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D&D General Polygon article: How autism powers my D&D

From Polygon:
Fantasy has the incredible ability to accommodate the most unique parts of ourselves and welcome them. However, I never had found as much of a home in fantasy as I did when I started playing D&D. My first character was a halfling death cleric with a mummified squirrel as a familiar. Charisma was her lowest stat, and I loved that she was more comfortable talking to dead people than her friends in the party. Her social weaknesses were vital to her character and served as a place where I could find meaning for my own awkwardness.

When players build characters, it’s natural for them to exaggerate something about their personalities. Whether you’re playing a dumb-but-strong barbarian, a bookish wizard, or an extroverted minstrel, at the end of the day, you’ve probably created a character who wouldn’t likely be considered “neurotypical.” That’s another part about why D&D is so exciting for people with autism — we can see ourselves in it.
Experts have found that my experience as an autistic person playing D&D isn’t an isolated incident. Many autism support programs include some measure of role-playing to help develop interpersonal skills. People with autism often benefit so much from role-playing that a new game, Critical Core, has been designed as a social intervention tool for children and adults with autism.

Role-playing games like D&D are valuable for neurodivergent people because they bring structure to a relatively unstructured and chaotic experience — social interaction. While a quest or dungeon crawl may seem somewhat confusing to a casual viewer, there’s a subtle yet solid narrative thread binding the story. That thread is maintained by a trove of rules that govern every scenario. People with autism don’t have to worry about misunderstanding sarcasm because an insight check can more or less reveal the speaker’s intentions. Better yet, a player doesn’t have to worry about being suave or convincing to try and manipulate someone. While my real-life charisma score is low, my tiefling warlock almost always succeeds on his deception rolls.
 

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Blue Orange

Adventurer
I basically agree with the article. Heck, the mass of rules probably attracted me as a somewhat-spectrum-y person. I used to pore over those 1st ed tables wondering why a baboon got 1% chance of showing up in the forest but 4% in the desert or something. (I spent more time studing the progressions of monster hit dice and AC for giants and spiders than I did on the notorious random harlot table.)

Yeah, the game lets you do stuff you wouldn't do in real life, and the thread of narrative helps resolve ambiguities autistic people have trouble with. (But I'd argue that's one of the reasons neurotypical people like narratives as well!)

One small caveat: I'd argue an extroverted minstrel (at least, a charismatic one) is very neurotypical. The author is using the game to explore playing someone totally different from them--nothing wrong with that!
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
I used to pore over those 1st ed tables wondering why a baboon got 1% chance of showing up in the forest but 4% in the desert or something.
That can't possibly be right...

checks page 189 of the AD&D 1E DMG

...well I'll be a baboon's uncle, it is! According to the table, baboons have the following percent chance of appearing in the following uninhabited/wilderness areas of tropical and near-tropical conditions:
  • Plains: 0%
  • Scrub: 3%
  • Forest: 1%
  • Rough*: 5%
  • Desert: 4%
  • Hills: 0%
  • Mountains: 3%
  • Marsh: 0%
*Apparently "rough" terrain includes ruins.

Hm, looking further into this, I'm guessing that the higher percentage chance in deserts is a reference to hamadryas baboons, perhaps? Though I'm not sure why they'd be more common than, say, yellow baboons, who are found in savannas and forests. @Snarf Zagyg can we get an article on this?

...and clearly, earlier editions were better for "powering" autism. ;)
 
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Blue Orange

Adventurer
That can't possibly be right...

checks page 189 of the AD&D 1E DMG

...well I'll be a baboon's uncle, it is! According to the table, baboons have the following percent chance of appearing in the following uninhabited/wilderness areas of tropical and near-tropical conditions:
  • Plains: 0%
  • Scrub: 3%
  • Forest: 1%
  • Rough*: 5%
  • Desert: 4%
  • Hills: 0%
  • Mountains: 3%
  • Marsh: 0%
*Apparently "rough" terrain includes ruins.

Hm, looking further into this, I'm guessing that the higher percentage chance in deserts is a reference to hamadryas baboobs, perhaps? Though I'm not sure why they'd be more common than, say, yellow baboons, who are found in savannas and forests. @Snarf Zagyg can we get an article on this?

