9 Mai 2022
In the 80's in the United States, during a scout camp, a group of 10-11 year old kids sit in a circle when one of them suggests "Let's play Dungeons and Dragons".
40 years later, Dale Critchley, smiling, wearing a T-shirt that read "I use escapism to change the Real World," tells me that unfortunately he doesn't remember anything about that night. "I had heard about it but I didn't know what it was, but I know that it was during my time with the scouts that I was introduced to it and that I started sharing it with my friends. »
It will be from 6th grade that his practice of RPG became regular and intensive, with means incomparable to what we can have today. "We had no rule book, we took 6-sided dice, sheets of paper and we built our adventures as we went along".
A hobby discovered at a time during which the "satanic panic" around role-playing was in full swing and drew near-unanimous disapproval from the school board and his family. "They were saying, 'You really shouldn't be playing this. With a few exceptions, "my dad didn't know what it was and wasn't worried like my mom. »
Growing up, his practice did not falter, on the contrary. So much that one day, his father, seeing him playing all the time, asked him to make a session for him in order to "understand what it was all about".
"I made him play a one hour session of Marvel super heroes with an encounter, a very basic fight and at the end he said "Is that it?
-What’s wrong with that?"
Fan of comic books, Marvel superheroes, medieval fantasy, he plays RPG that immerses him in these worlds that he loves until 1994 where he graduates from university and gets married. Begins a very long break with RPG until 2019.
In 1998, he became a pastor after graduating from seminary.
Working at the church with teenagers, many of them in precarious and at-risk situations, he realizes the importance for these young people to integrate more adults into their lives, which leads him to revive RPG in his life.
« I and the youth director felt we needed to help create positive relationships with multigenerational adults, and for me, role-playing was the best way to do that."
The idea among young people was well received, and when the announcement was made that Dungeons and Dragons sessions were to be held, some of the early role-players willingly brought bags of dices, old books from the first edition of Dungeons and Dragons that they owned - although the 5th edition would be the one played!
"I had a Dnd Beyond subscription that has a club feature where you can share up to 10 campaigns with other people. So I bought the books so I could share them with everyone. The first night, 18 people came: the youngest was 15, the oldest was retired. »
A phenomenal success occurring twice a month, until COVID arrived.
"With COVID, I lost my job, it was a period of reflection where I realized that I was really into everything that had to do with the game mechanics and I decided to do it full time. »
Thus began the adventure of "Wyrmwork Publishing" with its first book "Limitless Heroics" funded in January 2022. A book, intended for the 5th edition of Dungeons and Dragons, proposing a set of mechanics allowing to include in the game all form of disabilities and handicaps, the known and less known.
"All my life I have been surrounded by people with disabilities or chronic illnesses. When I was in college, I regularly made voluntary work for people with disabilities. My wife and I have adopted three children with serious disabilities and my father had a chronic illness and was disabled. It has always been a part of our lives. »
We have the races with the different skin colors and other elements of inclusiveness, but when it comes to disability and particularly mental illness, there is very little.
With this in mind, Dale decided to create a book that would allow for a better integration of disabilities, via roleplaying, into the world of dungeons and dragons.
"Roleplaying is a social equalizer. You get people you don't know together, put a character sheet in front of them, roll some dice and suddenly they start to know each other. »
And of top of this, Dale adds the right for everyone to be represented in a fantasy world, because "The fantasy world is a copy of the real world, the only difference is that you add magic, dragons, you take the real world and you transform it. Every change we make to the world has a reason. And if your world, unlike the real world, doesn't have any handicapped people, the question is: why did you take them away, and often people don't realize it. Even I didn't realize it at first...".
A reaction that was expressed among many people discovering the work in participatory financing, and becoming aware of this "oversight".
"The problem is that many people do not know how to represent disability correctly. They don't know how to do it in a way that doesn't hurt, that doesn't offend. The question that came up was how to do it in an appropriate way."
And RPG, again, creates a safe environment in which to experiment endlessly. What better tool to educate, to raise awareness of the reality of the 15% of the world's population living with a disability? (According to WHO-link)
« I am disabled and I want to be able to represent myself in the game, some would say; I am disabled but I don't want to be disabled in this world but it's nice to know that people like me can be represented, others might say. No one is forcing anyone to play a way or another. Everyone plays the way they want to play. »
An opportunity for those who are not used to being around people with disabilities to learn how to interact with them, to understand their experience and to find, through the game, a rich learning experience.
The return of RPG in Dale's life is no accident. All those years of practice, despite the stigma that accompanied it and the loss of his job, led him to realize who he knows himself to be. "I'm an idea person. I have all kinds of ideas, a steady flow of them. There is this kind creativity that needs an outlet, and with Dungeons and Dragons and RPG in general you can do absolutely anything: the more amazing and bizarre the ideas, the better. That works very well for me and makes me feel at home, I feel like I don't have to fit in somebody else’s box »
Creativity, escapism, dreams, but also education, Dale mentions that thanks to RPG, he has learned much more about world history than his classmates, during classes that will have nevertheless, in the early hours, bored him to the point of hating history as a subject...until he fully and enthusiastically invested himself in it thanks to Dungeons and Dragons!
"I've spent a lot of time in my life trying to be someone I'm not and today I've decided to assume who I am and it's working out well: I'm pretty good at being myself!"
A father of six and former parish pastor, Dale, in his business, keeps that drive to make the world a better place. Like many of us, he has found in RPG a tool to bring us all together.
For each of us, the world we create for ourselves is the world of our dreams, our nightmares, our hopes, but also our frustrations, and the source of which is well known to us: the real world.
We are not all exposed in the same way to disabilities, which is unfortunately still a victim of stigmatization that is not as much relayed by the media as racism or homophobia.
"It is probably for my daughters and the people I care about that I did this book. I want the world to be a better place, a more compassionate place, where people are comfortable being who they are and able to share their joys and sorrows openly."
A most beautiful inspiration of a father for his children: to open them the doors to a magical world where they, too, can escape , a world where they are not forgotten and where they, too, can be heroes in a fantastic adventure.
That's what happened to her 10-year-old daughter, during role-playing sessions organized by her teacher after school.
"After her first session, as I was driving her home, she talked to me for the next 3 blocks about the game and then about the new friends she had made. »
Despite her disability and difference, through role-playing "she felt completely accepted, excited about the new relationships she had made, and I thought this is what we always wanted for her: to have friends, to feel accepted. »
Dale calls himself a probate of hope and while the world will never be perfect, "if we can make tomorrow a better day than today for someone, somewhere, then that's good enough and we're doing the best we can."
"And if enough people do that and you make someone’s life better, it’s going to be easier for them to make someone else’s life easier. It just goes from there and you never know when you make a positive impact, how big it’s going to be. »
As a loving father caring for nothing more than the happiness of his children, Dale has found his "good fortune" in the great garden of role-playing and has cultivated his plot to plant the seeds that will undoubtedly expand the already big family of role-players to include those who have been forgotten, not out of malice but out of ignorance. Not anymore now.
"I want people to feel welcome, and I want to have hope"
Thank you Dale for this moving and inspiring story.