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I really like playing D&D. There's something about the environment that I find to be amazing for making friends; everyone has their emotional defense barriers slightly lowered, and there are a lot of fun things to talk about that come up in the course of the game.

However, my problem is that for a great deal of time I've played, I was emotionally kinda broken. A lot of things in my life weren't going too well, and I ended up retreating into my character.

Since that time, I've been able to take concrete steps to fix my life, and things are looking up. I now am fully aware my previous approach to the game wasn't emotionally healthy, and I want to fix that for the future, but I don't specifically know how. (What I consider to be unhealthy: betrayals and my character's mistakes in-game would seriously shake me on a personal, out-of-game level.)

How can I go about emotionally distancing myself from my future characters? I don't want to get that trapped by emotional transference again, though I also don't exactly want to be roleplaying Marvin the robot from Hitchiker's Guide (I do enjoy taking an active role in solving problems). I would really appreciate any advice, especially if anyone has a personal experience with a similar situation.

If it makes a difference, I'm not going to be playing for a while because I'm still getting my life back together, but I would like to start again sometime soon, perhaps after the new year.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think something that would help others answer this question would be a description, in broad strokes, of traits you strongly identify with and have a habit of introducing into characters. For instance, "I play characters who are very impulsive, and feel hurt when my character's rash actions go awry too often." or "I tend to feel very friendly or affectionate toward NPCs, and I'm let down because my GM can't devote play time to in-character friendships between NPCs and our party." It may be that a different character type or game system might suit your emotional reactions to roleplaying. \$\endgroup\$ – recognizer Sep 29 '18 at 4:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ In addition to @recognizer's suggestions, how much distance are you looking for? There are different styles of play, but not all styles are going to be compatible with every level of emotional investment. Compare the classic "No! Not Blackleaf!" to the guy in the Gamers movie who brings fifty copies of a bard with him to game in case one gets killed. What level of emotional investment is too much? \$\endgroup\$ – Longspeak Sep 29 '18 at 4:17
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As pointed out in the comments, it is a bit difficult to answer without more detailed information but I'd offer one approach based on the information we have:

Make your character's personality differs from your own personality. Explore possibilities you don't have or don't want to have in real life. Maybe even a type of character you'd detest to be in real life.

E.g. if you are a rather shy and nice type of person why not play a rough swashbuckler that's just after gold, rum and girls. Not really a murder hobo but definitly always out to get the most for himself.

This way you create a sharp difference between your real self and your character. This makes emotional detachment easier.

Really try to think what this character would do not just you. Try to avoid my guy syndrome though.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I like the general idea, but rather than a separate personality that's a selfish jerk, how about someone who is different but positive? \$\endgroup\$ – mattdm Oct 1 '18 at 11:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mattdm Sure. I just wanted to bring an example but of course a positive opposite fits better in many groups. The example could be a daring adventurerer or a gladiator with a strong sense for honor too. \$\endgroup\$ – CKA Oct 1 '18 at 11:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ "if you are a rather shy and nice type of person why not play a rough swashbuckler that's just after gold, rum and girls" - this sounds more like a suggestion to not play who you are but who you would like to be. I am not sure if this message is your intention. Maybe find a different example? \$\endgroup\$ – Philipp Oct 1 '18 at 12:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Philipp: I don't think anything about that suggestion of CKA's implies "playing who you'd like to be". Being shy and nice doesn't imply that you want to be "rough" and after "gold, rum, and girls" (or, you know, their modern equivalents). \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Oct 1 '18 at 23:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ While all of the answers helped, I think this is what I am most likely to end up doing in the long term. I just started participating in an online role play, where the objective is trying to come in second to last in a popularity contest, and I'm going to be playing a purposefully annoying televangelist (where the annoyingness is exaggerated and played for humor at the character's expense). I don't foresee any issues with character attachment. :) \$\endgroup\$ – FlowersOfBermuda Oct 21 '18 at 4:13
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Three tools for creating distance and avoiding pain

I ran into a similar problem (though I do have an outgoing personality) a long time ago; I got a little too strongly attached to a D&D character. (Thief, Halfling, AD&D 1e).

The first tool is to teach yourself to always refer to the character in the third person. Never say "I try to pick the lock" you say "Ronald the Rogue gets out his thieves' tools, and tries to pick the lock." That allows you to separate you, the player, from the character you are taking through the adventures. While some will complain that this ruins immersion, you appear to want to reduce immersion; that's a way to work toward that end.

The second tool that I found very useful was to paint up a miniature figure for the character that does not look like you at all. In my case, I used some very bright colors (yellow and green) for the bulk of the character's clothing (stuff I would never wear), and after a little work I got the paints to render red hair pretty well. (I had dark brown hair in those days, not the "silver" currently adorning my head.)

The third tool, and IMO the most important tool, is to pick the right play group. Be selective. Since you are not playing now, you can screen the play groups you consider joining. If there is a group that does a lot of betrayal and PvP, and you find that disturbing, don't join them. Join in with a group that is more team-oriented. This will offer two side benefits.

  1. You can focus on how well "we" did in the adventure. That spreads your concern for all of the characters beyond your own PC.

  2. That 'punch in the gut' feeling from a betrayal by another player (in character or not) will be avoided.

    Point number two regarding the group is something that you need to find out about the play style of the group during a session zero: PvP or no PvP? Take the time and effort to explore that before you join a group going on adventures.

That approach worked well enough for me when I needed some distance from my PC.


A last point that had helped me, but may or may not be of help to you:

If you have access to the original Traveller game, you can spend a couple of sessions, alone or with a friend, creating about 20 characters as an exercise in learning that game's character creation mechanics. It is possible that one or two may die during character creation. Tear up the 3X5 card and start another one. The binge character creation puts you in a mind set that you can't identify with all 20 (or however many survive); there's just too many of them. And to really distance yourself, if a friend is with you, have them pair off in a series of one on one duels to the death; try to make a one line joke about each of the characters and how he or she died. (Yes, we did that over a few beers, why do you ask?)

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    \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast You don't need to—and probably shouldn't—fix markdown numbering of 1. (...) 1. (...) — it still renders as 1, 2, 3, etc. Marking them all as 1's in markdown lets us add/remove/rearrange items without also having to change the markdown for any other items. Consider that replacement a case of No Improvement and Probably Harms Things, unless you're correcting an actual mistake in how the post gets rendered. Remember, focus on actual objective improvements, not on making things fit your personal style preferences. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Oct 2 '18 at 12:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ @doppelspooker: I was mainly editing the comment to bold the main suggestions, since I didn't even see the markdown numbering before I clicked edit. That makes sense, though. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Oct 2 '18 at 19:29
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Let me preface this by saying I don't know if this would work for you. I too get really attached to my characters; what helps me not worry as much about them getting killed is thinking about the next one. Losing a character sucks, but at least you already have another character you're invested in (if not as invested in) ready to go, and the excitement of trying something new or getting to show off the new character can help with the pain of losing the old one.

For betrayals and other non-lethal setbacks and mistakes, my solution is kind of similar. I like to plan ahead, imagining how the character would respond to possible various setbacks should they occur. Then if/when one occurs, it's less a tragedy and more a plot point, if that makes sense, a chance for your role-playing (and/or clever mechanical ideas) and preparation to shine.

I love character creation, and imagining potential situations for the characters I create, so these tricks work for me. I don't know if they'd work for you, or if they're even what you're looking for, but it's the best I've got. Hope they help!

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