but cathartic answers? Why subject ourselves to emotional bleeding? I believe the answer lies in the question.

Now, before you go grabbing a band-aid and wondering how you got a paper cut while rolling dice, let me explain what emotional bleeding is in the context of D&D. Emotional bleeding refers to the act of allowing your own emotions and experiences to influence your character's actions and decisions. It's about tapping into your own personal well of feelings and using them to enrich your character's back-story, personality, and motivations.

At its core, D&D is all about storytelling. And what makes a good story? Compelling characters with depth and complexity. Emotional bleeding is what brings these characters to life and makes them more than just a collection of stats on a character sheet.

When we make a character for our worlds of fantasy we more times than not, even by accident, impart a piece of ourselves into the character. They are us, and we are them. They only act because we say, and they act according to our volition. While we remain “in character” while we play, it is only natural to imbue this acting with our will within the situation, however tainted it may be with the attributes of the character we built.

Let's take an example. You're playing a paladin who's sworn to protect the innocent. But instead of just saying "I protect the innocent because that's what paladins do," you dig deeper and think about what that means to you personally. Maybe you have a little sister who was bullied at school and you couldn't protect her. Maybe you grew up in poverty and saw firsthand the injustices inflicted upon the less fortunate. These are real emotions and experiences that you can channel into your character's beliefs and actions.

As humans, it is our nature to connect; that is why so few are capable of living in complete solitude. We look for those like us, those who share the same ideals, goals, aspirations, and who can relate through shared experiences. Also, as humans we empathize and sympathize with others, further connecting ourselves to them through tragedy and triumph. We know it is human to win, and human to lose – to live and to die, and as such the connection is established. We develop this ability very early in life and as such but the time we are adults, we are very good at it. We can connect to people and their story quickly, within hours even. Why do you think you’re crying over a fictional character that has not truly impacted your life? Tony Stark deserved better at the end of End Game, is all I am saying. And yes, I did cry. Also, no, I didn’t have to be escorted out of the theater because my sobbing was “like that of a seal undergoing kidney surgery”. But I digress.

Emotional bleeding can also help you overcome writer's block when it comes to creating a back-story for your character. Instead of just listing off a bunch of facts about their childhood and upbringing, think about how those experiences shaped them emotionally. Did they grow up feeling like an outsider? Were they betrayed by someone they trusted? These emotional scars can inform how your character interacts with the world and the people around them.

But emotional bleeding isn't just for character creation. It can also come into play during the game itself. Let's say your character is faced with a moral dilemma. Rather than just making a logical decision based on what you think would be the best outcome, tap into your own values and beliefs to make a more personal and meaningful choice. It might not always be the most strategic decision, but it will make for a more interesting story and character development in the long run.

Of course, emotional bleeding isn't always easy. It can be uncomfortable to confront your own emotions and vulnerabilities, especially in a group setting. But remember that you're in a safe space with people who are all here to have fun and tell a great story together.

So why is emotional bleeding so important in D&D? Well, for starters, it makes the game more engaging and immersive. When you're invested in your character on an emotional level, you're more likely to care about what happens to them and the world around them. It also creates opportunities for more complex and interesting role-playing. When your character is more than just a set of abilities and stats, they become a fully-realized person with hopes, fears, and motivations that are unique to them.

But perhaps most importantly, emotional bleeding can be incredibly cathartic. Whether you're dealing with your own personal issues or just looking for a way to express yourself creatively, D&D provides a space to explore and process your emotions in a way that is both safe and rewarding. It's like therapy, but with dragons!

So next time you sit down at the table to play D&D, don't be afraid to let your emotions bleed into your character. Laugh, cry, rage, and everything in between. Your character (and your fellow players) will thank you for it. And who knows, you might just learn something about yourself.

Anthony Zeppetella

Anthony Zeppetella

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