...and clearly, earlier editions were better for "powering" autism. ;)
You know I looked that up before posting it because I knew someone was going to do that, right?

At the age of 12 I was sure Gary Gygax and his team of TSR people had researched the ranges of baboons in different environments and had weighed all this stuff to make the most accurate table possible.

Now I know it was probably some guy going, "Dang, I have three percentiles left for 'desert', where do I put them...there are baboons in the desert, right? Right? Eh, whatever."
 
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You know I looked that up before posting it because I knew someone was going to do that, right?

At the age of 12 I was sure Gary Gygax and his team of TSR people had researched the ranges of baboons in different environments and had weighed all this stuff to make the most accurate table possible.

Now I know it was probably some guy going, "Dang, I have three percentiles left for 'desert', where do I put them...there are baboons in the desert, right? Right? Eh, whatever."
Three percentile left in the desert and they could barely fit them into the forest with as many forest creatures as they already had. Or at least that's the sorts of issues I run into when working on encounter tables.
 

My ADHD and D&D certainly interact pretty positively in my experience. To the point where after I was diagnosed my dad and I used to have a running joke re: AD&D vs ADHD. I tend to get the classic "hyperfocus" when GMing which can be very effective, especially when running off-the-cuff (i.e. without much preparation).

So I'm certainly unsurprised that mild autism pairs well with elements of D&D and RPGs in general.

I think even if you aren't autistic, D&D and RPGs can help build social confidence and certain social skills, as long as you're a cooperative person. I know that DMing made me more and more confident in group situations and when faced with challenging problems or people who were getting kind of overwrought or the like, which has helped me throughout my life.
 

Aging Bard

Canaith
Two completely different comments:

1) Baboons are ground dwellers, not tree dwellers, so their appearance in rough, scrub, and even desert makes sense, though perhaps not the deep desert (they don't exist in most of North Africa, for example).

2) Disability representation in the USA is just terrible. Turn on a network TV channel today and you will commonly see Brown/White couples, same sex couples, but still hardly any disabled people at all, unless it's an ad about the disability. The fact that the gaming community has made even the slightest imperfect effort at including disabled representation and participation must seem like a lake in the desert to many disabled people. And yes, that effort is imperfect, as we see in various misguided forms of pushback. But it seems like parts of gaming are at least trying, as opposed to most other institutions in my country.
 

jayoungr

Legend
Supporter
Three percentile left in the desert and they could barely fit them into the forest with as many forest creatures as they already had. Or at least that's the sorts of issues I run into when working on encounter tables.
Ah, so in other words, it's not that there are more baboons in the desert than there are in the forest--it's that there are fewer other animals in the desert.
 

Blue Orange

Adventurer
You know, it's my fault--I started this argument about baboons in the desert with a tongue-in-cheek gag about the 1st ed DMG (which may be self-referentially demonstrating the spectrum-adjacency of many of the posters, myself included).

But there's a serious question about autism and D&D, and I wonder what other people's experiences are. They told me to avoid it growing up as it prevented real social development. I suspect, however, that the alternative for a lot of people to TTRPG's is now not sports but MMORPG's, and TTRPG's at least involve interaction with other people in real life.

(Also, is the jock-geek dichotomy still a thing? It was when I was a kid in the 80s, but I get the sense that's not really a thing anymore.)
 

Also, is the jock-geek dichotomy still a thing? It was when I was a kid in the 80s, but I get the sense that's not really a thing anymore.
Not really. I'm sure there are older folks who act like it's a thing, but among Gen X and younger folks I know, they're viewed as just different flavors of geekiness, along with obsessive record collections, etc.
 

Faolyn

Hero
But there's a serious question about autism and D&D, and I wonder what other people's experiences are. They told me to avoid it growing up as it prevented real social development. I suspect, however, that the alternative for a lot of people to TTRPG's is now not sports but MMORPG's, and TTRPG's at least involve interaction with other people in real life
As an autistic person (with ADHD), my experience is that gamers are just like everyone else: you get some people who are decent and open-minded individuals who like you for who you are, and some people who inexplicably dislike you for it (but won't tell you why, leaving you to constantly wonder which aspect of your personality it is that's driving people away).
 

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